The following is an account of an inspiring journey of a young kid who was motivated to join Sainik School Bijapur mainly because he could get a cup of tea and two biscuits every morning. Today, this kid has risen to build a business enterprise of his own with an annual turnover of Rs 50+ crores (2019) and employing ~100 people. Shiv's story tells us how hard work, gut and determination, and consistent ethical, focused and fearless efforts can propel growth even in the toughest of times and situations. The article is dated 2013, and towards the end, an update as of Nov-2019 is shared.
In 1974, after returning to his native, Satara, after schooling at SSBJ, Shiv was in a catch 21 situation. All these years, he had worked to prepare him to join the Armed Forces and it had not happened. But then, life had to move on. He joined a college in Karad to learn Mechanical Engineering. Towards the end of the course, in a campus interviews, he was placed in Bharat Forge. In 1979, his professional career began. However, it was not to last long. In 3 weeks at Bharat Forge, he realized that he would get enough money from this job while he would not learn much or be able to apply whatever he had learnt all these days. He wanted to join a company which would provide endless opportunities to experiment learn and implement. He resigned from the job.
Shiv joined Mather & Platt India Ltd as a Trainee Engineer. Within a month of joining the company, Shiv received the final selection confirmation from Telco. He was asked to join immediately. Shiv was tempted. However, his confusion, on whether to choose a career that will give him a lot of learning or the one that will take him to greater heights, remained. Unsure, he went to join Telco without tendering resignation at M&P. He wanted to experience, speak to people and understand before taking a decision. In 4 days at Telco, Shiv’s belief that he should look for learning strengthened. Before completing the formalities at Telco, he expressed his unwillingness to continue and went back to M&P. M&P was a growing company with tremendous exposure possibilities for employees who were willing to take them.
In the next 5 years, Shiv was a changed person. He had worked on numerous projects and with each project, he had been adding expertise. Thermal power stations, Fertilizer production units, Nuclear power plants, Irrigation projects, etc. had been on his forefront. In 1985, Shiv felt that he was ready to take on more challenges and responsibilities. M&P had grown into a larger business enterprise by then and the company moved on from the stage of growth to the stage of stabilizing the growth. Shiv left M&P and joined KSB Pumps. After 2 years, Shiv received a call from the management of M&P. They wanted to meet him. Shiv was told about the new Project Engineering Division that was formed at the company to handle EPC contracts (Engineering, Procurement and Construction). They wanted Shiv to head this department. There was a trend in the industry building up. Instead of tendering for different requirements of the projects, companies wanted to outsource the entire project, from conceptualization to delivery, to a single entity. This would ensure higher coordination and better handling of responses. Turnkey projects were the new mantra and there was an opportunity building up; Shiv was excited.
Shiv moved on to his new role when demanded enormous responsibility and threw open a new world of challenges. Over the next 2 years, life had put down everything. Due to inexperience in this field, the company was unable to get any major contracts. The process of tendering or bidding was something which the company was unable to get through as there was a very tough competition. In 1990, the company broke through and received its first project, a contract from the Delhi Municipal Corporation. And then, there was no end to the projects that kept pouring. Shiv worked with municipalities of many cities like Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Ahmadabad and soon, it became a routine. Over next 5 years, M&P had grew into a specialist in water related turnkey projects with the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation project in which the company had worked on laying the plant to pump filtered water from Manjera to the city being its landmark project.
In 1996, the company won its first project abroad. The bid was placed almost a year ago when the Government of Kenya had put on a tender for a turnkey project which was aided by the World Bank. Shiv took the onus of this project and performed exemplarily. It took almost 2 years to put the project into action.
After returning to India, Shiv felt that it was time for him to move out of organizations to build his own. When he put up his papers at M&P, the management was unwilling to accept his resignation. Mr Menon, the Managing Director, offered to make Shiv the General Manager. However, he resisted the temptation and proceeded with the resignation. Incidentally, Mr Menon was Shiv’s team manager during his first stint with M&P. On Shiv’s last day at work, Mr Menon said, “Shiv, you are a great guy and for various reasons, you tend to stand out. Sometimes, these reasons may not be very much in line with what the world preaches. Don’t worry. You are genuine and honest. Keep up the spirit. Never change your values for the world’s sake. Live up”.
The words of Mr Menon had strengthened Shiv’s belief in him. He had the required skills to execute projects, all on his own. He teamed with his colleague and started a company, Aishil Engineering, with focus on export market. The beginning was smooth and business picked up on better than expected lines as the first project came with a 25% advance from a client who had been impressed with Shiv’s work in the past. The second contract, a $1.5 million long term contract with good margins, came in from the same client for a project at Zambia and this ensured a strong breakthrough for Aishil. In the first year of operations itself, Aishil reached a turnover of Rs 80lacs. Soon, there were different kinds of projects lined up and Shiv started taking all that he could. Aishil won a contract to supply half a million irrigation sprinklers to Iraq. Though the company did not have any significant experience in manufacturing, Shiv came up with amazing designs and got the products manufactured from vendors in Pune (aluminum parts) and Jamnagar (brass parts). The clients have been impressed with Aishil’s work. “We always believe in giving 110%. The 10% goes as a gift from us to the customer and also ensures that he comes back to us for any further work in the future”, says Shiv.
Shiv started focusing on every opportunity that came his way. His business ranged across many nations like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malavi, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Abu Dhabi and so on. However, in cases where Shiv feels that he cannot do justice to the project, he politely declines the project, no matter how lucrative it could be. Large projects are definitely scary. Aishil has worked on a project of laying down transmission lines for 45kms where a lot of calculations and viability tests become inevitable. Shiv doesn’t believe in stretching beyond limits as perfection is attained when companies operate at optimal levels and not at stress. Financially too, the company has been managing comfortable levels of debt, only in the form of overdrafts for working capital, and as soon as the payments are received, the overdrafts are cleared. There is a strong emphasis on paying all taxes and other statutory dues before time. Shiv also believes in paying his 15 engineers and 25 other staff members well to keep them happy as happy minds perform better.
Times were fantastic till the Iraq war and related political disturbances began in 2001. Aishil had been concentrating on the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa) and due to these imbalances, the business declined. The company had entered into a financial crisis and the panic button was almost about to be pressed. Shiv observed, in the meantime, that domestic markets were offering many opportunities for companies like theirs. They decided to rather take a shot at this as the only other option was to quit. A new company, Sridha Engineering, was incorporated to focus on domestic business. They had been gaining expertise in automation of pumping stations and similar projects were on tender by many municipal corporations.
The corporations face a huge challenge in controlling machines that are kilometers apart and thus, there is a need to automate the process that helps in synchronizing these machines. Shiv started executing such projects consistently with greater accuracy and reliability at many locations like Chalisgaon, Jalochin, Goa, Shirpur, etc. and the company started receiving excellent feedback. Sridha, with the support of an American IT firm, has designed programs in various segments of water applications like hammering, surge, suppression, etc. that ensure quality and other parameters are taken care of automatically. Various checks like energy consumption by machine are recorded to detect any abnormal activity. The whole process of establishing such projects involves multiple branches of engineering like electrical, mechanical, instrumentation, automation, civil, etc. In most projects, Sridha took care of structural design, engineering and procurement. All the drawings go through a systematic approval process before any work begins. Sridha continued to grow. Today, Sridha is making a lot of efforts in waste water treatment as well as waste management and Shiv says that the company will make it big in this field in the coming years.
In a turnkey project, the client provides his requirements and the responsibility of delivering as per these requirements rests on the contractor. In most cases, the contractor goes to the location, studies the entire site and nearby areas, works out various possibilities considering requirements of power, water, transportation and other facilities, plans a design in consultation with experts on related subjects and finally, works on the pricing of machinery, labor and other costs to arrive at the contract bid price. The drawings go for an approval and get approved subject to everything being in order or else, the whole process repeats. Post approval, the company releases orders to procure the machinery and equipments. Once the orders are processed, the equipments are inspected by the contractors and in some cases, even by the clients. On satisfying, these equipments get dispatched to the site location. In some cases, the client might also call in for a 3rd party inspection pre or post dispatch. The contractor does all the pre-commission checks and on the client giving a green signal, the commissioning of the plant happens step by step. After commissioning, the contractor demonstrates the functioning to the satisfaction of the client before receiving his final payment. In most cases, the contractor is also assigned the task of maintenance of the plant for 1-2 years and during the same period, the contractor may be required to train the client’s employees on operations and maintenance.
“We face very funny difficulties. In the Algi project near Afzalpur, everything was done and handed over but we could not demonstrate as there were no rains and thus, no water. Thus, our last payment of 10% was not paid to us. We face similar issue in many of our projects. For some reasons like land disputes, opposition, etc., the last payment of 10-20% of the contract value gets struck. Unfortunately, that amount, which is the profit that we make doesn’t reach us. However, we continue to follow up and very slowly, over a period of 2-3 years, these amounts are realized as finally, no matter what happens, the plants have to run as there has been so much investment that has gone into and also because, people realize that it will help them”, says Shiv
Sridha is also the first company to automate a water treatment plant in Maharashtra. In fact, the company that had tried to do it earlier had failed to complete it and approached Shiv for help. From then, these two companies have been bidding jointly for a few projects and executed them successfully. Adapting to changes at a pace faster than the change by staying updated is the key to surviving in the modern business world. Shiv’s voluminous experience as well as complete understanding of these projects ensures that he never gets pressurized or loses control and thus, he has not pressed the panic button in the last 15 years. When Shiv was taking that courageous step of quitting his job to start Aishil, like any entrepreneur, there was a lot of fear, especially the financial fear. While he had no capital to get started, he also had a family to take care of. Yet, when he established a couple of leads who, he felt, would consider giving business to him, he decided to dive. “Not a moment of regret since then”, says Shiv.
Entrepreneurs enjoy tremendous contentment as they create jobs. In addition, they add value to the economy as well as the nation. In Shiv’s case, there is a higher sense of cheerfulness as he has worked on numerous projects to provide water to irrigate lands and for drinking purposes. Some villages that were on the verge of being barren have been energized with plush of water from locations. In a marvelous project, the company laid down systems to lift water from Bheema River and supply it into the open canals about 10kms away from where the water reaches the farmers. “This”, Shiva says, “has been the greatest source of stimulation for me. People recognize us even today whenever we go to those villages. We have left our identity behind. Personally, to me, it is very fulfilling”.
Life at SSBJ has been graciously fulfilling for Shiv and he vouches for each day that he spent at the school stating that there could have been no better way to spend his childhood. The house spirit that was instilled in him inspired him to take initiatives and prepared him to be a leader for life. He claims to miss those days even today. With each passing year, especially after taking the entrepreneur’s lane, Shiv has been realizing how his life has been better and each time, he finds out that SSBJ had a role to play. Shiv joined the school about 3 months late and in a month of his joining, the midterm vacations began. When he returned from the vacations, it was nearly half a year and he had known nothing. Moreover, he only knew one language, Marathi, which none of his classmates knew. He couldn’t even understand what was being told in the classes. After clearing the All India Sainik School Entrance Examination, he could not get a seat at Sainik School Satara (Maharashtra) and so, he was allotted SSBJ, perhaps the nearest school or his second option or as per the list drawn on the basis of various parameters. When the first examination paper was before him, he was as good as being blind. “I had no idea what it was. The subject was science. AR Pawar sir was the invigilator. I requested him to translate one question into Marathi and he obliged. The question was about water cycle”, Shiv recollects. A happy Shiv had drawn a river and a bicycle moving over it. Soon, his happiness went for a toss when the results declared him a failure in all subjects. Plus, the water and bicycle made him a celebrity in the school in no time.
“The kind of dedication and efforts teachers put in to train us, especially the ones, who had come from different states, was something out of the world. I was soon put in to special classes for the rest of the year. I passed 1 subject in the next monthly test, 2 in the next, 3 in the next and by the end of the year, I could clear the annual examination as well as learn some Hindi and a bit of English too”, Shiv says, “I continued being average in academics all through school days but kept learning many different things. I could see an overall development in my personality and today, when I sit in front of my customer and present, I already have won half the battle. It could not have been possible without SSBJ. Without our notice, we have implemented the management principle of ‘Sell yourself, the product gets sold on its own’ into our lives and the most important point to note here is we don’t do it strategically or with a plan. It comes to us naturally.”
Shiv has been working in conjunction with some of the best international consultants from the UK, France, Germany, Canada and the other technologically advanced nations. He cites that the major focus of most of these consultants is on quality. Most clients are ready to pay the price if the quality can demand it. Shiv has also worked in the other part of the planet. When he was executing a project in Africa, he had been stuck at place which was a stone’s throw from a lake which was full with crocodiles for an entire night as the jeep in which his team was traveling broke down. They stayed awake all night with no food to ensure that they don’t fall prey to the crocodiles. “It was terrifying”, Shiv says recounting those moments. While working in Africa, Shiv realized that there was a lack of infrastructure as well as labor in those places. Though there were people around, they did not know anything about technology or for that matter, anything other than their basic livelihood, and it was really tough to work on projects there. Yet, he did it.
Shiv hails from a village called Tarabe. In a very interesting encounter, Shiv was approached by the leaders at his village to execute the Jal Swarajya Project that was aimed at providing drinking water directly to all the homes in the village. It was elections time. As a principle, Shiv avoided any project in which politics would get involved. However, in this case, his affinity for his village got him moving. He showed interest and the talks began. As per the scheme, 90% of the amount would come from the Government while the villagers would have to pay 10%. Shiv had always wanted to something for his village and thought that this opportunity was God sent. He had already worked towards his family and helped whoever he could to move up in life. He said that he was willing to pay that 10% from his pocket and the villagers were overwhelmed. Shiv, in fact everyone, knew that this amount would be replenished through the profit from the project. However, Shiv took one step ahead and built a system with maximum coverage that would last at least for 20 years. For a moment, he had forgotten the costing. After more than a year’s effort, the water started flowing into the houses and the villagers were in high spirits.
In the meanwhile, the result of the elections was out and the ruling party had won again. A conspiracy brewed on the other side and someone filed an RTI application alleging corruption in the water scheme at Tarabe. A list of names was put up for interrogation. Shiv’s name was not on the list. However, someone from Sridha had to represent the company at the Anti Corruption Bureau and Shiv himself took it up. He walked in to the ACB inspector’s room with all the files, agreements, approvals and other documents in place. While Shiv was about to speak, the inspector said, “Shiv, I have studied the whole case and I know that this is all a political game. I know you have burnt your fingers by taking this project and now, you are in a wrong place. Accordingly, you may please give your statement and leave. You do not have to explain”.
“It is easy to allege statements against contractors as it is engraved on our minds that contractors have their cuts in every contract. The statement is too generic and I have seen many cases where is does not hold true. In my case, it was my mere luck that I had a sensible and responsible inspector inspecting the case. It was a very sensitive situation and I was almost broken down. With such humble words, it was a reassurance that the world is still a good place with respect for honest people. But, from then, I have decided that, no matter what the case is, I will never take up any such projects. I have been bluntly rejecting even well heeled projects that any contractor would love to take up”, Shiv says.
When Shiv didn’t clear the UPSC exam on his first attempt, he was highly depressed. Though he took the 2nd and 3rd attempts, the depression did not leave him to concentrate on preparing seriously. He says that it was an immature decision. “I should have rather not taken it to heart and kept making serious efforts. I should have been cautious and energetic rather than being depressed and weak”, he says. The fact that he couldn’t accomplish the goal of joining NDA kept haunting him and he started maintaining distance from friends. However, soon, he realized that it was not right and not everybody can make it to the Armed Forces. Yet, he was uncomfortable until the year 2000 when he finally broke the ice by attending the Annual Alumni Meet where he realized that he has also been a contributor towards the nation in a different way. Since then, he has been taking various initiatives on behalf of the Alumni association, especially the Pune chapter. Shiv is among such people who like to contribute his services for the society and on similar grounds, he has been managing his apartment society since inception which has been rated as one of the best in his locality. Yet, Shiv doesn’t let the whims and fancies of the world around to guide him. He is an independent thinker and lives by values enshrined in him.
After completing Class IV, Shiv continued Class V at the Zilla Parishad School. One day, while he was playing marbles with his friends, they spotted their headmaster walking towards them. Seeing him, they hid in the nearby house. The HM walked into Shiv’s house and started speaking to Shiv’s father. The boys, kind of afraid, rushed into Shiv’s house. They were made to sit down and the HM told them about Sainik School, Satara and that, they must take up the examination and join the school to have a good life. Shiv was the first to get up, say no and run away. The boys followed. The HM shouted, “If you get selected, you will get 2 biscuits and a cup of tea every morning.” The boys started running back. All 40 students filled up the form and a dedicated team of teachers, along with the HM, took special classes for these kids at night. After 2-3 months of rigorous efforts, a bullock cart was hired to take the kids to write the exam at SS Satara where the kids became an instant topic for jokes. 5 students cleared the exam and 4 cleared the interview. 2 of them joined SS Satara while another 2 landed in SS Bijapur. “Those were the days when 2 biscuits and a cup of tea would inspire us”, a smile shows up on Shiv’s face while a droplet shows up in his eyes as Shiv takes out his glasses to mildly wipe them.
The only fear you have to fear in life is fear itself. Never be afraid. Take up challenges that come to you. They will only make you a better person in the long run. If you want to begin a business, do not have too many expectations, rules and stipulations. Life will never be the same at any moment. Don’t build a big shop under a big banner. They must come as a result of business. Study the market, get customers, match your talents and interests, project the scope and growth opportunities, choose the path, and then, devote all your energies into the same path till you run out of energy. Do not look at anything else unless, in case, you are totally worn out and certain that this is not going to work. It is always best to concentrate your energies into one channel than to channelize them into multiple tasks, at least to begin with.
Most of us spend so much time to decide which laptop to buy and so little to decide what to do after we buy it. Focus on the future. Concentrate your thoughts on what you would do after establishing the business. Once you start placing yourself in the business on your mind, you will see the answers yourself and the road becomes clear. Doing so, the generic problems get solved by themselves and you only face actual business conditions.
When you are planning to do something good, with no intentions to deprive or hurt anyone, with all honesty, with required efforts, with guiding principles and a clear goal in mind, why would anything go wrong?Update as of Nov 2019
- Sridha Engineering Pvt Ltd (inc 2008), an EPC contracting firm for irrigation and water supply projects
- Sridha Motors Pvt Ltd (inc 2015)
- Authorised dealers for Tata Motors passenger vehicles
- Authorised dealers for Piaggio commercial vehicles
- Outlets in Pune, Narayangaon and Shikarpur
- Sridha Auto Experts (inc 2018)
- Sole distributor for Castrol Lubricants for entire Pimpri Chinchwad territory
- Franchisee for Apollo Tyres
- Car care set up for multi brand car services