If you don’t just think about yourself but about others too, and you are honest in your intentions, then the Almighty is always with you.” This is what Rajinder Kumar Kaura, CMD, Bergen Associates Pvt Ltd, believes. Kaura started out as an entrepreneur with just ₹ 3000, when he set up Bergen Associates. In the first month of its operation, Bergen sold five SMT machines in spite of competition from two American companies. Rahul Chopra, editor of Electronics Bazaar, spoke to him to learn more about his amazing journey in the electronics industry
I think the real lesson of life that I have learned is that if you don’t just think about yourself but about others too, and if you are honest in your intentions, then the Almighty is always with you. This is the realisation I’ve got from 42 years of experience. Nobody in my family has done business and my background is very humble. My father was a head clerk and he retired from the Haryana PWD. He had been in Malaysia during the Second World War. During my childhood he used to narrate stories to us about his association with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and he motivated me a lot to study, which is one major reason why I topped the Punjab University for my matriculation in 1967. My father, of course, was very proud when I did that.
I belong to Ambala Cantonment. My father wanted me to become an engineer because his boss was one. My father’s office used to be in Punjab University’s engineering college campus at Chandigarh. One day he took me to his old office at Chandigarh, and I told him that I would like to study in this college. But he refused, saying that only rich people studied there and his boss, too, had passed out from this college. So I jokingly told him that I would study here and become his boss (laughs). His salary was meagre; that’s why he discouraged me but this motivated me to study hard. Then I topped the university and got a national scholarship.
My father had taken an insurance policy for ₹ 1000 at a premium of ₹ 5 per year. This was back in 1948. So when it matured in 1969, he gave me a draft of ₹ 1230 for my admission. So this is how it started. I did my bachelor’s degree in engineering (1969-73). Immediately after that, I took up my first job as an electrical engineer with the Haryana State Electricity Board (HSEB).
The time difference between my interview and my appointment was only four days because the government wanted to recruit around 250 officers. I got the job as a trainee engineer and this post was called a GTA or graduate technical assistant. I was on a salary of ₹ 268 pm for the training period and, fortunately, I got the job in my home town, Ambala Cantonment. As an executive, I learnt how to deal with people. I remained an honest officer and never took a single penny from anybody as a bribe.
There was pressure from my bosses to be corrupt and some of my colleagues used to oblige, but I did not budge, and I ensured that nobody, junior and reporting to me, took bribes either. I was also heavily influenced by my teacher from my engineering college. He was a follower of Shri Aurobindo and during our college days had taken us to Pondicherry, where he asked us to take an oath stating that if we could not remove the black stain of corruption from the face of engineers at least we would not add any black ink to that stain.
So this had a very good impact on my upbringing. I remained an officer from 1973 to 1987 in Haryana, after which I also quit as a leader of the engineers’ association. During government service, I had an opportunity to go to Norway in 1979-80 under a UNDP scheme. For the event, one person from each of the 39 developing countries was selected, representing various disciplines. I was a part of this delegation. There I learnt one of the greatest lessons of my life. I discovered that people believe you till you are proved untrustworthy, and here, I had gone from a society where people doubt you till you prove yourself. In Norway, I visited the town of Bergen, where I was able to see the sun set and then rise within just three hours. It was an amazing feeling. In 1987, I resigned from the job to tread a new path in life.
The reason behind choosing to be an entrepreneur
I had got married in 1982 and my wife was from a business family. She was never comfortable with the low salary and encouraged me to be an entrepreneur. Besides, the management was always transferring me to various places in Haryana. So, I thought that it would be better if I started my own venture. I thought that it should be like the city of Bergen, where the sun rises quickly after sun set. That’s how I named the company ‘Bergen Associates’.
Initially, I explored how I could start my own business, so 1983-87 was a learning phase. I started my business with just ₹ 3000. In the first month, I sold five wave soldering machines. Initially, we had competition from two American companies.
Why electronics manufacturing?
This was quite by chance. I had visited a computer manufacturing company in Norway, where one sales guy gave me his visiting card. Later, when I contacted him, the company agreed to sell me a machine with 10 per cent compensation. Initially, I employed five sales guys, and then my younger brother also joined in. He was more of a technical guy. We made a good team. Our major client at that point was Videocon. Soon, we started expanding.
In 1986, we participated in an exhibition for the first time and it was a NEPCON show. Then, in 1988, at ‘Electronics India’, Rajiv Gandhi visited our stall. He wanted to see how PCBs were assembled, so we showed him a live demonstration. In 1990, we again participated in the ‘Electronics India’ show. In 1990, I shifted from Chandigarh to New Delhi and to Gurgaon in 1994.
After 1994, the business took a hit. I had set up my own factory after taking a loan from the Haryana Financial Corporation (HFC). When the bad phase affected us, it was difficult to even pay the interest on the loan to HFC. But it was a learning experience because I was not from a business family.
During this difficult time, my brother and I also parted ways. He had got married. So when we divided the company, he took Bergen Systems, while the rest of the companies stayed with me.
In 2000, we shifted from semiconductors to solar. From 2003 to 2005, I was trying to push solar cell production in India. Moser Baer was the first company to manufacture solar cells. Manufacturing of solar cells is nothing but manufacturing PCBs and PCB assemblies, plus the sputtering process. So this is how I migrated from the electronics to the solar business. With this small effort, we became masters in this field and soon, 80 per cent of the solar cell manufacturing in India was done by our company. So Moser Baer, Indo Solar, TataPower, Jupiter, Websol, Emmvee, BHEL, BEL Etc are now some of our big customers.
Right now the electronics scenario in India is very good. The government’s political will to ‘Make in India’ is really appreciable. I am a catalyst and am an accelerator since,I know as how an industry is set up. Even the Nokia plant in Tamil Nadu was set up by us. I had stationed three to four engineers on site till the project was operational.
Since I know enough about electronics and my background is from the power sector, my aim is to bring up more entrepreneurs in the solar sector. We can then turn it into a cottage industry. The gap between the poor man and technology can be bridged.
The solar cell production can be done by a bigger player, but we can offload other processes at the village level, where rural women can easily take them up. The government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, its focus on skills development, and entrepreneurs like us are all positive forces. If we can synergize these forces, we can create a lot of jobs.
I have a passion for electrifying villages. I have electrified one village called Rampura, 15km from Jhansi. My friend, who works in Norway, and I, joined hands for this project. I also adopted a school in that village, where there were around 60 houses – all of which were electrified.
We requested the prime minister of Norway to inaugurate this project but since he was unable to do so he sent his environment minister, who was so impressed that he committed funds for 30 more villages. So, we got around ₹ 120 million from the Norwegian government, and we selected villages in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, UP and Jammu and Kashmir in consultation with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.
In Jharkhand, we faced the Naxal issues in Gumla district but despite that, we successfully completed the project. Apart from these 30 villages, we electrified one more village in Jharkhand. Solar power can be viable in the villages and the solution for rural India lies in energy from the sun.
My younger son is looking after my old business of machines and my elder son takes care of the manufacturing plant. We are now going to have LED manufacturing; we want to buy chips and assemble LEDs. My son is looking after the development of LED products.
My mother played a great role in keeping me on the right track, particularly in avoiding habits like drinking. When I was going to Norway, my mother was not keen on the idea because she feared that I would marry someone there. My mother is still alive and is over 90 years old. I am grateful to her for bringing me up with moral values. She is not educated, having studied only till the fourth standard but she taught me one thing—that if you care for others, God will care for you. She used to take us to temples. I am fortunate that I lived my whole life with my parents.
My wife is the prime reason for me going into business, because she is from a business family. She taught me to be patient. I think it all depends on destiny—I am a strong believer in God and astrology.
For me, being a father was a challenge but I ensured that my kids got a good education. After their schooling I sent both my sons to the US for higher studies. Both of them completed their masters in engineering. I could not contribute much to their studies as far as personal coaching is concerned.
In life, we have our value system to support us as well as our families, but according to me, the best resources are friends. I have very good friends whom I can share things with, and they provide financial and emotional support whenever needed. In turn, I am happy helping others in setting up industries.
My views about the competition
I have no hard feelings towards competitors. I never get the feeling that they have taken my business. The path that I travelled on was uncharted territory; now the journey is known, and the surprises will be fewer. I will teach my children to never change the values that I passed on to them because that is the key to success. If you are honest and sincere with your customers, then you will never lose them. If you lose your customers, you lose everything.
My vision about the Indian electronics industry
I feel that semiconductor manufacturing should somehow happen in India. Otherwise, the Indian electronics industry will not progress fast enough and this is my message to the government—to do something in this regard.
The biggest drawback in India today is that nobody is manufacturing machinery, except for a few companies. Our technical education is such that we are not able to come up with original designs. We must enter into machine manufacturing, maybe through collaborations with firms from countries like Germany.
Now that defence manufacturing is coming up in the country, it will become easier to integrate and make new types of products. Today, many start-ups are coming up in the software domain, but there are no start-ups in hardware because we are not trained, experienced or qualified. So this is a wide open field, where there is big scope for growth. Technical education must be given in manufacturing, since we lack it, and this should be made mandatory. We are taught only theoretical knowledge. In my opinion, educational institutions should not award degrees till the students learn how to make a product.
My message for the development of the future generations
My message to the young generation is that, until you want to be excellent in your field, you will not succeed. The government should synchronize the academic curriculum with international levels, and the focus should be more on skills development. Industrial internships are very important and should not be just for six months, but extended to three years. Only then will engineering students acquire the right skills. Large companies should spend on training, because the trained students will be an asset.