There is more to what appears behind the gentlemanly facade of Sanjiv Narayan, managing director, SGS Tekniks. He is a man with strong will power and an indomitable attitude. The reputation, recognition and fame that Sanjiv Narayan enjoys was not earned overnight. It took years of backbreaking effort. Unlike those born with a silver spoon in their mouth to carry the family business forward, here is a self made man who reveals to Richa Chakravarty of Electronics Bazaar, about his personal and professional accomplishments, as well as his failures, apart from sharing a few interesting anecdotes
Brought up in the Gandhian tradition of simple living and high thinking, I had a very humble upbringing in a family of eminent government servants. Among my three sisters and two brothers, I was the second child. Though fun, fights and pranks were a part of my childhood and growing up, I was more of a quiet and shy child but very firm and clear headed.
Hailing from an upper middle class family, my parents were very determined to give us a good and strong education. I did my schooling from St Columba’s School, New Delhi, followed by Bishop’s Cotton in Bengaluru. As my father was in government service, we experienced a nomadic life as we shifted home every two-three years. This was indeed a blessing in disguise as it gave me great exposure and opportunities in my formative years, which later became a strong base that helped me face new challenges in the future, adjust to new places, cultures and people.
Although I was not a topper in school or college, throughout my academic years, I maintained a good academic record. Neither competition nor the rat race were a part of my growing up. I took up education with the curiosity to learn and gain more knowledge, and this hunger still lingers with me as I am always on the learning curve, curious to explore new avenues of technology and trends. My interest in mathematics and physics landed me in IIT Delhi, where I studied electronics engineering, not knowing that one day I would become an entrepreneur.
I gained confidence with my first job
Through campus selection I got my first job in 1973 and was appointed as a management trainee with Continental Device India Ltd (CDIL), an electronics company. I was lucky to have an early break that was very interesting, challenging and rewarding at the same time, and gave me a tremendous amount of confidence. CDIL gave me immense opportunities to grow, learn and prove my mettle, and in 1987 I was promoted as the executive vice president of the company. During these 13-14 years of my career, I did take rapid strides, which, in fact, taught me to be stronger and more confident. My enthusiasm and active participation in industry associations made me the youngest president of ELCINA in the same year. This was the first time a professional, rather than an owner of a business, had been offered such a position. This was a great achievement as, at the personal level, it instilled a lot of confidence in me.
While continuing with CDIL, I had completed my MBA from Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi University, in 1982.
A dream larger than life
I always dreamt of starting a company of my own and while working at CDIL, I started nurturing this dream and became more serious about taking up entrepreneurship. If you have the will, there will be a way—goes the saying, and true enough, my dream did get fructified in 1990 when my other three partners, Ranjit Singh, Jasbir Gujral and Krishna Pant placed their belief in my vision and helped in establishing SGS Tekniks Pvt Ltd. All four of us, at some point of time, had shared a professional relationship with CDIL.
We were armed with just the dream of making our business big through sheer hard work and integrity, since none of us had the capital to start a business! And believe me, that’s what worked for us and bound us together. For the first two years, we did not draw any salary. That was the toughest period in our lives.
We managed a meagre capital of less than Rs 4 lakh, and resolved to slog it out and make our business financially strong. It was these hard times that made us realise our strengths and weaknesses, and made us even more determined to forge ahead. I may confess here, that the real investors in our business were our wives, who supported us morally throughout our hardships.
As partners share camaraderie for life, we share total trust, confidence and a transparent way of operating and that has been our biggest strength. Also, hailing from the same humble background (service sector) and sharing the same values, we have developed a strong professional relationship, which we all boast of, even now.
Taste of failure and success
When the electronics industry in India was in its formative years of building policy initiatives, SGS Tekniks’ business model was far ahead of its time. Electronics manufacturing services (EMS), a well known concept across the world, required concept selling within the country. Being pioneers in this field, where the company was exposed to various challenges, we as partners met each challenge with strong will power and determination, and met each obstacle by identifying the changes within the industry and by studying the technology trends to understand the market better. We approached each customer with fierce commitment.
Things were extremely tough and we went through some bad phases. There is no denying that business involves risk, and success and failure are like the life and blood of business. However, the important part is to survive and emerge as a winner, and we did so.
Our major setback in the US exports market was a learning process for all of us. However, we tasted our first success with our first customer—ITI, Allahabad. Our strategic business sense helped us reap benefits since then. We sensed the changes in the market and shifted gears accordingly. When the public telecom sector saw a decline, we swiftly moved out of that segment and focused our energies on office automation and home electronics. And since then there has been no looking back.
We didn’t have a strong foothold in the domestic market, but slowly we started making our presence internationally with exports to countries like Germany, Italy and Australia. Being a leading player in the EMS business, today, SGS has four state of the art manufacturing facilities in Gurgaon and Baddi.
Our passion and commitment towards work took us beyond our country’s boundaries in 1996, when the SGS group partnered with the Eltek group of Norway, which is in telecom DC power supply. This partnership turned out to be strong and successful and helped us capture a major market. This gave us immense confidence in taking our operations forward.
We slowly moved out of our manufacturing space, and expanded and established ourselves as a leader in innovation and development. Today, SGS owns a design centre at Stuttgart in Germany, which supports the designing requirements for our European customers. From manufacturing to R&D, and now from hardware to software, SGS has been progressive in its strategy for holistic growth. In 2002, the SGS group forayed into the geographical information system (GIS) space and set up SGS Infotek. Besides catering to the needs of the Indian government, the company is exporting services to UK, Germany and Scandinavia. We have also set up a training institute in Gurgaon.
We owe this growth and success to our partnership which has just entered its 21st year. Though balance sheets and the turnover are some of the parameters to measure success, real success is when you are viewed by all your stakeholders (be it your employees, clients or suppliers) as trustworthy and reliable. We have scored well in this area as the foundation stone of our partnership has been our values and principles. Customer commitment with quality, cost and delivery has been our success mantra. We, as partners in SGS, had made a promise of absolute trust, honesty and forthrightness in all our dealings, be it with the customer, supplier or among ourselves, and till date we live by it.
My partner for life
I think partners that complement each other become great friends, but the ones who have common values and interests become soul mates, and I found my soul mate when I married Sushma. Ours was an arranged marriage. Being a paediatric gastroenterologist working in the government sector, she is a multi-faceted personality who has balanced her home and profession well. It’s been very truly said, that the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world, and yes, my wife has been my strongest support. From being a devoted daughter-in-law, to a loving wife, a caring doctor and a doting mother, Sushma excelled in all her roles. I am fortunate to have a partner like her who enjoyed sharing my passion for work. As most of my time was spent in establishing the business, she spent her time raising my kids, quietly pursuing her career, and at the same time being undemanding by rendering me the space and time required to build our future.
I am a proud father of two sons—Priyank and Shashank. An alumni of IIM Ahmedabad, Priyank is an entrepreneur and management consultant and is married to Pooja, a senior HR professional at IBM. Shashank works in an investment banking division of a leading MNC. Carrying on our family tradition, as parents, we both have given our children a strong education and the platform to make it big for themselves. Though they have our support and guidance, if they want to make it big, they know that they will have to make it on their own, because I feel, to excel in life, there has to be fire in your own belly.
Relationships matter a lot
Being a workaholic, I didn’t find time for nurturing hobbies. However, I love spending a quiet evening with family and friends. Watching a blockbuster movie with my family makes me happy. Of late, I have started enjoying my game of golf. I have a few friends who have been by my side through thick and thin, and I really value these lasting relationships. However, interacting and making new friends has never been an issue with me.
My easy going nature and approachable attitude is one of my greatest strengths in retaining relationships, as I never hold preconceived notions about people and am not judgemental at all. Also, my schooling and college left a lasting impression on my nature and behaviour as a person. IIT Delhi exposed me to my contemporaries who hailed from different cultural and economic backgrounds. While I love meeting new people, I built close relationships with those who had common values and this is how I found my SGS partners, who are like the pillars of the company. They are now a part of my immediate family and this friendship extends to our spouses as well. Every year, all eight of us holiday together.
No regrets in life
As an ordinary man I’ve tasted both success and failure on the professional and personal front. However, I have no regrets in life. Had I not made a sincere effort to realise my dreams and aspirations, I would have landed up being a disappointed and frustrated person. But I stood firm in the face of every failure and accepted success with humility. This is something I have learnt from my father who has also been an inspiration to me.
I am grateful to the industry for recognising my contributions. My reappointment as the ELCINA president in 2001 and the chairmanship of the Electronics Computer and Software Export Promotion Council (ECS) in 2007 reaffirms the trust and faith that the industry bestows on me. Being completely work oriented I still continue to participate in industry activities and will ensure my participation in the future as well.
The unstinting support offered by the industry and my contemporaries further boosts my confidence. Every day has been a learning experience and I believe I am still learning and growing. While meeting my self-imposed goals, I make time for my family and my new found interest in golf. I also think it is time to give back to society and I want to spend some time on social work. So I plan to join my wife who is a social entrepreneur in her own right.