Raj Manek is a Board Member and the Executive Director of Messe Frankfurt Asia Holding Ltd, a subsidiary of Messe Frankfurt Exhibition GmbH, one of the world’s largest event organisers. Raj has over 20 years of experience in the domain of his expertise and has covered Western and Eastern Europe including Russia and CIS, as well as Asia – with over 10 years in India alone. His grandfather is from Porbander, Gujarat, and opted to move to East Africa (Uganda) like many people did in the 1930’s. Raj’s mother is from Kenya. NRI Achievers profiles him, his inspirational work and his personality facets in Dossier this issue…
You are a son of PIO, born in a different country. You still have your roots in India and by heart you are very much Indian. So, is it upbringing or are there any other reasons?
A little bit both, I would say. My parents even today – my father, he watches Hindi news channels more. Yes he is very attached to India. And I am doing business here in India for the past 13 years. I know the passionate side of India which we relate to – culture, customs and ethics, but I am also aware of the frustrating side of India, which fortunately my family doesn’t faced. India is the most hospitable country in the world, but when you are doing business in India things can be markedly different. I am a Hindu and Indian deep in my heart. I believe that because we are separated from India we try adhering to the culture a lot more. When I come to India, I see most youngsters today try to follow the western culture. Whereas, we are detached from India but we love to maintain our Indian culture. We love to celebrate Diwali, Holi, Navratri and many other Indian festivals.
Do you perceive any change in the thinking of NRIs these past two years? Since we have a new NDA led Modi government?
PM Modi has brought positivity into the country. The last two years of NDA rule has seen their government instituting significant reforms – all this is manifested in ‘Make-in-India’, ‘Start-up India’, etc. And mark this, India is currently the world’s fastest growing economy and has successfully been able to combat inflation. Earlier also, PM Modi was anyway considered in high esteem by NRIs for what he did as Gujarat CM, and of course the entire world is now looking at India more closely. China is trending to be the next global force. Similarly, India also has the potential for being the next global force because of the overall age of its population – in fact it is India that has the highest majority in the working age group and China is in contrast an ageing nation. In some years, India will become bigger in every way.
Let’s start with your childhood, your youth and then the ups and down in your life till you reach here.
Most of my childhood was in the UK. My parents came from Uganda with empty hands, just like everyone else of that time who moved out of East Africa in 1971. They worked day and night to feed us and give us a good life. I remember the day when my football coach knocked at our door. I was excited and surprised. But, my dad threw him out of the house as he wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer or a professional, just as every Indian parent wants their child to be. When I was 15, I was unable to focus much on studies. I was rather focussed more on playing football. I still remember that day when I was doing a summer job inbetween my vacations. I was working in public council civil services. They liked my job very much, so they wanted to offer a full time. At that time, my dad was looking for a shop and had decided to make me a shopkeeper if I don’t study. I stood in the corridor thinking if I don’t take this public council job, he would make me a shopkeeper. I didn’t want to see myself as a shopkeeper. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend my life working in a civil service department. So, I decided to focus more on my studies.
I studied hard and completed my degree in Accounts & Finance with very good marks. I qualified as an accountant at my first job with an exhibition company, where I was soon made in charge for the accounts and the small subsidiary. When this subsidiary was running under a loss they started to churn a few labourers. I didn’t quite know the reason behind the loss. So, I spent the next 5-6 weekends to find out if the loss was due to the number of labour or for some other reason. Slowly, I started learning the ins and outs of the business and I helped the company make a good profit without ever sacking a single person.
My work was well appreciated, and I was soon made a business development director for Asia in 2009, helping the company on several projects. In 2011 my boss took a big decision. They had a managing director here, who had been around for 15 years. All they did was take Indian companies to Frankfurt. In India, they had only one show – Kohtek Textiles. I was not ready to run a company with one show because I wanted to have my company in control. Then I decided that we must have a base in India to make them grow bigger. So, in 2011, I took over here with 12 people. We are now the second largest subsidiary with 20 best shows in India and 2 offices.
You seem to be good on the business development front, did you ever think of going it alone, becoming an entrepreneur?
Yes, many times, but I have been getting opportunities from most of the blue-chip companies. The happiness I have in growing this team and this company is beyond words. I feel proud that my team can run the show even without me. I have managed to build up a team here who are absolutely 100% capable of running this organisation without me, and I develop teams in Russia, Poland, Egypt, China – but I feel especially proud and contented to develop a team in India – India is special because India is also mine.
So by how much have you managed to grow the turnover of your company in India since you took over?
Ah, during the past 5 Years, I have managed to grow my company’s turnover from 1.5 million Euros to 10 million Euros.
How’s your working different from others? And your work culture – is it Indian or does it have german tinges?
I have brought in German processes and customised it a bit to fit-in with the Indian working system. I make the processes flexible to take on the Indian culture because you need both, you can’t be as disorganised as an average Indian but in the same breath you cannot bring in a German stringent process either – individually both things will not work. So to make it really work, you need to try a combination of both with some flexibility in it. I always say to my team that challenges are good. If everything goes easy then it is too boring. Every challenge we face preps us for something new. We learn from our mistakes and it is okay to commit mistakes.
Have you ever mulled about moving to India long-term?
I have been working here in India since 2001-2002, that’s quite a long time, I’d say. But honestly speaking, the answer will be a No. My family is in London. I have all my relatives there, that is my home. My wife Sangita is a lawyer, I have 2 daughters, Anya & Riya. My elder daughter loves football. She insists that I play with her sometimes. My younger daughter is more girly and loves being herself.
You have more than 20 years of experience in exhibitions, how do you see the future of exhibitions in India?
A lot have changed in the past 5 years. I think the government needs to build a new venue. Infrastructure is a big hurdle here and if it’s improved then exhibitions will really grow in the country. Also such exhibition fairs can play a great role in attracting foreign investment, especially from NRIs, because nothing can beat face-to-face meetings and this handshake cannot be beaten. On a personal note, I will continue to be a promoter of India. That’s the best way in which I can contribute – through my work.