February 21, 2015: Good customer rapport and goodwill is what will help one succeed in the long run. This is the belief with which Anil Kumar Muniswamy, director, SLN Technologies Pvt Ltd, created a niche for his firm in the electronics market. Highly interested in electronics since the early years of his life, he decided to set up SLN Technologies Pvt Ltd after a casual conversation with a friend, who eventually became his business partner.
His father’s postings to a different village almost every year meant that most of his schooling was done in India’s villages, while his post graduate degree took him to five international universities. In conversation with Richa Chakravarty and Samonway Duttagupta of Electronics Bazaar, Anil Kumar Muniswamy shares his 20-year journey
Childhood and early years
I had a very unique background. I attended more than 12 schools and colleges before graduating in engineering. After that, I studied in five international universities as a part of my MBA in international masters in practicing management which I pursued from IIM Bangalore. That’s mainly because my father was an electrical engineer, who worked for a state electricity board, getting transferred every year to different villages in order to set up a new electrical station. So until my engineering, I studied in villages, some of which didn’t have electricity at that time. My father’s job was to ensure the supply.
One of the villages had a gurukul system where the students stayed in the headmaster’s house. This is where I got to meet a lot of different people. But due to our frequent transfers, I never got an opportunity to make good friends till I studied for my engineering degree.
My MBA took me to different countries including UK, Canada, France, Japan and Korea, and that taught me how to interact with people from different countries while working in international companies. I had some very good classmates too. Most of them were from other countries and now, some of them are in top positions. For instance, one of them is the president of LG in Russia. With talented classmates rising to high profile positions, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and understand how they run their businesses and what we need to do in India for our businesses to grow big.
How SLN Technologies was born
The birth of SLN Technologies is a very interesting story. I worked for a couple of companies before starting SLN. I completed my graduation in 1985. Then I joined Bharat Electronics for a short while, before moving to a private company called Trans Marketing, where I worked from 1986 to 1989. After this, I joined Max India. I was sent to Bengaluru and made the area manager for the entire Indian operations of its electronics division. During that period, a classmate of mine, D R Subramanyam, visited me. Since the place where we met was very noisy, we moved up to the terrace, where our discussions led to the idea of starting our own company. Initially, my soon to be partner wanted some time as he was already working with a company, but he changed his mind and decided to join immediately. We decided to start in October 1994, but our plans got delayed because the companies we worked in were not prepared to relieve us so fast.
In 1995, we were able to leave our respective companies. We started off as a partnership, and then the firm was incorporated as a private limited company on November 23, 1995. We grew very fast but in 2008, the industry slowdown affected us. However, the company bounced back and is growing again. Our aim is to grow at a rate of 50 per cent annually by 2020. We have developed a lot of components that are import substitutes.
Giving your 110 per cent
Coming from a non entrepreneurial background, I sometimes felt at a disadvantage but I learnt things the hard way. In fact, even when I worked for other companies, I felt that those companies were mine and I put in 110 per cent efforts, because of which I built up a very good customer rapport and goodwill. When I started my own company, it was very easy to get business from these customers because they had seen my work.
Initially, in my own venture, the attrition level was high, but it has dropped over time and presently stands at just 10 per cent. This has been achieved by motivating our employees. Now, they contribute tremendously towards the company because they feel good about the fact that they are responsible for its growth. This kind of motivation helps in retaining people.
My attachment to EFY
My father wanted me to be an electrical engineer because he was one, and he even wanted me to join the state electricity board. I studied electrical engineering for a year, but somehow was not highly motivated because electronics was a growing field at that time. So I switched to electronics in the second year of my engineering degree.
In 1984 when I was doing my final year project, my team actually used an EFY kit! We were building an Intel 8085 microprocessor kit. So I have some fond memories linked to EFY.
In the first company I worked for, products were being imported and sold in India; that gave me the idea of starting manufacturing in India. I had a vision similar to prime minister Narendra Modi’s, to ‘Make in India’, way back in 1995. That motivated me to start this company.
Years ago, Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) asked us whether we could develop an antenna control system on a no cost, no commitment (NCNC) basis, which meant they would neither pay us nor guarantee that they would take what we’d developed for them. For a startup company, this was a risk. But we took up this challenge, developed this system and delivered it. Now we make control systems for six different types of radars for Bharat Electronics.
Give your people the freedom to fail
My management style is more about empowering people and trusting them. I empower my people and I give them the freedom to fail because people learn a lot from their failures. Innovation is the mantra in our company. In order to innovate, you have to take a lot of risks, exploring new technologies to develop new products.
The path ahead
All the knowhow of our company has been built by us in India itself. We want to grow big in Karnataka. I also contribute a lot to the education sector, philanthropically, and as a part of corporate social responsibility. We are also looking to develop products and services to expand our foreign markets. We have already started doing some work for an American company, and are making digital video recorders for passenger aircrafts. Next year, we plan to develop new software for this company. We are expanding both in the manufacturing sphere and in terms of our product portfolio. In fact, recently, construction work started on our new 2787sqm factory in KIDV Industrial Area, Jigani in Karnataka, which will manufacture aerospace components and aerospace sub stations.
While I was doing my management degree, a professional named R Balasubramanian was the one who really motivated me to become an entrepreneur, having noticed that I had the strengths, talent and will power to become one. He works as a GM in the Karnataka Power Corporation and used to teach at IISC as a hobby.
My success can’t be attributed to one single person. There are a lot of people behind it. I would say I am just a part of the success. I have the highest respect for my gurus and parents, my family members, my business partner and my friends. Teachers are the most selfless persons in life, as their only motive is to teach and not expect anything in return. My mother still helps me a lot. She manages my financy as well. So it would be selfish to say that only I am responsible for my success; in fact, there are many people behind my success.
Advice to the youth
There are lots of tips passed around these days. But my simple advice is that you should believe in yourself and go by your own experience. If you think you can do it, just jump into it. If you have the determination to succeed, you must work hard. I feel that if someone is self confident and believes in his capabilities, there’s nothing in this world that can stop him or her from becoming successful.
Moreover, the most important thing in life is to be very sincere and trustworthy. If you can win trust, you can achieve anything in life. One should never lie. This helps in maintaining one’s dignity.
My current state of mind
I think a lot is left to be achieved. Fortunately, there’s no retirement age for me, I can work for as long as I want to. I like to do interesting things in life too. I like practising yoga on weekends; I enjoy going on spiritual trips. I am passionate about photography and music.
Also, there are a lot of things that I want to change in myself. Right now, I am trying to be more disciplined. I usually work round the clock but I also need to learn when to stop. I am also trying to reduce my dependence on laptops, computers and mobile phones. One needs to work with people rather than the machines in order to generate more productivity.
About my family
Ours is a small and happy family. My wife Rekha is also an engineer but we didn’t get married in a planned way. It was fate that our paths crossed. Being an independent woman, she believes in creating her own identity and has been working as a project manager in Sonata Software for the last 23 years.
We have a son, Vishesh, who is studying in 12th standard and has taken up the commerce stream. He wants to pursue his graduation in economics and accountancy. He might join the company in the future and manage the finances. After all, that’s an area where we are lacking. I would like him to treat me and always remember me as a friend rather than a father. In the same way, I would like everyone in my life to always remember me as a friend.
Achievements so far
At SLN we have successfully developed and manufactured a control system for the Chandrayaan programme (India’s Moon Mission) for a 32m antenna and the same control system was used recently for the Mars Orbiter Mission also. We have manufactured and delivered 46 black boxes (solid state flight data recorders) to HAL so far for Sukoi-30 fighter aircrafts. I was the vice president of IPCA from 2000 to 2006, the president of IPCA from 2006 to 2010, and was the first to start an international expo in India. In 2007, I also started IPC training in India. It was a joint venture between IPCA and IPC USA, and was called IATC (India Association Training Centre). I was the founding president. The training was for students and for the industry, and it was called the ITC certification programme. I was also elected as the executive committee member of ELCINA and was nominated as aerospace and defence committee member at IESA. I have given key notes on the Indian electronics industry at the Electronic Circuits World Convention, Japan in 1999 and the China Printed Circuit Association show in 2008. I was the board of studies member at the BVB College of Engineering and Technologies, Hubli for three years. During that period, I created the syllabus for robotics and automation engineering for the college.
Two years down the line…
Two years down the line I would like to have increased the revenues of my firm by 100 per cent. I am trying to implement the Business Excellence Program, offered by the European Foundation for Quality Management. As a company, our target is to win the Business Excellence Award offered by CII. I am also sure that two years down the line I will be much more confident, disciplined and productive.
THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS…
Favourite music: Carnatic classical music
Favourite food: I am a foodie and love all kinds of food, especially Italian cuisine
Favourite movie: Godfather. It’s been shot exactly the way it was written
Favourite book: The Mahabharata
Favourite holiday destination: Europe
Favourite political figures: Currently, Narendra Modi. Mahatma Gandhi has been my all time favourite
Favourite actor: Dr Raj Kumar
Favourite actress: Jaya Bachchan
Role models: Gandhiji and Martin Luther King
One thing that I would like to change…
In this world: Eradicate poverty. I would like everyone to be prosperous
In the country: Eliminate corruption
In society: Make it more peaceful