Rushabh Shah, director of Madhu Subtronic Components Pvt Ltd, speaks to Baishakhi Dutta about his professional and personal journey, and how a strong sportsman-like spirit coupled with international exposure helped him evolve as a professional.
I have two daughters. One is over ten and the other is eight years old. Both are doing quite well academically, and are also active in sports. They have crossed Level 2 in Odissi dance, and are also into singing and playing the piano. My wife was a visiting lecturer at the Rachana Sansad, a prestigious college at Prabhadevi in Mumbai. She was in the fashion design and textiles department. Currently, she has taken a break to be a full-time home maker. Over the weekends, we generally make time to go out together, as a family. And during the week, we have a lot of family sessions during which my kids ask me a lot of questions. I like to give them honest information, upfront.
How Madhu Subtronic came about
My father’s name is Vasant Shah. We belong to a baniya family where, traditionally, we never grow beyond the shop. He, too, was expected to run the family’s grain store, but he revolted and said that he wanted to study engineering. The family was a little apprehensive about his decision.
He filled up the admission form without informing the family and luckily got a call from the college. So he did his first year from Karad College of Engineering, did well, and moved to the College of Engineering in Pune. And this was he first batch in the country that graduated as electronics and telecommunications engineers from that college, back in 1973. He later worked at two companies, before finally deciding to start a business, though he had very little money.
He set up this organisation with the intent to help people solve their problems with respect to electronic components. Madhu Subtronic was started in 1976. It was named after my mother, Madhu. For the first seven years, my parents jointly ran the company. The back-office work was done by my mother and the front end by my father.
Being a part of the family business
I did my under graduation in digital electronics. It was a three-year diploma in digital electronics, from the Bombay Institute of Technology at Worli. After that, I completed a BE in computer engineering from the PCT College of Engineering, Mumbai. I then worked for a year in my father’s firm before I started applying for my master’s programme in the US. With the help of my father, I visited various factories to understand both the design as well as the production processes. It was like doing an internship with my own family’s organisation, where I was responsible for factory visits.
I got accepted to the Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. I had applied for a master’s in information technology, which I completed in two years. I then did a couple of internships within the university before returning to India to join the family business
Following my passion for electronics I was very clear that I wanted to get into business. And since I’m the only child, I had planned to come back to be with my parents. Those were the two prime motives behind returning from the US. The nature of my father’s business was pretty much in line with my interests. My father never told me that I had to join him, but considering how we shared an interest in electronics, I was inclined to come back.
In life, you don’t get opportunities to do what you’d really like to. Sometimes you just have
to do something for the money or to live your life. So I consider myself to be very lucky—I had a good base to start with and a good infrastructure readily available for me to grow.
My contribution – presenting the right information at the right time
There is a big gap between the information people want and the information that is available.
Most of the time people are looking for very specific solutions to their problems. I found that I was able to address these issues because I had done my internship in India earlier. I understood what people needed. For example, if somebody is manufacturing an instrument and is looking for a particular type of temperature sensor, they don’t want to know about the thousands of temperature sensors available. They just want to know which one is going
to work for their application. So you can give them the options of two or three sensors, which makes it very easy for them to make a choice. Generally, too much information is available. So I believe that identifying what is really needed is how I contribute to the industry.
Specific information related to an application is what we’ve been able to help the industry with. Most of our time is spent in R&D. The biggest challenge that R&D teams face is to be able to get the right information at the right time.
Organisations like Texas Instruments and National Instruments are so large that if you send them an email, you almost never get a reply. They are so big that they themselves don’t know who is the right person to answer a potential customer’s query. This is where we come into the picture, because we know exactly who the right person is in a particular department. We know exactly which department is responsible for what, and who will
be able to answer the queries. So, that is what we bring to the table.
Sports made me a disciplined person
I learnt and practised martial arts for about 12 years, till I got a black belt. On that journey, one of the most important things I learnt was self-discipline. Other than conditioning my body, being able to develop good motor skills in my hands, and the overall mind-bodysoul coordination that happened with martial arts, I truly understood what discipline is, whether it is personal or professional.
And then, I became a martial arts teacher. So, I also understood how to empower others. Once you become an expert in the field, it is also your duty and responsibility to give back to society. Before I could get my black belt, I was supposed to complete two years of teaching, which I did at various places.
Apart from that, I was a gymnast, representing my school. I used to attend hockey summer camps. Overall, I have been quite active as far as sports is concerned. And I feel it was a very, very integral part of my life because it taught me how to pick myself up after
every fall—to accept failure and learn from it. You just improve on what you did, and come back and start again.
The turning point in my life
During my stay in the US, I made a lot of contacts. I developed a completely different perspective on life, with a very global approach rather than a local one. It helped me to
communicate at every level of the supply chain or with OEMs, and that gave me an increased level of confidence.
I met people from at least 200 countries in the US and I was a very active student on campus– ready to assist, lead and help other international students sort their social, financial and other issues as well as align with the US culture. This gave me the opportunity to speak and interact with so many people from across the world. It gave me a better understanding about life and how to look at things.
My biggest learning came from my father
All through, I have viewed my father as my biggest idol not only because he’s my dad but because he’s a great professional. He passed away in 2010. He handled customers in the way they ought to be handled. He always looked at things from the customer’s perspective.
So he has pretty much been a hero for me. I firmly believe that one of the reasons why we are growing well today is his constant attitude to help people, which he has passed down to me also. This applies not only in business but otherwise too. Help is one thing that he has always offered to people, along with the right advice.
We’ve always helped people get what they wanted and that karma has given us good things in return, because we had nothing when we started on this journey. So, I feel that helping others is basically like a ping-pong ball. Whatever you throw, you get back.
My advice to entrepreneurs
The first and foremost thing that entrepreneurs must understand is that they should not behave like hunters. They should instead be farmers. If you start hunting for customers, you look at avenues to just make money, which may be possible in the short term. But eventually, what really works for the entrepreneurial journey is your relationship with the customer.
You must listen to the customer; most of the time, youngsters try to jump to conclusions. But ultimately, you’re dealing with humans and not machines. So relationships play a very important role in building a business.