I’m still struggling to be successful: Kunwar Sachdev

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By Srabani Sen

…Su-Kam—the name was suddenly decided at the college canteen. Not for my inverter company but for my pen business, as in those days I was only familiar with this business while I assisted my elder brother sell pens on the roads of Delhi,” Sachdev starts off to narrate his story, while he lounges casually and relishes his ‘fruitful’ salad for breakfast. “I’m conscious about what I eat, so I start my day with fruits to remove the toxics from my body.”

Taking a generous bite, Sachdev continues, “My story can inspire people to think big. They will realise that anything is possible in life and it is they who can change their own lives. How? If you have the passion, focus and the zeal to grow, no obstacle can push you back. Is that too much to change your life from nothing to something?” Sachdev goes on…

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I don’t like to talk about my childhood

I was not god’s destined child. Being one of the three sons of a section officer in the Indian Railways, I had seen all hardships in life. I was an average child—neither any interest in studies nor in sports and games. Physics and chemistry were the subjects I hated, history scared me and I always avoided English. In fact, in government schools, like the one I had attended, there were no good teachers to motivate to do something good. And as I belonged to a middle class family, rather a lower middle class family, everybody was just striving to survive. There was no expectation from me and no attention was showered. I felt all alone in a family of five. In such circumstances, boys usually get into wrong things. But on the contrary, I was a very disciplined boy and the tough and turbulent circumstances made me serious quite early in life, to the extent that I started giving tuitions to those who were one class junior to me. In an effort to meet all ends, my father did small businesses but most of the time he was cheated by his partners and, hence, we grew up seeing several court cases and legal tangles, which affected the whole family mentally as well as financially.

I always try to forget my childhood, although it provided a strong base to my life and prepared the ground where I’m standing today. But I dread going back and living those days again.

Hindu College was my best learning platform

I was a naughty child and very stubborn—that I still am—which I feel is a very positive quality and helped me to be what I’m today. Despite not being a good student, I managed to score well in my class 12 exam and got myself enrolled in statistics honours in Hindu College, Delhi University. That was the best learning platform in my life. I did everything I wanted to do in that short span of three years—tasted the bitter truth of politics, played the role of a kingmaker, learnt English as a challenge, and got into an affair for the first time in my life. There were good professors, yet I did not take much interest in studies. I was more of a ‘people’s man’ and became a good leader in college.

I was always shy by nature and the sophisticated environment in Hindu College made me even more introvert. Boys and girls around me came from affluent families; they were sophisticated and always spoke in English. And I, coming from a government school, could not speak in English. I took it up as a challenge and started reading English novels, which really improved my English. I started opening up and made friends. I stood for the magazine manager’s post but lost. But I helped my friend win the post of the prime minister of the college. During my campaign for the post of the magazine manager, I went to different classes to give speeches. On one such occasion, when I was addressing a junior class, I was ridiculed and booed. But that day is still memorable because in that class I found my first girlfriend, Geeta. I may be sounding like a casanova here, so let me clarify—that she was the last one, too, as I got married to her after three years of my graduation.

My first job was at Nai Sarak

After graduation, I joined my elder brother to assist him in his pen distribution business. By that time, he was doing well in his business. He bought his own shop at Nai Sarak and also a car. For two years, I worked with my brothers (my younger brother had also joined my elder brother). However, my elder brother was fed up with my suggestions on how to expand the business. I always wanted my brother to move up from the mere distribution business and create a pen brand bigger than Luxor. But he found my ideas too much to handle. We started having arguments, which sometimes turned ugly. So I had to part ways with him. I always dream big. Small thinking and a blocked mind irritates me.

I moved on. But the uncertain future stared hard at me. I dabbled in various commercial pursuits, including a law firm and a cable TV equipment manufacturing company. I had joined the cable company as a sales executive and learned a lot about cables and sales. But this job was equally shortlived. I had always thought of owning a business. In fact, I was ridiculed by my friends and relatives for airing such an ambition. Nothing could discourage me. Now is the time, I thought, to give a shape to my dream. I started a business of manufacturing cable equipment, with no technical background or management skills. People around me warned that it would not work, but I sported a ‘can do’ attitude and was audacious enough to take the risk.

My cable TV business

That was the time when the cable TV boom had just begun to unveil in the country. Anticipating a good market for cable TV accessories like dish antennae, modulators, satellite receivers and amplifiers, I started Su-Kam in 1992 (the name I had decided in college days for my pen brand) to assemble and later manufacture these products on a very small scale. I had the experience of selling these products but no idea at all about the execution of a full-fledged business. I just jumped into the business and then realised how challenging and difficult it was. Till then I was cool in life but all of a sudden life made me serious.

By that time I was a married man and held responsibilities. There were times when I had no money, not even a penny to buy petrol for my scooter. As egoist as I am, I did not ask money from my wife, so I had to drag my scooter to a friend’s place to borrow some money for petrol. But I took every bit of life as a challenge.

I got the advantage of being an early bird in the cable TV domain and as luck would have it, the brand became popular with cable operators in Delhi. Soon, my products were selling in other parts of north India. As I got a good hold on this business, I also managed to get the exclusive right to distribute products of Echo Star, USA, in India. By 1995, Su-Kam had expanded its operations and was doing respectable business. In those days, I made my first million in cable business. My friends said it was my first success. But I don’t call it a success. I don’t think I’m a successful man. I only kept improving in life. I’m still struggling to be successful. Success is a very dangerous word. To me success is nothing but a continuous journey which never ends. It is like chasing some targets and setting new ones. After achieving one target, the chase for a new target begins.

Failures made me stronger

There were big failures in my life and whenever I failed, mujhe maaza aa jaata hai. I take failures as challenges and challenges give me the boost. Every time I face failure, I emerge stronger. There was a time when I could not pay salary to my staff for at least three months. There were many such hardships in my life which I see as part of the learning process.

Not having any technical knowledge and not being in a position to afford full time staff, I used to request my ex-colleagues to work for me after their office

hours. But so late in the evening who had the energy to work? Whatever they made it started giving negative results and I got the flak from the customers. They abused me and lost faith in my product. It was then that I started learning myself. I blew off the dust from my old physics books and started reading them once again—this time with interest. I started reading about electronics and I found my interest in the subject. For hours I used to get engrossed in these books. Days turned into nights but I did not have any realisation when I was into some experiments—I used to open up mobile phones and other gadgets, remove all parts and experiment with them.

During those days (in 1993) I bought a 20GHz spectrum analyser at a cost of Rs 25 lakh. I don’t think anybody in my place (and financial position) would have taken such a step. But I did. I did not tell my wife about it for 10 years, otherwise even she would have scoffed me for wasting money on a spectrum analyser at a time when she was building pressure on me to buy a house. Even after 10 years when I told her about it she fought with me. But I was passionate about learning and doing things in the right way. For me that was the priority, not a house.

Inverter business started off with failure

The cable TV accessories business had reached its peak and by 1997 the growth had hit the plateau. But I wanted to move ahead to bigger things. Success in the cable TV accessories business gave me the confidence to think bigger and I started believing in myself. I was restless to find new avenues for growth. Suddenly, I got the opportunity and in 1997 I started my inverter business.

At my home the inverter stopped functioning. Exhausted, I took it on myself and opened it up and repaired it according to my knowledge. There was no inverter brand at that time. I felt there was tremendous business opportunity which was waiting to be exploited. I strongly believed that inverters, if manufactured and marketed well, would become popular in households and small shops. I imported inverters from other countries and studied them. I didn’t have any R&D team.

An area which has always been high on my priority was investment in R&D. R&D not only enables us to keep ahead of competition but also helps us to bring the cost of production down. I got hold of a technical person and asked him to help me make an inverter. He was very reluctant as he never made an inverter before. But I motivated him for months, and he made one successfully. I went on collecting such people and made them successful. That’s how my R&D team was developed.

Videocon imported a good inverter at that time. We copied that product. But Videocon closed down because of the failure of that product. It wasn’t a smooth ride for us, too. Quality issues kept cropping up. But I modified the product and for one year I did business with that one product. I installed the inverter at my friend’s places who tore me apart when the inverters failed. I personally visited my customers’ houses and checked the inverters. Deep into the night, I used to sit with my employees and experimented and re-experimented with this product and finally made it successful.

Entrepreneurship was always at the back of my mind. I always intended to do something big, always looking out for innovative products. I can boast of my ability of strategic vision and understanding of the market potential. I had no knowledge about the power backup industry but had the zeal to venture into new avenues. Su-Kam started climbing the chart steadily but strongly. Low cost and hands-on approach have been the key drivers of Su-Kam’s competitiveness.

Constant innovation reflects Su-Kam’s commitment towards customers. We have been changing our approach and technology with the rapidly changing requirements of the customers. Taking this strategy further, I started production in batteries. Since inverter and batteries are complimentary products, it will enable us to offer a more economical bargain to the customer. Constant improvement in power protection systems will always be my first priority. Now, we are into solar and LED. While solar business has picked up quite well, we have just ventured into LED. We have started three pilot projects in solar-powered LED lighting—in Nepal, Nigeria and Malaysia.

My wife is my strength

My wife Geeta was a topper in the university, and I was so ordinary in studies. As the saying goes, opposites attract, we came closer and became life partners in 1987. Geeta had to elope with me as her parents did not accept our marriage—and they were right—I didn’t have a job at that time, while her’s was an established business family. We first stayed in a small rented house at Anand Vihar, then shifted to Janakpuri. Geeta taught mathematics in British School for 15 years. Today she helps me in my business. She is the HR head of Su-Kam.

My wife has been a strong pillar in my life, the biggest support through all ups and downs. She understood me and gave me space during my struggling days. Her positive attitude and liveliness stand her apart.

I’m gifted with two sons—Kanav and Shourrya—both studied in the British School. Kanav is now doing graduation from London and Shourrya is in class 10. I put no pressure on my sons to do extraordinarily well in studies and have left to them to decide their future. They can join my business or do whatever they wish to. But if they want to join Su-Kam they have to come through merit. They have to join as an executive and undergo training. They have to make themselves acceptable to the organisation. Moreover, it will be the management’s decision. My sons know that. I’ve not given them the mindset to think that they can just come and take my chair.

There is a lot of pressure on my sons. When parents are successful, children feel the pressure thinking if they can match the level of their parents. Parents have to make themselves the role models for their children. Today, children question their parents. They can ask you, “what have you done in life? Are you successful in life?” So showing them the right direction in life is by walking on the right path ourselves.

Materialistic things don’t stir me

I bought my first car in 1989 but my own house came late—in 1998. These materialistic things did not stir me. They were just ‘to be done’ things in my priority list. Once I visited Gurgoan and I liked the place because of its calm environment. I always wanted to stay away from the crowd. I fear the crowd. That’s the reason I never go to Karol Bagh or Chandni Chowk. For work, I can even go into the bylanes of Varanasi but not otherwise. I had already set up my office and factory in Delhi and also bought a land for a factory in Gurgaon. When my wife wanted a house I gave her a condition—house in Gurgaon or nowhere. Initially, she was very reluctant to move out of Janakpuri. But I did not give her any choice. At times, I am unnecessarily stubborn, without any logic.

My shifting to Gurgaon is an interesting story. On one New Year’s eve, my family and I went to visit our new house in Gurgaon and decided to spend the night there. In the morning, I told my wife that I’ll not go back to our house in Delhi and that she should go and get our luggage and furniture. That’s how I shifted to Gurgaon—overnight!

I’m a creator as well as a destroyer

I’m a simple person and like to believe in people. As a result, many a times, people have fooled me. Many people commit big promises to me and I believe them. At the end of the day, I realise that they were fooling me. I lose my time, money and also faith. But still I like to believe in people and that’s my strength. By believing in people I can ingrain confidence in them. Out of 100, five must have cheated me, but 95 others have become successful because I trusted them, gave them the opportunity to do something, and in the process ingrained confidence in them. That’s why I call it my strength.

I may boast of my ability to motivate people. I believe in giving the requisite independence to people to take decisions in their respective spheres and grow professionally. I invest a lot in people—some become good invests, some bad. Today I’m here because of such people.

I’ve no attachment in life—no attachment with car, house, wealth or even relationships. My penthouse is being built inside the Gurgaon Golf Course; it is one of the most expensive properties in Gurgaon. But who cares? People around me fear that one day I may even leave Su-Kam and get into some other business. They are so correct—I’m planning to detach myself from Su-Kam, too. I’ve already given my reins to my CEO Venkat Rajaraman. Now I’m more of a mentor to Su-Kam, giving direction to it.

I’ll not say goodye to electronics, but am definitely looking for new avenues. I may soon venture into food business under the brand name Su-Bake. We don’t get international quality bread or cakes in India. I want to make these here in India. Do you know that in India breads are made of oxidants which are band? It’s an interesting field and I’ll learn a lot.

After a certain age, you start realising that you have done quite a number of wrongs in life. Given a chance I would like to overcome my anger. A lot of times it badly affected my life. I’m a creator and a destroyer as well. I’ve destroyed so many things in life. For example, I’ve created many people from scratch but I’m the one who destroyed them. At one time I was their strength. But the moment I took my hands off their shoulder, they were destroyed. Today, I regret that. It’s not a good thing to destroy anybody. I’ll never do that again.

Five years down the line

I cannot say that whatever I’ve wished I’ve achieved in life. But I’ve no complaints. In the inverter segment, we are very successful in India. We are the biggest Indian exporter of inverters. We have not let China enter the Indian inverter market. But 95 per cent of the UPS market is captured by China and in the next five years I want to take away this market from China. With Venkat and our team, we have taken a pledge—within five years we will take away 50-60 per cent of the UPS market from China. We are working hard on that front.

I don’t plan my career or my life, I take things as they come. I do planning, but more than that I believe in execution. Even before planning I think about the execution part.

I read a book called Good to Great, which says if you have good people with you, they can take you anywhere you want; average people can take you to a certain level; and below average can take you nowhere. Su-Kam has a very good team now which is ready to take a new dimension. People ask me what I do to maintain or retain my team. It never happened that people ever left me. I’ve left them whenever I didn’t want to work with them. What does people want from you—appreciation, freedom, space—and I give them all. But then if somebody cheats on me, I get wild. I know that’s a negative side of me and I’m trying to overcome it.

Where do I see myself five years down the line? Well. I’ve always been a very confused man, I’m still very confused and will die a confused man. I’m still trying to know myself. Till date, I don’t know what I want from life. I’m lost, looking for something but I don’t know what.

You cannot predict life. I keep changing the course of my life. Tomorrow I may think of taking sanyas or leaving Su-Kam altogether. That’s nothing unusual about me, everybody knows about that. I want change in life. I want to keep learning in life and trying new things.

I can do anything in life, you just challenge me. I’ve no fear in life as I’ve gone through all hardships and failures.

I also want to play a social role but I don’t know how? I’m not a temple-going person and I don’t believe in giving charity to a temple. If I can change the mindset of a few people, I feel it will be a social work.

God doesn’t give everything to every one. In fact, he shouldn’t give. If one gets too much he will not value life. He will not work hard to achieve it. My suggestion to the youth would be—be passionate and create an identity for yourself first. Money will automatically come. It took me years to create an image and today that image is working.

These are a few of my favourite things…

Favourite music: Ghazals by Jagjit Singh (I become very sentimental when I hear them)

Favourite food: Paneer (I can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner)

Favourite film: Lakshya of Hrithik Roshan (whenever, its shown on TV, I watch it)

Favourite book: Good to Great and Execution

Favourite dress: Jeans and t-shirts

Favourite colour: Blue

Favourite historical figure: Sardar Patel and Lal Bahadur Shastri

Favourite pastime: Playing squash and swimming, reading books, talking on the phone

Your strength: I’m very disciplined, punctual and fitness freak

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