“I was like a Samurai to my bosses” – Soni Saran Singh

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Coming from a family of professionals where every one was either from the engineering or management background, naturally propelled me towards the corporate sector. My father and uncles held prominent positions in the public and private sectors. Meals and get-together one were interspersed with discussions on corporate governance and management. I distinctly remember sitting in my father’s room as a child and listening to his conversations. I believe those enthused discussions helped me in widening my horizons.

Soni Saran Singh, executive director, NMTronics

Failure converted into success
Although I was not the most intelligent student, I was industrious and this resulted in scholarly expectations from my teachers and parents. After the completion of my standard 12th exam, my teachers were sure that I would pass the IIT-JEE exam with flying colors but I failed. I got admission in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in mechanical engineering but the fact that I couldn’t pass the IIT entrance examination troubled me through my college days and I decided to get admission in an even better college.

During the third year of my engineering, I completed my GRE, TOFEL EGRE (advanced GRE) and got scholarship from one of the leading universities in the USA. It was the happiest moment of my life. I was amongst the few students who got selected. But as I said, rejection and failure are part of life. My US visa was rejected, not once but twice. I had no choice but to continue my engineering in AMU.

But failure eventually gives way to success—my final year of college became a transforming one for me as a lot of things changed during its course. I had a friend who had his roots in Japan. On his advice, I started learning Japanese in the 1980s. Japan’s economy was booming then. I got interested in Japanese culture and language and was intrigued by their practices in the fields of technology, corporate governance and management and developed a passion for their work culture. Upon completion of my engineering course, I commenced my career with Crompton Greaves as a management trainee.

Work is worship
Since childhood, I have been inclined towards business and management. I always wanted to venture into the corporate world because that’s where my core strength lay. Everything related to the corporate arena became a passion and my first job as a management trainee with Crompton Greaves (CG) became a priority for me. I was passionate about working hard as I belonged to a family of sincere professionals who had imbibed in me strong work ethics. All members of my family, notwithstanding which industry they belonged to, had reached the pinnacles of their respective careers through dedication and hard work. So, when I started my career with CG as a management trainee, I considered myself incredibly fortunate and surrendered myself to work, clocking in 16-17 hours a day. I worked diligently for five years and succeeded in making a place for myself in CG but due to certain management decisions which didn’t go down well with me, I decided to resign.

Next, I joined Nichimen Corpora­tion, one of the fortune top 50 companies in 1996. The moment I joined, I was summoned to the Japan headquarters for an orientation programme, from where I headed to Germany to join the SMT division of the company’s business . The relocation came as a complete cultural shock to me. From a white-collar job of manager in CG, which involved decision-making and business strategies, I was moved down to the role of technician and made to work at the grassroots level. Initially, it was frustrating but after a year I realised the benefits of this stratagem—I was deliberately made to work at the basic levels despite being a management professional, so as to familiarise me with every aspect of the business, eventually enabling me to handle the business independently. For the initial six months, I was trained as an engineer and later, was shifted to the sales department, travelling all over Europe to sell the machines. I traveled extensively and saw some of the finest machinery and manufacturing compa­nies. Once I had handled my final assignment independently and succeeded in doing so, I was shifted to India to set up a base for SMT in the country. By the time I came here I was fully prepared with experience of some of the finest technologies in the world and had the expertise to handle the systems and the machines competently.

In 1997, there were very few clients for pick and place machines in India, probably just a handful, as this segment was at a nascent stage then. Fuji machines were world-class manufacturers then, but due to heavy duty structures, their machines were too expensive for Indian customers. So when I started the business in India, I came up with the idea of selling refurbished machines. The US economy was facing a slowdown and a lot of surplus equipment was available in the American market. The strategy worked and I probably sold more than 100 machines in the first six months. Ours was the first company to cross the 100-machine mark, when our competitors were struggling to sell machines in just one or two digit numbers.

“Life can never be smooth. It is full of ups and downs. I have learnt from my experiences that failure makes one strong”

When the going gets tough…
Business requires determination and careful planning. The success of my business and professional life can be ascribed to my perpetually changing business strategies. I change my strategy every 18-20 months. Even while I was selling refurbished machines in the beginning and making a considerable profit, I was planning my next move. I thought of expanding the product portfolio and acquired business partners to make NMTronics a complete solutions provider to the electronics industry.

NMTronics has completed 10 years and has always been profitable despite witnessing a low phase in April 2005. Fuji, the subsidiary of the parent com­pany, decided to set up a new agent in India and most of my team members left. Within a week, I was all alone, not knowing what to do. However, I was like a Samurai to my bosses. Samurai is a Japanese word for ‘warrior’ and refers to one who will do anything to fulfill the orders of his master. I realised it later that some corporate rivals were planning a hostile takeover of NMTronics. I resolved to stay strong and emerged a survivor as a result of it.

I established the entire office again, filling each and every vacant position. From three employees in 2005, we grew to a 100-employee company in a span of just three years. This incident eventually made NMTronics more steady and powerful. I learned more about business and management in these four years than ever before.
NMTronics’ survival and consequent rebirth has been included as a case study in the syllabi of some of the premium management colleges of India. I attribute the resurrection of the company to some of my most loyal customers as they infused me with faith and belief. For this reason, I value my customers a lot and strive to build long-term relationships with them.

Familial bliss
My father has been the inspiration and guiding force of my life. I admire the way he used to strike a balance between work and family life. My mother always motivated me and ensured that I give cent per cent to whatever I do. Three children and a perfect wife completes my ideal family. My wife has always stood by me in ups and downs of my life. She has been extremely supportive and respects my ambitions and passion towards work. She herself belongs to the corporate sector and is well acquainted with the dynamics of business demands, which require constant travelling. I have two families—one that is handled by my wife at home, the other, at NMTronics.

Values that count
I am a very optimistic and god-fearing person. My weakness lies in my errors in judgment where identifying flaws in people is concerned and the past has proved it well. I have been brought up to respect human values as they are the most valuable in the world. That’s the culture I try to imbibe in my children as well. I always tell them to be better human beings because everything else in life is secondary.
A management professor once told me that it is good for leaders to remain at a higher altitude but never rise above the clouds so as to stay in touch with ground realities. I have always tried to gain the highest form of corporate governance and want to set an example for the industry to follow.

When it comes to work, I am a forward thinker and quite aggressive in my approach. While discussing matters with my team, I always look at how I can learn from their suggestions even though I’m the head of the company. If I have 90 per cent knowledge on a subject, I always seek to fill the void of that remaining 10 per cent. For me, my work is my hobby. Sunday evenings are the most enjoyable time of the week for me as I get to spend time with my family and next day, head towards my favorite activity—work!

I may not be a sports enthusiast but I have been practicing meditation since the last 25 years. This helps me to analyse things better and correct myself where I am wrong. I feel that I don’t have the right to correct others but only myself so that I do not repeat the same mistake again. That’s what I tell my team, “Accept mistakes; don’t shy away from them. This will make you a better individual and hence, a better team.”

Future map
My work is my most valued possession. I am the founder member of NMTronics and this company has grown from being a one-man-show to a 100-employee force, with offices across nine cities. I have managed to survive all challenges and impediments that came my way through pure dedication. I desire this organisation to be a profitable organisa­tion, with the highest level of corporate governance. I sincerely wish the members of this organisation have the highest level of job satisfaction and faith in the management. I thank God for all the opportunities he has given me all along.

(As told to Himanshu Yadav of Electronics Bazaar)

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