I was born into a large but poor family. My father had a modest income and we were dwelling in a village in Haryana near Panipat. I had to leave my parents at a very young age as I went to stay with my aunt who was quite affluent and owned a large house in Sonipat. I was six-year-old and was invited to live with them to give company to their son who was also of my age. I started living with them and got admission in a government school. As a child, I was bright in studies. Even before I had joined school, I had memorised mathematic multiplication tables up to number 20, which, students usually learn in standard three or four. I was acknowledged as an intelligent child from the very first day of school by my teachers and was made the class monitor. It may appear to be a trivial accomplishment now, but as a child it meant the world to me.
Although I got a good start at school there were a lot of issues to be faced back home. As I was living away from my parents I had to encounter a lot of discrimination from my cousin. At times it would make me upset and I would long to return to my parents’ house. Dealing with these hardships at such a young age made me tough and I realised early in life that I needed to create a path for myself on my own and that could be achieved through education. I was industrious and by God’s grace, bestowed with a sharp mind.
When I was in standard eight, I scored very well and consequently got admission in a very good school in Sonipat. It was called the SMI Hindu School, which had a reputation for fostering toppers from all over Punjab and Haryana. In standard 10 I stood first in the entire Punjab (Punjab and Haryana were one one state then) state. That day was the happiest day in my life. It was a great achievement for my school and for me. The whole of Sonipat was decorated and I was the centre of attraction. There was a grand public celebration in my honour. I was interviewed by various publishers. This performance got me various offers to study in reputed colleges at no cost. DAV college, Chandigarh was one of them. However, due to the distance factor, I chose Hindu College, Sonipat, for my junior college education and later went on to study electronics engineering at the Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. I constantly received scholarships for my meritorious performance from the state and Central governments. Till standard eight, I received a scholarship of Rs 40 and from then on, Rs 140 per month. This compensation was deemed a big amount in those days and covered all my expenses as a student.”
Adversity to achievement
“The year I was in standard 10 was a turning point in my life. As mentioned earlier, I might have discontinued my studies had I failed to score well, since my parents could not afford educational expenses. The accomplishment of scoring well in the examinations threw open the doors to promising prospects. It gave me the determination to continue my studies further. My father wanted me to learn typing and take up a clerical job in a bank or in the government sector. However, since I was getting good offers I discontinued the typing course. In fact, I took a dislike to them and even today, avoid typing or sending telexes. For this reason, I don’t even carry a notepad even though I have been told on many occasions to carry one.”
My professional journey
“I scored 86 per cent in my engineering examinations and was among the toppers of the university. However, despite good academic records I wasn’t very ambitious about my career. I was hardworking and disciplined but unlike my friends and classmates, who nurtured plans of going abroad, I chose to go with the flow and accepted whatever destiny brought me. Instead of appearing for the UPSC exams or acquiring a public sector job in companies like Bharat Electronics, ITI, Hindustan Aeronautics, I accepted a job offer from a relatively small company. The proprietor of the company was an alumni of my college and had come there for campus recruitment. My teachers had always been extremely supportive of me and considering my smooth academic background, suggested my name. Also, they empathised with me as my father had recently expired. I got the job and started my career in the year 1978. Although it was a small company, it gave me immense opportunities to learn and grow as an individual and professional. On the very second day of employment I was in the Oberoi Hotel, attending to international delegates. Within 10 months, I was promoted to the rank of regional manager, South India. My boss appreciated my work and in 1980, I was sent to the US on a training programme. For the next eight years I travelled extensively to Europe and USA and within India for various business purposes, as well as training programmers. I also finished my masters in business administration during my stay in Bangalore and performed brilliantly since I was now equipped with practical knowledge of business as well.”
New roles, new hats
“In 1984 I was promoted to the post of CEO of the company. I was then 29-yearold. My boss liked me so much that he even proposed that I marry his sister. I accepted the proposal, not out of love but due to the faith he entrusted in me. I came to Delhi and my boss, who was now my brother-in-law, contemplated diversifying into other businesses. The company was doing well and he planned to venture into manufacturing, handing over the reigns to me entirely. Unfortunately, the business didn’t take off and he wanted to come back. This friction created a rift between us. I might have been the CEO of the company, but he was still the owner. So in order to move ahead in life I thought of setting up my own company with an engineer I had known since my days in Bangalore. I quit my job and Sumitron was founded in 1986.
As is common in any start-up, we too had our share of financial hiccups in the initial 11 months. Most of the investments came from my pocket. At one stage I had to sell my wife’s jewellery and borrow money from friends. That difficult phase ended and I received my first cheque of $4000 in July 1987. Business started blossoming and we set up our first branch in Bangalore.
Everything was going well but in 1991, when India was faced with the foreign exchange crunch, import businesses were badly affected. In order to keep moving I started Sumitron Exports Pvt Ltd in 1990, in partnership with a businessman from Panipat. We started an export business with products like handicrafts, textiles and furnishing fabrics as they were easy to export. The business did well and started generating profits while my own company, Sumitron Marketing was meeting its expenses. The real push came in 1993 when Dr Manmohan Singh became the Finance Minister and brought along with him economic reforms that liberalised India’s economy. After the liberalisation, the economy that had been in shambles regained footing and the import sector benefited. I was not interested in garment export and hence handed over the business to my partner. Since then I have been engaged it and this approach has helped me in maintaining a very healthy relationship with my customers.
My management style can be described as fatherly. I do not like to pressurise my staff or burden them with too much workload. I want them to value what they are doing and not get stressed. Even during this period of recession when our business has dipped by 20 per cent, we never once thought of laying off anyone from our staff or indulging in cost-cutting pertinent to festive bonuses or gifts. I like to share my wealth with others. Also, I like to offer presents as tokens of memory and appreciation to my patrons and clients. I feel there is a difference between being ‘wealthy’ and being ‘rich’. To be rich is to have a lot of money but in the electronics business and have been able to maintain a growth rate of 30 per cent every year.”
Wealthy, not rich
“I have been in business for the past 22 years. I don’t judge a person by his technical knowledge, but through the parameters of reliability and integrity of character. I don’t believe in taking a formal education-centric test. Instead, I ask candidates to write about themselves or about life in 20-100 words. Many a times I have judged a person through his own self assessment. If an individual has the right attitude but is not technically sound, he can be trained. For example, I was never considered to be a marketing person but destiny brought me to a juncture where I am selling electronic products and have been extremely successful in doing so. I believe in long-term relationships, whether it be with a customer, supplier or an employee. I have young customers; they trust me and have faith in my products and services. If I commit to something I will do to be wealthy is to have the blessings of elders, good wishes of friends and a good rapport with customers. For this reason I have always idolised Mr Narayana Murthy, chairman, Infosys, for his simplicity and his inclination towards the concept of sharing. He has not just established the biggest IT empire in the country, but created hundreds of millionaires in the process; he has shared his wealth. Conducting business with the right ethics and appropriate sharing of wealth had been my mantra and will continue to be in the future. I also attribute my growth and success to our customer-oriented approach. As a businessman I believed in the age-old adage, ‘The customer is always right’. I might be from a technical background but my commercial, financial and legal knowledge has been strong enough to add value to the business.”
“I was the eldest among five brothers and three sisters and often my father would say that I was like the engine of a train; if I moved in the right direction the others too would follow suit. After me, there have been six more engineers in the family. I have two sons, both have studied engineering from the Delhi College of Engineering (DCE). One of them is married and has joined me in business. My wife is a masters in economics.
I have always tried to strike a balance between the personal and professional spheres of my life. As a businessman I had to travel a lot but I managed to devote quality time to my family as well. I have always been a sports enthusiast and a keen follower of cricket, tennis and multi-sports events like the Olympics. Travelling is also my passion and I have had the opportunity to travel extensively in India and abroad. My wife and I have travelled to many religious places together and we often plan out family weekends. I am not a workaholic and like spending time with my loved ones.”
Desires that still lurk within
“I have one regret—not having spent enough time with my parents, especially my mother. I shared a strong bond with my mother and the vacuum of her absence is difficult to fill. I would like set up a school in the memory of my father in my hometown. I don’t want to see any child left uneducated due to poverty and hence donate funds to various educational institutions.”
Words of wisdom
“From my experiences I would like to share a few things with young aspiring minds. If one does things with earnest concentration and integrity he is bound to achieve success. One should not be fussy and accept what life presents to him. Never shun difficulties as they enrich the spectrum of life. A systematic and consistent approach will surely bear fruit. Somebody correctly said, “If you follow success, success will follow you; if you follow money, success will not follow you.”
As told to Himanshu Yadav of Electronics Bazaar