“In life, you win some and you lose some—that should not stop you from reaching your goals,” is the mantra that has helped B.M. Vaish, chairman, ITP Group, achieve great success in his life. In a lively conversation with Baishakhi Dutta, business journalist for Electronics Bazaar, he shares his exhilarating journey in the Indian electronics industry, which has spanned a few decades.
Favourite music: Ghazals
Favourite food: Simple home-made Indian food
Favourite films: ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’, ‘The Dam Busters’, ‘Jagriti’ and ‘Do Bigha Zameen’. The last two films somehow affected my life since they were based on the struggles of the common man
Favourite actor: Dev Anand
Favourite actresses: Nargis and Shabana Azmi
Childhood and education
I was born and brought up in Delhi. I lost my father when I was just six months old. I did hear later that he was a very hard working man. Though my mother was not too educated in the formal sense, throughout her life she lived by very strong and fixed ideals.
I did my schooling from Modern School, Barakhamba Road in New Delhi. I was always a sports enthusiast. In school I was into hockey, football and basketball. I played basketball for my school team too. I completed my college degree from Ewing Christian College, Allahabad. At that time, IIT Roorkee was considered the ace engineering college and King George’s Medical College, Lucknow, was the top pick for medical students. So I followed the trend and joined IIT, Roorkee. Even at IIT, I continued with sports. I had started playing tennis and squash as well, by that time.
We were five brothers and one sister, amongst whom I am the youngest. All my elder brothers did very well in life. I am the only sibling who started a business since being employed by someone never interested me. I wanted to be in control of my own endeavours.
Spouse and children
My wife did her graduation and became a teacher. She was at Loreto Convent, Delhi, for a long time, where she taught English and geography. She was known to be a strict teacher and followed her principles, which was pretty much in line with what the school also wanted. At present, she is teaching at a few NGOs just to help children. We believe in living a very simple life. For us, spending unnecessarily is stressful.
I have a son and a daughter. My son started out at Doon School, graduated from IIT Kharagpur, and then went to Stanford. After that, he came back to India and set up Daksh, which he later sold to IBM. Currently, he is working with a company called UnitedLex, which is into legal outsourcing. My daughter was a journalist at The Economic Times, a job she took on right after graduation. She worked there for some time. When we started a radio station in collaboration with an NGO that is involved in social work like digging wells and building schools, she joined that. I have never forced my children to join my business, for I wanted them to choose their own path.
Contribution to the industry
My contribution to the trading sector can be measured by ITP’s contributions. Our customers trust us totally when it comes to the quality of our products and services – and we keep that trust by evaluating all our sources very carefully, assuring clients of consistent quality. This is of utmost importance to me when I am doing business, and it’s this single-minded focus that has helped me and my company achieve success.
ITP pioneered a unique payment method in the Indian market. One of our first principals was ECI (Electronics Corporation of India). Being a government company, we found its procedures too regimented for us. ECI used to send parcels of its products to the post office and documents to the bank. Collecting these used to take 15-20 days. But our customers required these products fast. After many discussions, we decided to give our principals signed cheque books, which they agreed to keep. After that, I would convey our requirements to our principals telephonically. Subsequently, what we had ordered would be dispatched by them as cargo on Indian Airlines (which was the only airline those days), and one cheque would be encashed at their end. Our order would reach us within seven days. Further information was conveyed through post cards. In the process, the entire cycle got reduced from 21 days to just two to three days. The PSUs that were our principals soon adopted this procedure throughout India. They took a bank guarantee from us, and then implemented this on an all-India basis. Prior to that, banks used to charge a lot and also took a lot of time in completing processes.
“Being fair is of utmost importance in business. For me, a person has to be forthright. I don’t mind if a person makes mistakes, but I appreciate it when that person admits it.”
My family has been very supportive throughout. As such, I do not have any particular idol. I am a completely self-made man. The main reason I entered this business was to do things my way. I always had the steely determination required to deliver something, and it is this quality that has inspired and helped me succeed. It is the driving force in my life. Even now, I try to do better every single day, in search of procedures that can cut down delays in work. Rather than a single role model, I have been inspired by a number of companies that did a lot of good work.
Motivating employees in an environment of fearfulness is difficult. People should enjoy the feeling of being trusted and have a sense of belonging. This is very important because if one gear wheel stops, the entire clock stops. I would like to use the analogy of sports here—I expect the managers to be like coaches. They should understand our business, the technical aspects and should have a good idea of what needs to be done by the team.
When you are a coach, you give your team a broad game plan, clearly define their goals and then you step back. After this, the team needs to be observed in an impartial manner and evaluated based on pre-declared targets and methods, in accordance with their matrix. The managers also play a crucial role in motivating employees and in building a positive work environment. We always give an extra push towards perfection, and I believe most employees like that push because they are learning in the process. They understand that when we come across as a little harsh towards them, the intention is to achieve the correct working style, and there is nothing personal about it.
Certainly, it’s an uphill task when you choose to follow this path, but the benefits make it worth the effort. Success, in this case, depends on how employees accept this management style. If they do not share the same DNA, then it becomes difficult to work together.
The turning point
My life has revolved around my business and my company. So when I talk about the turning point in my life, it is in relation to my business. At a point when our business was going down (1997-98), we decided to salvage things by investing a huge amount of money (₹ 600,000 – ₹ 700,000) to implement SAP. We motivated our employees by making them understand that this was the time for them to learn something new since they were free of heavy work. The decision paid off. Everyone managed to learn SAP, and things did change slowly when our business got back on track. It was like swimming against the tide. So I suggest that decisions should be taken based on what is right rather than what suits you.
The journey so far
In 1963, I started off my career at Escorts Limited, Faridabad, where I worked for five years. The company was into tractors, electro-medical equipment, etc. I started off on a very small salary – something like ₹ 2500, but I learnt a lot there.
Initially, while working at Escort’s, my father-in-law was very worried about how his daughter would be able to manage on my salary. He even went to the extent of taking me to an amateur astrologer, who was a great friend of his. Though I don’t believe in astrology, I agreed to the visit for fun. After studying my hand for about 30 minutes, the astrologer predicted another one or two years of struggle for me, after which he predicted that whatever I touched would turn to gold. In the long run, that person proved to be right.
To be honest, I am pretty happy with the way things went. I believe in doing things right and being happy with whatever life gives me back.
The initial years, when I manufactured 200 watt inverters, involved a lot of struggle. Those days, power transistors were not available, and we used germanium transistors instead. I made emergency lamps also. I was always inclined towards manufacturing, but back in those days it was more a question of survival. Then, as times changed, what helped me survive and thrive became my passion. In all this, quality was never compromised. I always tried to work hard and not compromise on my principles.
Qualities that attract me
Being fair is of utmost importance in business. For me, a person has to be forthright. I don’t mind if a person makes mistakes, but I appreciate it when that person admits it. There are times when I also goof up. Human beings make mistakes, but they should have the ability to admit it, rectify it and do better the next time.
Anything that I would like to change in myself
I have changed a lot – almost completely. But throughout, I have been an impatient person. Of late, I am working on that as well. Another regret is that I wish I knew more about computers. I can do all the necessary work on a computer, but I never got down to studying it in detail. I don’t like programming much, but I wanted to learn the various uses of computers and be a tech savvy person. I couldn’t devote much time in this interest back then, but I wish I had.
How I spend my free time
Every human being should have time for oneself. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to find much time for myself. However, I love to travel a lot. If I get time, that is something I would like to do. More than travel, I also love to try out new things. Besides, I operate an NGO from my office. These activities excite me more, because I find the concept of ‘free time’ to be a bit alien.
Currently, we are in the electromechanical components space. I expect the lithium-ion battery business to grow in the coming days. We are also dealing in Omron TMC products, and we hope to generate more business for that. Right now, we are supplying power supplies to the manufacturing and lighting industries, and we expect to export these soon.
Advice to future generations
Being a sports lover, I learnt a lot of business etiquette through sports, like fairness, accepting defeat, learning how to win, praising and respecting competitors. It is important to acknowledge the better endeavours of the winners, and learn their ways to win the next time. Once you have that spirit, you won’t have to worry about anything else. Moreover, you should do what you love to do, and not make the mistake of listening to a third person giving you advice about your career and choice in life.