Here is an inspiring tale of Pankaj Saxena, a NRI who has seen more ups and downs in life than a yo-yo, but has always managed to land with both his feet firmly and squarely on the ground. There are people you'd just discuss business with and promptly leave; and then, there are people with whom, even after the business is concluded, you'd like spending time. This soft spoken, mild mannered entrepreneur belongs to the latter category. Though an NRI with business interests in several countries, his heart still loudly and clearly beats for India. The editorial team of NRI Achievers had a 2-part heart-to-heart chat with him recently - part 1 in Dubai and part 2 in Gurgaon. Here is his story, more or less in his own words:
Tell us about your childhood.
I am from a middle class family of Meerut, and am the eldest of three siblings. Both my parents were salaried employees of Defence Accounts department. In typical Kayasth tradition, my parents didn't provide much wherewithal to us, but did provide us with the best of education and intellect. I was 16 and had just completed my 10th standard. One day my father called me and said that he cannot provide any means for my dreams. He told me that the house is there for me to live in, but he would not be able to give me any pocket money or luxuries. As a result, I started teaching my own classmates and in coaching institutes for earning extra money. This continued throughout my senior secondary, B.Com., MBA, LLB, CS, etc. My routine was hectic. My day started at around 4am and an hour of yoga later, I would cycle away to teach a classmate. Then, would cycle across to the coaching institute to teach. I would cycle around 30~50 kms a day to earn the extra money through tuitions. My own studies would begin at around 10pm and I would sleep at midnight. Next day, the same routine would follow. During all this, I had also learnt typing and shorthand as I knew it would be my entry ticket in to any department for a job. I still remember the day I had earned my first Rs. 20. I aimlessly cycled, whistling, humming songs, around the company garden area of Meerut. I gave away Rs. 5 as an offering to Amarnath Ji temple (a Shiv temple in Meerut), bought something for myself for Rs. 5 and saved Rs. 10.
Even at that age, you saved?
Oh yes. By nature, I prepare myself for rainy day eventuality. People have a 'Plan B', whereas I would even have a 'Plan C, D and E'.
Then one day, I was told by my father to start working in Defence Accounts. I resisted, but was forced by him. So, I cleared the exam, and started working there. My first assignment was as a PA to an IAS Officer, Mr Sanjeev Goyal. Every time I happened to be in his room, I would study him carefully - his mannerism, his public dealings, his way of speaking with juniors, seniors, peers, family, his way of conducting himself in a meeting or a conference. I would study him that intently as if I was inhaling his aura. Subsequently, I worked with a smartly turned out Sikh officer, and used to study him in a similar manner. The whole office was scared of him, but not me. One day, he asked me what I see in him. I told him I was learning how to deal with situations and people by observing him. He was thrilled to hear that, called my father and told him that his son would someday carve a name for himself. My father cynically told him that nothing of that sort would happen. His pessimism and strictness is what challenged me and drove me to reach where I am today. During those days, I would speak very little, but would write profusely - on social issues, poverty, etc. And those articles would be published in a magazine called 'Caravan'. One day, my boss's junior, an Assistant Controller of Defence Accounts, saw an article of mine and he praised and encouraged me.
Soon after, my father got transferred to Chandigarh, my younger brother died, and I decided to get out of Meerut. I wanted to become an advisor to some senior politician - I didn't want to become a politician, but an advisor. For that, I completed my B.Com and quietly applied in Modi Rubber when their vacancies were advertised. I got selected and was posted under the Systems Division GM. He used to like my drive, my command over the language and my dedication. While others would leave at 5pm, I would close my room and just sit there and study. My boss found that out one day and asked me what I wanted to do. I told him that I was studying law and would also like to take Company Secretary exam. I also told him that I do not have the financial means to pursue that. He asked me to meet Dr. B K Modi, who approved the study grant to me. I used to sit and study in office and would leave by the last company bus, which used to depart at midnight. Result? I cleared law as well as CS in first attempt. By this time, my GM had been transferred to Modi Xerox. After my results, I went to meet him. He asked me whether I would like to join Modi Xerox. My answer was yes.
Over there, I brought out the first Public Issue of Modi Xerox successfully. But that wasn't enough for me. I wanted to do more, learn more and burn more. So I joined Mass Computer Services. They used to specialise in Public Issues. I brought out the issue for Kinetic Honda, Burroughs Wellcome, Ansals, etc. Over here, I started earning money from the stock market. I used to earn so much that I would spend the salary on my colleagues and would have lot more available, thanks to my earnings from stocks. That's when I got the taste for wealth.
Over there, I used to work till fairly late. One day, Mr Ansal saw me working at 12.30 into the night. He asked me what I wanted to be. I told him I wanted to earn money - lots of it. He asked me if I would bring out the share issue for Ansals. I assented. After bringing out that public issue, I started going to the stock market to manage the price of Ansal shares. Over there, I became friendly with many stockbrokers. Because of me, many of them minted money. Among them, there was this famous stock broking company (Manohar Lal Bansal and Company). When, in professionals’ quota, stock exchange tickets were to be allotted, Manohar Lal ji asked me to apply. In those days, I was the Company Secretary for Ansals. I told him I didn't have enough money to apply. Those days, the fee was Rs. 5 lac. He asked me how much I had. I had only Rs. 1.65 lac. He said he will pay the difference, I could return that after earning.
In the stock exchange, my expertise was in controlling the price of a share. During those days, even Harshad Mehta sought my help for building up share value of one of his shares. But, I was finding stock market to be a dicey scene since we, as brokers, would bear the burden of those who couldn't pay up for their losses. In one of those transactions, I faced a loss of Rs. 3 Crore, which in mid 90's was a big sum. So, instead of evading calls and creditors, I called the entire broking community, and auctioned my stock broking tickets of Delhi, Mumbai and Ludhiana stock markets, paid off all my debts, and walked off penniless.
After having worked so hard, penniless again? Then?
Then, I decided to get into real estate. I called Mr. Sushil Ansal and he advised me that instead of getting into the domestic real estate market rat race, I should look at developing markets abroad. I was a networking man. I had a strong relationship with IL&FS. I started getting infrastructure contracts in many African and CIS countries. My networking was with countries' prime ministers and presidents. Through all this, I started my operations in Dubai. Subsequently, I started getting more work from countries like Malaysia, Ukraine, Uganda, etc. And, as a result, today I have offices in countries like UK, USA, Canada, etc. Despite all this, I still feel that the journey I have to undertake, I have only managed about 50% till now. But the rest 50% shouldn't take me as long now.
Your father was cynical and pessimistic about your being able to achieve anything. What are his views now?
Both my parents are proud of my sister and me. She is now an IPS officer in Muzaffarnagar. She is accomplished in her own right, and so am I. They are happy for us. Their blessings are always with us, though they do not come to the fore in any social gatherings.
What does your company do?
My company is a real estate advisory firm. We advise on turnkey solutions to our clients - from land acquisition to sanctions, to architectural planning, to construction, to marketing and sales, to the delivery of the project. Besides, we are also in to land aggregation. We have provided 80% of the Gurgaon land to the various developers. I may trade in land, or even hold the land, collaborate with a developer and share the profits. Many friends ask me to become a builder, but I have refrained from doing so as I do not wish to shout and scream at labour every morning or get stuck to a place since I have EMI cheques to sign. I am also fond of many fine things. I am also currently involved in making a feature film. I am networked with various known personalities in both Bollywood and Hollywood. In fact, thanks to my networking, year before last we launched a golf course project of Ludhiana in House of Commons in London, and it was attended by, amongst others, Hindujas, Ruias, Kapil Dev, Faroukh Engineer, Solkar, etc. Now, we are also doing a winery project in Long Island, USA. All these varied projects are courtesy my leisure trips to various countries, during which, I ended up concluding some business deals as well. I start operations in a new country and cream the market; and when others move in, I move on to develop another new market.
Having reached here, now what's your dream?
I wish to bring lot of foreign currency investments into the country. Our gold was pledged couple of decades back. If a country's gold is pledged, that's shocking. Ever since, it has been my dream to get more dollars in to the country. Lately, whatever FDI happened, it could have all come to our country, but we have some issues and hence the investments got diverted to China.
Income Tax, for one. The amount collected as tax is lesser than the cost of collecting it. The collections are much larger from excise and customs. But, there is no political will to do away with income tax, as it is being used either as a carrot or a stick to woo the voters. Look at Dubai. It is a tax-free economy. But, the exchequer doesn't suffer - they collect purchase tax. In effect, anything you buy, you end up contributing to the state. We could, perhaps, take a leaf out of their book. This also addresses the anomaly of 15% taxpayers bearing the burden of the rest of 85%. Similarly, we, as a country, are not yet ready for toll-tax. We suggested a model in Bihar, which has been adopted by the government there. The model is simple – they have hiked the petrol price by a rupee per litre, towards toll-tax.
No one minds it and the state gets the toll. Such simple stuff can help save a lot of fuel, man-days and angst. We should look at that. Another example - one child policy of China. They pay the citizens for restricting the number of children to one. If the family has more than one child, besides paying a one-time tax for that, they have to pay an additional tax on anything they do - whether it is buying property or for education or for healthcare. We are suffering from a population explosion. A policy like that would go a long way towards ensuring a more stable and a more prosperous economy. These are small measures, which can go a long way towards the nation's prosperity. All it needs is the 'intent'.
How are you contributing towards nation building?
I have a great regard for philanthropists like Azeem Premji or Bill Gates, as they do a lot for the society. In my own small way, I try and contribute. I pay for the education of kids of my entire staff. It isn't just limited to school education, but extends till graduation. I do not do other charities; but for me, the biggest donation is donation of education. There is a famous saying - don't give them fish; teach them how to fish. I believe in that, and that is my drive for donating education. I am doing it of my own free will, but, if the government was to exempt the donation towards education from tax, that would encourage more and more people to come forth and help educate the country.
Any other views?
Churchill had predicted India's fate many decades back about how India would be led and how its people would suffer. He had the confidence in his prediction since he knew about the education-system legacy they were leaving behind. The entire education system created by the British for india was about creating 'babus' and not 'leaders. We need to seriously introspect as a nation and make sure that we attain our rightful place in the world.