“Nothing can be more pleasurable than seeing that my work has impacted the lives of thousands of people”

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He is a pioneer, born to lead. Starting from scratch, he has climbed up the ladder and scaled many heights. A man of principles, a firm believer in his dreams, he started out 26 years ago with steely determination, and is still hungry to scale even greater heights. Meet Girish Arora, chairman and managing director, Base Corporation. Kartiki Negi of Electronics Bazaar follows him down memory lane as he retraces his journey of setting up Base Corporation in 1987 and leading it all these years. With his ‘10 year plan’ tucked in his pocket, he aims to make Base one of the leading manufacturers and exporters in India.

Girish Arora, chairman and managing director, Base Corporation
Girish Arora, chairman and managing director, Base Corporation

Monday, March 17 2014: Born in 1959, I hailed from a family of teachers—both my parents were principals at government schools. I was born and brought up in Delhi along with my four siblings—two brothers and two sisters. Though my parents were in respectable positions, financially, things were difficult for a large family like ours. Despite tough conditions, my father gave us the best education so that we could improve our future prospects.

My parents wanted me to pursue teaching as a profession, but I followed my entrepreneurial instincts by starting off a business with a paltry sum, right after my graduation. Soon after my schooling, I enrolled myself at the Delhi School of Economics with an aim to fulfill my dreams. My family was not aware of my dreams and all this while they thought I was graduating in the Arts. It was during my college days that I actually started exploring opportunities to venture into business.

My entrepreneurial instincts

During my graduate days, I came across a naval designer engaged in the Xerox business. He was a trader and an import licence holder who used to bring machines from abroad, repair them and sell them in India. During those days, Xerox technology was at a very nascent stage in India. I quite liked the idea and after completing my graduation in 1983, I started a small business of trading in Xerox machines. I imported the machines from Australia and Singapore, refurbished them and sold them in India. I was only 19 when I ventured into this trading business. I was quite happy with the initial success but had a strong urge to move forward.

Once, one of my customers wanted to purchase some batteries. So I imported a small lot of VRLA batteries. In the late 1980s, there was a boom in the hardware sector, especially in the computer domain. Sensing an opportunity, I realised that hardware products would also need power back-up. At that time, electricity conditions in India were even worse than today. So, all these factors motivated me to venture into the battery business. I started importing batteries. By 1991, the economy started opening up, thus greatly reducing the import duty, and the business became a profitable and successful venture—which I have worked on ever since.

We were distributors of a particular brand for about three to four years, till it collaborated with Exide in India, so we had to disengage from our association with the brand. In 1992, I tied up with Panasonic and became its national distributor for VRLA batteries, which I continued till 2000. During those eight years, I became one of the leading B2B VRLA battery sellers in India, with a strength of about 70 people working out of 12 offices, generating a decent turnover. In 2000, Panasonic made a proposal for me to take over the company’s automotive division in India. With this development, I entered the after-sales service market and expanded tremendously. I initiated a lot of market restructuring and development activities.

It was during this time that I created the brand ‘Base Terminal’, and began sourcing for our own brand from Taiwan and Korea. I used to bring products into the country, brand them under the Base label and sell them across India. So between 2000 and 2005, I was able to build up a very strong network and also established our brand name.

Simultaneously, Base continued to be associated with Panasonic, which had capacity constraints. The company used to supply batteries to us from its Thailand factory, which also took care of exports throughout Asia. There came a point when our monthly requirements from that factory were equal to its manufacturing capacity. Ultimately, Panasonic couldn’t meet our demand, as they had to also cater to other markets. So they offered us a certain volume, which was about half of what we needed.

But there was the market and the demand for these batteries; so I decided to launch my own brand in India to fill the vacuum in the market and meet the demand. By 2005, Panasonic was not able to supply to us as per our requirements and was also not able to give us the technology we needed—for example, inverter batteries, which had become a huge market in India by then. Besides, imports had also become non-viable due to the heavy duties being levied. So, in order to sustain my company in the market, I decided to set up my own manufacturing plant.

In 2005, I started a small manufacturing unit in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, which later became a larger facility and expanded by up to four times its original size. What I started 26 years ago with a loan of Rs 50,000 has today grown into a Rs 9000 million manufacturing business.

The challenges I faced

I had no godfather in the business. There was no one who could guide me, so everything I did was through trial and error. I learnt on the go—whether it was about banking, marketing or technical knowhow. As the business grew, so did the challenges, which I started resolving, one by one. From my experiences, I learnt that one should be open minded—never to say ‘no’ to anything, and never to give up mid-way.

Base encountered several problems during its growing years. In 2000, several anti-dumping cases were filed against Base by our competitors to stop us from expanding. Even in 2011, when I was setting up the Hosur plant in Tamil Nadu, I had to face political interference. However, such things never affected my determination. I am a firm believer in destiny and, fortunately, luck has always favoured me.

My principles led me to success

I have always worked on one principle—to be open-minded because this gives you the scope to learn every day. One must value others’ opinions, irrespective of who is giving it. I am always open to suggestions that are valuable for the company.

I am still hungry to achieve more. One should never limit one’s dreams and aspirations and should be always ready to face challenges. I have dedicated my heart and soul to Base. Even today, I work for 18 hours a day. This has been my schedule for the past 20 years; so for me, work is worship.

Another principle that helped me in my business is to complete work the very same day and not leave things pending. In fact, what needs to be done today, should have been done yesterday—which means, in order to keep pace with cutting edge competition, one has to be prepared in advance. I chalk out a strategy for everything; I believe in planning well after discussions. Once the plan is in place, I stick to it, come what may. I am a firm believer in working for results, which should be measured in numbers.

I want the industry to remember me as a people’s person. My business has had an impact on 5000 to 6000 people till now, and nothing can be more pleasurable than that. My hard work has paid off. I have managed to forge deep personal bonds with my employees and most of them will not leave us unless they are about to retire. I spend a lot of time in the factory, and am always on the production floor, starting by having breakfast with the employees.

My contribution to industry

Today I can proudly say that Base was the first company to introduce VRLA technology in India. I think this is, by far, my best contribution towards the battery industry. We were also the first Indian battery brand. Before we arrived, Exide was ruling the market with a 90 per cent share of the organised market. Amaron entered a year after us. When we entered the market, we initiated a lot of innovation in the trade; for example, we brought in the consumer goods or consumer durables style of operations into the battery industry. Since the beginning, I have always focused on educating customers about the difference between brands and products. Given that the battery as a product is very dull and technical, I made it look appealing to the youth. So, we targeted a lot of youth-centric products like two-wheelers, small UPS systems at homes, small car batteries, sports car batteries, etc.

My family and employees are my motivators

Girish Arora with son Aditya Arora, who is the COO of Base Corporation
Girish Arora with son Aditya Arora, who is the COO of Base Corporation

Financial security for my family was my prime motivation for starting this business. I was the bread winner of the family and being the eldest, I had to support the entire family. Hence, there was always pressure on me. Initially, my aim was to get my sisters married and ensure my brothers settled down. I wanted to secure them with their basic needs and requirements. Today, apart from my close family, my employees have become my extended family and I am equally responsible for them as well. We have over 2000 employees and around 350 vendors who are dependent on my company. So now they are my biggest motivation.

All this while, my wife, who is a home maker, has been my pillar of strength. She plays a very important role in my life. She keeps me grounded and mentally stable. I am blessed with two sons. My elder son, Aditya, has done a bachelor’s degree in business and is pursuing an MBA from ISB. He is currently designated as the COO of the firm. My younger son, Shantanu, has graduated in the arts and is getting hands-on training in sales. He will eventually take care of the media and publicity department.

Future plans

We are already working on future plans. I have my plans in place for the next 10 years. In the next five years, I aim to take the company up to the Rs 30,000 million mark. And for this we need robust expansion and must enter the exports business as well. This year, we target to export batteries to 100 companies.

We are setting up the largest battery manufacturing plant in India, which is spread over 200 acres of land in Hosur, Tamil Nadu. It will be a 215 million hour per month capacity factory that will produce about 300,000 batteries per month. Another plan is to explore renewable energy. We have already started working in this direction with the production of batteries for solar lights.

As far as my personal life is concerned, I would like to slow down post-retirement. I am just 54 now and have no plans of quitting in the near future. But, somewhere down the line, I would like to settle down in Solan and look after my plant. I find some kind of serenity in that place.

Apart from this, I would like to catch up on my hobbies—music and the cultural arts. Very few people are aware that I am an ardent fan of theatre. I was associated with the National School of Drama during my college days. I recently performed for one of my close friends who had offered me a small role in his play.

Social responsibility

girish arora_base corporationI have tried my best to ensure that whatever I do should bring about some change in the lives of people attached to me. This is what I think is my social responsibility. I have allocated some area around my upcoming plant at Hosur to be developed as a green belt to preserve the environment because of the polluting products that we make. We will also develop farms to grow organic vegetables, which will be sold to our employees at subsidised rates.

We have also invested in the education sector by designing our own syllabus for those entering the batteries segment. In our industry, we do not get skilled manpower. We either have to poach workers from other companies or impart training to our people. Looking at the scenario, I tied up with several universities in Himachal Pradesh, which have developed a syllabus for battery manufacturing. Therefore, students who aspire to be part of the battery industry could enroll themselves in this programme. We ensure that these students are given jobs in Base. So, in a way, we are creating employment, and imparting education and training.

Meanwhile, we are also planning a project in the north-eastern region of the country. There are several remote villages in Assam with a population of 200-250 people, which are completely disconnected from towns and cities. They do not have access to power or telephone lines. We have designated a small team, which will set up a domestic scale solar power back-up system to supply light to these places. We have produced a small panel battery that gets connected to two or three bulbs, with which we aim to light up the lives of these people.

One thing that I would like to change…

In this world:

Remove violence, terrorism and any act of war

In the country:

Remove poverty and provide shelter to every Indian

In Society

Remove Inequality

At your work place:

Increase loyalty while focusing on developing individual skills

In yourself:

Create a balance between my work life and personal life

 

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS…

Music:

Ghazals

Food: 

Simple home-made vegetarian food 

Books:

Mahatma Gandhi, Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth 

Holiday destinations: 

Solan

Film:

Taare Zameen Par’

Hobby:

Spending valuable time with my family

Actor:

Aamir Khan

Role model:

Certain qualities of both my parents inspire me

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine