Aasptek – The Journey of Anand Vijapur, 1574/VIJ

The following article is dated 2012 following a very open, yet incomplete, conversation with Anand Vijapur. The content of this article remains unverified and true to the best of my knowledge and understanding as unfortunately, on Jan 31 2013, Anand Vijapur breathed his last.

On a disastrous day in March 2011, he sat down on the ground. For the first time in his life, perhaps, his body was telling him that it needed help. He walked into the hospital for the first time ever in about 40 years of his life. It was no less than news among all his friends that he was going to the hospital. “My health is the greatest gift of my life. I have not experienced any kind of illnesses in my life. God has been very grateful to me”, he says, “I have never touched a cigarette or a beer bottle ever in his life”. Everyone who knew him would look up to his fitness, energy and enthusiasm at all times. Nobody could have imagined even in the wildest of their dreams that the doctor would tell him, “Starting today, each sunrise you see is a bonus in your life”. He was found to be in 4th stage, the last stage, of cancer. His days were countable.
More than one and a half years since that fateful day, Anand Vijapur continues to be the kickass he has always been.
The journey of Aasptek Handling Solutions, a general fabrication business specializing in material handling and glazing, began in 2000. Anand and 3 of his colleagues got together to form the company that was focused on capital goods industry, especially storage, handling and processing. In 6 months, it was clear that it was an unsustainable business. Firstly, it required high capital expenditure as well as working capital which they could not afford. Secondly, nobody recognized small start up companies in this space of work. Thirdly, they could not survive any longer without income as their family depended on them. It was decided to wind up the business and get back to their jobs. There was nothing much to wind up as they had received only one production order worth Rs 3 lacs during this tenure which was already executed and delivered. They were reminded of that day when they won this order and said, “This is just the beginning. We have a long way to go”. The practical constraints of life threaten dreams the most.

While the discussion was on, everyone knew that Anand was not interested in getting back to work. Surprisingly, Anand was working at the previous company, a Pune based company, without any salaries for 10 months solely because he was getting to learn everything relating to the business that he intended to start, from manufacturing to marketing to material handling to man management to monetary decisions. He would tirelessly travel between Mumbai, Pune, Surat and other cities to garner business. Anand, an extremely humble and soft spoken person, says that the experience and learning that he got in those 10 months was far more worth than all the salary he would get working elsewhere. It was his dream since engineering to be his own boss. The other partners who had known this gave their decision a second thought. Unfortunately, life had become too tough and they had to unwillingly press the exit button. However, the critical decision taken by everyone was that Aasptek will go on. Anand will take it forward.

The first step that Anand took was to call his parents and tell them about his decision. This was the second time, the first time was when he joined his last job without pay, Anand was telling them that he would not be able to support them financially as business revenues are uncertain. His parents reassured him that they were not in any immediate requirement. Anand had no capital but was determined to work out a business in capital intensive business. “I knew no smart work. All I learnt all these years is hard work. It was difficult for me to even perceive something without capital. But then, I was determined to do it. I had to work seriously on marketing and procuring orders to begin with.

When Anand joined Maini Materials on the new year’s day of 1994, he was told that he was posted in the marketing department. Anand had decided in his college days that, come what may, he will stick to his line of education for work. He wanted to be in the production line. In 2 days, he decided to call it a day. However, some of the seniors at Kirloskar tried to address his concern. He revealed his dream to run his own business in the near future. Everyone suggested him to continue in the marketing domain as that would fetch a great help if one has to start a business. Kirloskar being a medium scale company will expose you to every function of work despite there being a defined job card. It is a great place to learn the multiple facets of business unlike larger companies where you are practically segregated in departments. You can hire people and teach them production but you can’t get a market for your produce. You have to create it, yourself. Anand took cues from the discussion and held back his decision. In appreciation of Anand’s fantastic performance, the company moved him to the most significant location for business in this industry, Gujarat. He was assigned the responsibility for marketing products and improving business across the state, which he did exceedingly well. After being at Kirloskar for 5 years, Anand joined the Pune based company where he worked for 10 months before beginning Aasptek.

Anand got his first order for Rs 10000. It was a manufacturing order. He had no factory. He had no machinery as well. He went around in the industrial area of Kanakapura asking for help. At one outlet, he was able to get his order processed at a price lower than Rs 10000. Anand had his first deal through. In technical parlance, experts could term this as outsourcing and excite the stakeholders. However, for Anand, it was happiness, happiness for having been able to keep up his commitment, happiness for getting his first bundle of 100 rupee notes, happiness for discovering a path of hope.

Anand continued to meet small scale industries, take their order requirements, work on them and provide excellent results. Being a very pleasant, honest and simple man, he developed very good business relationships with everyone who came across. His ability to deliver results on time was the most applauded part of any business he entered into. Over next couple of years, Anand had built a peculiar business model for Aasptek. Aasptek built business relationships with a large number of raw material suppliers, manufacturers, factories and other organizations. After getting orders, Anand would work on the processing flowchart. He would collect the raw materials and deliver them to the concerned factory for processing. In most cases, the raw material would have to undergo 3-4 processes to get the desired output. Anand carried the semi-finished goods from one factory to another till he got the finished goods. He observed that travelling 150kms a day, between Peenya, Kanakapura, Whitefield and Bommasandra, had become his routine. These were the prime industrial hubs in the city in each direction. From 6 o’clock in the morning till midnight, he would drive carrying paints, bolts, nuts, metal sheets, boxes, press tools, fixtures, panels and numerous other items. Years later, at a management talk, Anand learnt that he had exemplary lean managed his business with close to zero overheads and a well defined value chain, a perfect recipe for building a sustainable business.

By 2004, Aasptek reached a turnover of Rs 70lacs. In a surprising move, Ravi, one of his suppliers in Peenya put up his factory for sale. Incidentally, Aasptek was only customer for this supplier. Anand saw an opportunity and bought the business paying Rs 3 lacs, primarily the machinery setup. This was a dream come true. The 600sqft factory would help Aasptek in performing various business activities at one place unlike the current dependence on different people at different places. Moreover, this was a need as the business had grown to a considerable extent and the conventional methods of running with the goods wouldn’t work anymore.

By 2006, Aasptek felt the need for expanding the factory premises and consolidating various processes that they were still dependent on external agencies. A very close associate introduced Anand to someone who wanted to sell his factory premises measuring 5000sqft. The cheque was drawn. The deal was done. The machinery was set. In a month, the factory was up and running. There was happiness all around.

Disasters in life hit most lives when happiness is high for reasons unknown. On one unfortunate day, the associate who introduced Anand to the previous owner of the factory said that he wants a 50% share in Aasptek. When Anand said that he is not interested to sell the stake, he replied, “I am not asking you to sell and neither am I going to pay you anything. This factory belongs to me and if you vet 50% of the company to me, I will let you use it”. Anand had the shock of his life. It was now that Anand learnt that he had been defrauded. All the factory agreements were in the name of this associate. The only document in Anand’s name was the cheque he had drawn to pay for the purchase, which was not a substantial evidence to prove anything. On contacting the previous owner, there was a helpless response as he was more concerned about getting the payment and had signed the sale papers in good faith. Anand continued to fight and there was no respite. The associate had the legal right to lock the doors. He stood before the factory with the key in his hands and asked Anand to consider his demand. This went on for several months.

On one fine day in 2007, Anand decided to move on. “Those were some of the most terrible days of life. The pain of losing all your savings of life is not less than death. I had become a big zero in life. I had lost faith. Some of my customers called me and discussed business. There was hope. However, I realized that I had become a marketing guy and had almost lost the knowledge of production processes over the years. The hope was lost. I started exploring ways and means to begin a new life. It was too late for me to get employed”, he says.

In a twist, Ravi, the one who sold the 600sqft factory to Anand, wanted to get back to doing something in life. He had the practical working knowledge of running a factory. On learning this, Anand discussed his plans with Ravi for a new factory. On affirmation, Anand rented a 1000sqft factory on rent at Rajajinagar. Miracles happen in life when you expect the least or the most. In just a few months, the factory was running on full schedule. Anand worked all day, all night, on improving business while Ravi took care of the processing the orders. Aasptek was back in business in a big way. It was in this period that Anand diversified into glass industry, i.e., storage, processing and handling solutions at Aasptek. Aasptek won several contracts for supplying material, offering handling solutions, fabrication, glazing and various other specialist jobs at major landmarks of the city, namely the Mantri Mall, the Royal Meenakshi Mall, the Tata Aquila Heights, etc. Aasptek diversified into manufacturing of cranes, trolleys and various steel components and very soon, they moved in to a new factory measuring 2400sqft in Sunkadakatte. Growth was inevitable.

Life shows us several ups and downs. Falling is inevitable. What counts the most in life is our ability to rise each time we fall. Anand has been falling and rising all through his life. His determination to bounce back, in style, has been a talk among all his friends. Remembering his young days, he says, “My father had a great interest in joining military. He could not do it. I was motivated by him towards the same and that was the reason to join SSBJ. I was a timid kid. Even today, if you ask me to go on the stage and speak, I get nervous. I was not very good at studies. I would just manage the passing marks. I remember playing football all the time. As I completed school, I realized that the numbers on the scorecard have a huge significance in life. I decided not to compromise on academics when I joined BEC, Bagalkot to learn industrial production. All through the 4 years, I either got the 1st rank or the second. I was the first from my batch to get a job, a company by name Mysore Kirloskar hired me, while most of my friends struggled during that period of a mild economic slowdown when we passed out in 1993.”

By 2009, Aasptek had made tremendous progress. Destiny had different plans, yet again. Aasptek’s major customer, from who they would get majority of their orders, expired in an accident. Aasptek had receivables to the tune of Rs 60lacs from him. Most orders at Aasptek were taken verbally. However, on delivery, they get the delivery note signed from the customer evidencing the supply of goods or services. Thus, for those orders that were under process, Aasptek had to book a loss straightaway or find a different buyer. However, they could try their luck for such consignments that they had already delivered. It was a big blow from the business perspective. It was a bigger blow considering that the cash flow was hit and business succumbed to huge pressures from every angle due to the quantum of money stuck. The customer’s family knew Anand from long and they obliged. However, it took more than a year for Aasptek to recover this amount from them as they had to fight their own battle of winding up the business and realize cash.

Good business was tough to come and problems escalated. Anand was able to get orders but the collection of payments became a herculean task. Cash flow squeezed. At one point of time, Anand was spending more time finding which of the payments will be realized and will not than working on business because there was no money to work on any order. They stopped taking any large orders and started working on receivables. Capital goods business is a capital intensive business. Though the major portion of the previous customer’s dues came in during the period, it only was eased against the liabilities. Aasptek had been trying to build new business contacts. Dealing with unknown customers has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Anand had been running a business on personal trust, honesty, mutual understanding on ethical lines. He acknowledges that it was a wrong decision to deal large orders with customers who would not see meaning in ethics. But then, the situation had demanded him to do so. Aasptek’s profit and loss account showed a loss of ~ Rs 40lacs for the first time and the balance sheet showed receivables to the tune of ~ Rs 30lacs at the end of 2010.

It seemed like Anand was fighting a lost battle. There was no hope for a revival. Life was no less than hell. For the first time ever in his life, Anand succumbed to the pressures that life had thrown on him. In 40 years, for the first time, his body needed a doctor. He had never tasted alcohol or a smoked a butt of nicotine. His health and habits reminded his friends of an ad quoting a tagline as, “Neighbours’ Envy. Owner’s Pride.” On diagnosis, the doctors hit hard on a heart that was already drowning in a deep ocean with no bottom, “Cancer”, the word was enough to close the story. How much more can a man take? To add more wounds, they said that Anand was in the 4th stage, the last stage, of cancer and the chance of survival is similar to a bubble of water. Working at a factory that works on metals, especially stainless steel, which expels nickel and chromium, Anand was so engrossed that he never felt a change in himself. He accepted every challenge that life brought his way and worked hard. The recent financial tensions created at Aasptek had a huge impact in his life and could be a reason for aggravating the health situation. His world broke down on the news but he remained calm, composed with his trademark smile.

When the doctor told me this, I did feel upset but it was okay. I have had the greatest 40 years of life from any measure. The greatest gift of life is friends and in my life, they have been my greatest assets. The kind of help, support and motivation that I have received from them is enormous. I had the best schooling. I remember my teachers each time I work as I am one among the rare people who continue to work on what they learn at school or college. Calculating length, breadth, volumes, weight, etc. are a part of my daily work. I did try 5 times to get into NDA but that didn’t happen. That’s okay, not all dreams can come true. I was the first to get a job among my friends while most toiled without pay for 8-10 months. I was cheated a couple of times but that was more because of my weakness in assessing them. Smart work was something that I never learnt. Today, I am happy that I didn’t. Life has been more clear, clean and simple because I chose to work hard. You can say, I am a forced entrepreneur. I am thankful to the God for blessing me with such a healthy life all these years. Off late, each day, I remember the Wimbledon champion Ashe who quoted the ‘why me’ quote”, Anand says with a smile on his face and shine in his eyes, the little extra shine because of the additional moisture that the tears created in his eyes. His smile deceives perfectly and makes it impossible to guess if they are shining for happiness or otherwise. They are shining for sure.

Anand decided to fight, like he has always been. Aasptek was in bad shape and he had to take many decisions in almost zero time. The chemotherapy sessions began. 6 months and Anand was showing signs of improvement. The doctors were inspired. Anand left no stone unturned to ensure that he gives a befitting reply to the disease. The battle was turning in favour of Anand at the hospital and at Aasptek, the pending payments started flowing in. Astonishing everyone, Anand returned to work in August 2011 with more energy than ever. Rubber ball, throw and it will bounce back with double the force. He started meeting all the old customers, everyone with who had had done business with in the last 10 years, and sourcing orders irrespective of the size. The factory, unexpectedly, started running on a 24-hour schedule. Yet again, miracles happen in life when you expect the least or the most. Aasptek won a ~Rs 2Cr project from the Tatas for balcony railings at Tata Aquila Heights. Today, Aasptek is a preferred vendor for Tata Housing Development Corporation (THDC). Anand’s USP remains that he is an organized man in an unorganized industry.

As on July 2012, Aasptek had erased out the loss from its books. It stood in equilibrium with the incomes being equal to expenses and zero liabilities. As I write this, I believe, Aasptek has started making profits and Anand’s battle with cancer goes on.
Never repeat a mistake. Take lessons.