We continue with this special feature in this issue as well, where the NRI Achievers Team brings you brief vignettes of a handful of Indian Entrepreneurial Achievers who have made their mark in different domains within the Indian economy, carving out a niche for themselves in their respective enclaves of business, and rendering yeoman service to society. Each one of them is apropos a success story, which tells you about their indomitable spirit, their attention to detail, their attitude and approach to organisation building, wealth creation, raising human capital and contributions to their communities. Read on ..
Ajay BIJLI Chairman & MD, PVR Limited
Ajay Bijli, a Harvard Business School alumnus, moved away from his family’s transportation business to chase his own dreams of entrepreneurship, stepping into the film exhibition business that later became Priya Village Roadshow (PVR) when he was just 22 years old and going on to build one of the largest cinema chains in the country. Ajay tells us here about how he managed to crack the multiplex business in India. “I joined my family’s transportation business at the age of 21, only to realise that it was not my calling. My father had bought a cinema house at a time when ticket prices were controlled – you could only charge INR 8. My parents allowed me to go ahead and pursue my passion of the cinema business if I could show results with modest investments. I got tremendous response from customers when I upgraded the sound systems, made the auditorium cleaner and colourful. Ticket prices also got decontrolled. My father passed away in 1992 and I was confused whether to run the truck business or pursue my newfound love for cinema. Then a big fire hit our truck business, we lost a lot of money and I got discouraged. With loads of motivation from my mother and wife, I ventured full time into the cinema business. Entrepreneurs have to analyse and introspect where their passion lies. Else, your business might not click. “There was no concept of a multiplex chain then. Soon I got an opportunity to form a joint venture with Australian company Village Roadshow to form Priya Village Road Show (PVR). We opened the first multiplex in Delhi by renovating a theatre. It was a resounding success. I learnt if you understand your market, consumers and the product, then ideas that have done well abroad can be replicated here. You may have to tweak the offering a little to suit the Indian consumer. We expanded to Bangalore as we realised cinemas could easily get into shopping malls. Such was the demand that I signed projects worth INR 100 crore.
“I have learnt that partnerships just like many other things have a shelf life. Some work for a long time and some don’t. In 2001, we had a setback. 9/11 happened and it impacted the business confidence of our Australian partner, and they took a decision to move out of the joint venture. We had an amicable settlement and I bought their 40% stake. Then my challenge was to fund my growth as I already had signed projects worth INR 100 crore. As our business was profitable, we managed to raise funding of INR 40 crore from ICICI Venture. In 2006-2007, we went public. In business you have to keep on innovating, or you tend to go down under. I have formed a joint venture with a major company to open bowling centres across India. I also have ‘ice-skating’ on my mind. I think this will make our firm into a real retail entertainment company. Investors are also receptive to our ideas … Luxury major LVMH group’s private equity arm L Capital chose to invest close to INR 108 crores into our firm.” As of an year ago, PVR was running a cinema circuit consisting of 184 screens in 42 cinemas spread over 25 key cities in India, closing revenues of around INR 650– 700 crore.
THE DOT COM BUBBLE DIDN’T GO BUST FOR HIM
SANJEEV B HIKCHANDANI CEO, Naukri.com
Sanjeev Bhikchandani’s story is a classic one of grit, determination, lots of hard work, and a little bit of luck. It is a very inspiring entrepreneurial story, where the father worked as a doctor for the government. Sanjeev started humbly from a servant quarter over a garage in the house of his father, paying a rent of INR 800/- per month to him. There were employees to be paid and often a cashflow crunch on the 29th – just before payday, and Sanjeev’s own paycheck came from teaching at a couple of business schools over the weekend. Luckily, an ‘angel investor’ turned up like the proverbial fairy godmother … Sanjeev’s own wife and batch mate, who was then working at Nestle. Sanjeev, after working at HMM for 18 months, had quit to start his two start-up ventures, Indmark (salary surveys) and Info Edge (a database of trademarks). Info Edge India in fact became the first Indian Internet company to go public on the Stock Exchanges in November 2006.
It owns internet properties Naukri, 99 acres and Jeevan Sathi. Naukri.com was established in 1997, and as of 31st March 2011, it had a database of about 25 million registered job-seekers and over 80,000 live job listings from corporate customers. Today, Sanjeev is churning out strategies to transform Info Edge into the most dominant internet company in the country. Naukri.com is India’s number one job portal and is a well respected magnet that attracts venture capital as well. The company employs over 1600 people and has clocked revenues of over INR 270 crores in the last fiscal. Sanjeev along with his partner Hitesh Oberoi won the ‘Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ award in 2008 for business transformation, and in the same year, he also won the ‘Dataquest Path-breaker’ award and the ‘Teacher’s Achievement Award.’ He is the ‘professional father’ of the famous (or infamous) Hari Sadu ad – the boss everybody loves to hate … He is also the one who gave credence to a management concept – people do not leave organisations for a better job, they do for a better boss ! Here’s what Sanjeev had to say about naukri.com’s 8-point focus: “What are the characteristics of a business that we choose to enter ? One, the opportunity must be large, and therefore the business potential is scalable. Two, we wish to enter the business early. Three, we should be able to create IP. Four, the market structure should be such that the market power resides with us. Five, we should have the capability and strength to go after the business. Six, we like B2C businesses, because we are good at creating consumer brands, and we like to run a business-to-business salesforce. Seven, the business should have a high operating leverage …; in Naukri, for instance, close to 90 percent of the incremental revenue goes to the bottomline. And eight, our primary focus is India; and overseas markets where there is a large Indian population, such as the Middle East.”
FROM BACKYARD ACTIVITY TO WORLD CLASS INDUSTRY
Poultry farming, which for long remained in the unorganised sector as more of a backyard activity rather than as a corporate venture, changed forever with Venkateshwara Hatcheries entering the scene as a small farm in the year 1970. Since then, the firm has gone from strength to strength with many firsts. As the first company to embark on a process of developing the industry on scientific lines, Venkateshwara Hatcheries today occupies a special place in the Indian poultry scene, having pioneered the concept of parent franchisee operations, popularized cage farming, and for the first time in India, introduced the concept of inactivated vaccines and combination vaccines and the use of SPF eggs in vaccine production. Mrs. Anuradha Desai is the chairperson of the group, who has propelled her group companies to unprecedented success both nationally and internationally within a span of some 30 years. She has played a significant role in the quantum leap in egg production, consumption and export of poultry products in and from the country. She is also the first woman to be elected the president of the World Poultry Science Association. Anuradha is the first Indian to take over an English Premier League (EPK) football club, the Blackburn Rovers, for INR 165+ crore. Today, the VH Group is a US$ 1 Billion conglomerate, the largest fully-integrated poultry group in Asia. Anuradha is credited with promoting and helping achieve a higher per capita consumption of eggs in India and also pushing up India’s export figures of eggs significantly. Though a lot of her group’s successes are attribut – able to her and the team she leads, she herself is very self-depracating, given her modesty and humble self-image. Never considering herself to be the numero uno, she ascribes everything to the vision and hard work of her father, Padmashri Dr. BV Rao, who is considered the pioneer of the modern poultry industry in India. Dr. Rao was also known as the “father of Indian poultry industry,” having been the singular driving force behind transforming poultry from the mere backyard activity it was four to five decades ago into an organised and thriving world class industry today. He is of course to be credited for striving ceaselessly in acquiring the latest technologies from all over the world and as – similating them into the Indian industry, giving an impetus to indigenous R&D, modernising the farm management system, encouraging value addition, imparting professional training to farmers, and unifying them to shape their own destiny. His slogan of yore says it all: “My egg, my price, my life.” Anuradha is ably assisted by her brothers Balaji and Venkatesh Rao, and her husband Jitendra. The family has made “Ande Ka Funda” bloom into several verticals that have surely resulted in an increase in employment, empowerment of women entrepreneurs in villages, and reducing poverty.
TANGEWALA TO US$ 5B MASALA KING
DHARAM PAL GULATI Founder, MDH
“My hardships, from Partition to family disputes, were all instrumental to my success …,” says Dharam Pal Gulati, amoung whose many quotable quotes is also the maxim, “Give to the world the best you can, and the best will come back to you automatically.” No film-story this, but a true story of absolute rags to riches be the trajectory of life of Mahashay Dharam Pal, from a Tangewala to his presently INR 500 Crore worth MDH Spices. He is one of the few entrepreneurs who went against conventional advertising and marketing wisdom to become the face of MDH. MDH stands for “Mahashian Di Hatti,” – a respectable man’s shop. Dharam Pal was born the 27th March 1923 in Sialkot, a city in the north-east Punjab province of present day Pakistan. His father Chunni Lal and mother Chanan Devi were pious, philanthropic, and religious minded followers of Arya Samaj.
Dharam Pal dropped out of school in 1933, before he could complete the 5th grade. In 1937, he set up shop with the help of his father, a small business selling looking mirrors and thereafter went on to do a carpentry job, become a cloth merchant, get into hardware and later also rice trading. Soon after partition, on the 7th of September 1947, he along with his family reached a refugee camp in Amritsar. He was all of 23 when he left Amritsar with his brother-in-law and came to Delhi looking for a livelihood. He promptly moved to a flat in Karol Bagh which had no water supply, electricity or toilet facilities. Using the 1500 rupees (US$ 24.40) given to him by has father as a stake to start his life afresh at Delhi, he purchased a tonga (horse-drawn carriage) for 650 rupees ($10.58), and thus equipped, started ferrying passengers from Connaught Place to Karol Bagh, charging two aana (1/8th of a rupee) for a ride. He soon enough realised that this meagre income will not sustain him, and switched tracks to shopkeeping once again. So, with the money he earned from selling his horse carriage, Dharam Pal bought small wooden ‘Hatti’ or ‘khokha’ (Shop) measuring 14ft. x 9 ft. at Ajmal Khan Road in Karol Bagh, from where he launched his family’s ancestral business of selling ground spices and raised the banners of Mahashian Di Hatti of Sialkot ”DEGGI MIRCH WALE.“ With his vision and the honesty in business, Mahashay Dharam Pal over time grew his business to scale great heights, to become the INR 500 Crore Spice business that it is today. His company today has a network of over 1,000 wholesalersand 4,00,000 plus retail dealers in India. When asked why he still has not yet got down to hiring an advertising agency for his INR 500 Crore business, he is of the view that advertising alone does not sell products. It has apropos been wisely said that “good advertising sells products quickly but kills bad products even more quickly …,” MDH products have been of consistant high quality for the past 60 years, and Mahashayji at 89 years today still continues to be his own brand mascot. His humility, and his commitment to society have also found expression in the several philanthropic activities he has undertaken, and the numerous institutions he has been instrumental in founding to service needs of society. These include the 300-bed Mata Chanan Devi Hospital at Janakpuri in New Delhi in memory of his mother, where many poor are even today treated for free and avail free medical aid worth millions of rupees annually, and some twenty odd schools, including four in Delhi, the MDH International School, Mahashay Chunnilal Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Mata Leelawati Kanya Vidhayala and the Mahashay Dharmpal Vidhya Mandir, which he oversees personally.