Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Job Change—competition from Chinese products

As business in the Gulf started to prosper, the Chinese onslaught started to squeeze the profits. For them, profit was not the motive; perhaps ‘acceptance’ by international buyers was more important; besides, they did not have any system of wage controls or labour obligations. This is the third part of the series describing the travails faced when setting up an international business in the seventies

There was one final lot of pipes that had to be disposed quickly so that the consignment is cleared, and the dues for the Bank of Baroda settled. It was a good lot containing a good range of highly demanded pipes, which would sell as hot cakes. So, I decided that I offer it to a friend and called Rakesh Dewan, whom I knew well in Beirut, and whose father MS Dewan was one of the pioneers in marketing Indian goods in the Middle East.

Rakesh received me well, but, as he had a large stock in house, he declined, but suggested that I offer the consignment to Ajay, his erstwhile partner, whom I recall having met in Dubai, rather briefly, a couple of visits earlier. Promptly I called on him and made the offer. We had a chat over a cup of coffee, prepared by Shankar, who had worked with Amitabh Bachchan, in his early days in the film world.  It was not long before Ajay gave me a cheque and requested that I have it encashed before issuing a delivery order. It was an impressive move, considering the general practice was to obtain the purchase order, have the goods collected, and let the seller run up and down for his money!

The following day, in the afternoon, Mr Lobo called to confirm that, indeed, cheque had been cleared and he had authorised delivery for the following day.  Promptly, when I called to thank Ajay, his able deputy Prem Dayal Sinha advised that Ajay had l left for Agra on an urgent work and would be back in a day or two, when he would surely return my call.

Yes, Ajay did call back, and invited me to have dinner at his Al Shaab residence, and talk over future plans. It was a pleasant evening and he was trying to find out my future plans. I had a couple of offers from my own clients to join them, as a working partner earlier, but I had not made up my mind, as I did not know them well enough. But Ajay wanted me to seriously consider his offer to take over and run his company, and treat it as my own.

Couple of days later, after great deliberations at home, I accepted the offer to join him, and for the next six years, it was nothing but work, work and more work. 

His family had couple of foundries and Kajeco was owned and operated by his brother Vijay, who manufactured top quality manholes covers and other CI materials. He was also a prominent exporter. As I sat browsing through the catalogues, I was invited to Ajay’s office to meet Lala Kedernath Agarwal, his father. For a moment I was surprised beyond belief... to see senior Agarwal standing in front of me...

My mind raced back to Beirut and to my office at 505, Piccadeli Centre, on Rue Hamra, in the year 1972 or so.

Normally, when I had a visitor, my office door was closed or at least ajar. And I had kept one visitors’ chair in my office so that there is no interruption in our discussions. But, this tall, well built gentleman simply pushed his way in and announced “I am Kedernath”. Both of us were taken a back, but I managed to say, sir, welcome to the office, but I would appreciate if you can wait for a while, until I am able to supply this exporter’s requirement?  “But I am the chairman of the Cast Iron Panel and did not your office inform you?” Sorry, not so far, but still, I would like to complete the work with this gentleman before I can assist you. Rozine, had just come behind him, and stood helplessly. Reluctantly, Mr Kedernath went back to sit in the visitor’s chair, which was visible from my office.

He joined me a few minutes later when the visitor left, being picked by Mustafa to take him to meet his client, with whom Rozine had set the appointment. We always tried to assist exporters on a first come first served basis.

Just then, Ashok Khattar walked in, apologizing for the delay and walking in without an appointment or intimation; he had brought Mr Kedernath, whom then he officially introduced, as Lala Kedernath Agarwal of Kajeco Industries, BC Iron Foundry, etc.

All that he wanted was to know all the importers of cast iron products in the area and definitely wanted to inspect the OK Foundries in Beirut. In the discussions that followed, it became clear that they had gone to OK Foundries, up in the mountain and were not allowed to enter the premises by the security. Lala was upset, but was determined to see the foundries, which were his most powerful dislodgeable competitors in the Gulf region, particularly, Saudi Arabia. It did not take long for me take them back to meet Ohannes Kassardjian, the owner, who was happy to meet me, and extend his courtesy to his fellow manufacturer from India. 

Here I was standing before the formidable Lala with Ajay, his son! He ordered his son to leave us alone for a few minutes; spoke to me in an extremely nice fashion, and asked me to help and make Ajay a successful businessman in the country. “We shall fully support you and stand by you”.  Lala had spent a few days in Kuwait, stopped for the night in Dubai, before catching his flight to Delhi.

In the next few years, I had several meetings with him, though, it was with Vijay my dealings were and our work went on without a hitch.

The first step we took was to take a trip to Saudi Arabia to meet out important and major consumers, but the obtaining the visa was not easy; one had to get an ‘invitation’ from the Saudi buyer (who acted more as a guarantor), and hopefully get the visa from the consulate.  Ajay had already received invitation, and asked if I can get one from one of my contacts?  I had a suitable letter of introduction, from a member of the royal family, arranged through a friend of mine and armed with that letter I went to the consulate, which had a serpentine queue of visa seekers. They were mostly truck drivers seeking entry and exit permits and were regulars. This letter was several months old, and the consulate always insisted on fresh letters in the current month of application.  I had to take a chance.

My application was accepted, and receipt issued, but the clerk asked me to wait for a few minutes. An hour later, I was ushered into the office of the Consul General, who simply asked: “what is your relation with the prince?” As politely as I could, I declined saying it was something that I would not like to answer. “Do you know where you are now?”  "Yes, I am aware, I am on Saudi Territory; but I am also aware of my responsibilities, as I have worked in a government of India organization. Sir, please accept the letter of introduction and issue me the visa; if not, kindly decline, and return my passport with the letter”. I stood for a moment or two; he did not reply, and I excused myself, and walked out.

I felt upset and angry; and that, the very first attempt to get a visa on my own had backfired.  Returning home, I shot a detailed message to my friend Mohammed explaining the situation and mentioning that I was looking forward to meet him on a visit very soon. One or two hours later, I received a call from the consulate to come and collect the passport.  When I did, it contained the visa!

Our trip lasted for some ten days and on the whole successful.  We spent more time in Riyadh, where Kajeco had assisted a foundry established by engineer Abdullah; it had a number of trained staff from the Agra foundries, and they were supplementing their requirements from Indian sources, principally from Kajeco. I knew Abdullah well from my earlier visits to Amman and we got off well, right from the start. We returned to Dubai, with great number of orders, and couple of days later, I was on my way to visit Agra, for the second time in my life. From then on, a visit to Agra was mandatory after every visit to Saudi Arabia, which was generally on a quarterly basis i.e. effect shipments and go in for new orders.

There were no cinemas for entertainment; only in-house movies on the TV and long hours.  Naturally alcohol was strictly prohibited but the attraction was the scope for business, and long working hours.  Riyadh was not an open society and if you had no friends and visiting on business, your room TV was your sole entertainment. 

With construction activity on an unprecedented scale, merchants received us well, and despite the huge profits they were making, would do their best to squeeze every cent off our prices. Our products commanded respect and quality conscious buyers gladly paid a small premium; we added, rather slowly, other items to our inventory, and we had expansion plans in our minds of opening offices in London and Hong Kong.

Yes, we started feeling the Chinese onslaught in the market that was cheaper than us in some items. We realized that Chinese sold their goods at times cheaper than the cost of raw materials at international prices. For them, profit was not the motive; perhaps ‘acceptance’ by international buyers was more important; besides, they did not have any system of wage controls or labour obligations. What could we do to fight this uneconomical menace?

We simply supplemented our stocks with their cheaper items, as the market demanded and accepted these; concentrated on high-quality and superior items meeting international standards demanded by exacting and quality conscious contractors by making them in our own foundries. We could afford to buy in bulk and ensured priority shipments so that we had the advantage.

At this stage visiting Hong Kong to know more about the Chinese operations became imperative. I had visited Taiwan earlier, but getting a visa to China was not going to be easy. With the help of our Chinese contacts we were contemplating our moves. I decided that it was best that we establish a representative office in Hong Kong, but yet could not make up our mind, considering the financial commitments.  I returned back, with dreams of a breakthrough in the Far East. 

(AK Ramdas has worked with export organisations, initially in India. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected])

You may want to read more:



Ratanlal Purohit

5 years ago

Ratanlal Purohit


5 years ago

Mr. A K Ramdas writing style is just brilliant which captures even a layman to get hooked on to his articles / features.

Look forward to reading more of his features



Ratanlal Purohit

5 years ago

AK Ramdas writtes like best seller Novelists.
I was at a loss to find the substance in his details.
His message could have been contained in a SMS.

"Chinese competition is tough. They dump the goods in the market to wipe out the competition and then rule."
But it is a short term strategy. A good purchaser never leaves his trusted supplier totally. A well developed Single sourcing on sustainable basis goes a long way in the Supply chain. As a production networking with our Japanese counterparts they outsourced us 20% only at an discount of 20%. A good permanent relation is never disrupted suddenly to ensure RELIABILITY.
SQUEEZES ARE TEMPORARY. IT IS SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. Ofcourse state run business is different ball game.
Ratanlal Purohit

Fuel adulteration—a sting in the tail

There is a real danger for people who have taken stands especially when using the RTI Act of India 2005, but then one will not live forever. And also, there is some truth in the saying that it all comes around eventually

A few weeks ago, I received a veiled sort of threatening call in connection with one of the articles I had written, and happened to mention this to a friend of mine. These things have stopped bothering me now, for more than one reason, because if somebody has to do something—they will not threaten. Agreed, there is a real danger for people who have taken stands especially when using the RTI (Right to Information) Act of India 2005, but then one will not live forever. And also, there is some truth in the saying that it all comes around eventually.

Here is one such episode:

This was way back in December 2005. The episode is picked up from a previous article on Moneylife, which itself was about a government officer being burnt by the fuel mafia in Maharashtra: The fuel mafia must go up in flames.

“If you live in any city for any length of time, you very soon get to learn which are the ‘good’ filling stations and which are suspect. By and large, the “CoCo”, or “Company Owned Company Operated” pumps are reliable, and the long lines of motor vehicles waiting outside would bear testament. And then, there are those which are totally unreliable, which even the locals avoid.

One such filling station, operated by HPCL, was located inside the largely residential area of Aundh. Living in nearby Baner myself, I had been warned not to take diesel from there, by others in the same area. Despite this, one fine day when I was away, the office staff decided to top up the car-and took fuel from there.

I got into Pune, and as soon as I started driving the car, felt the difference in performance. So I went to the filling station in question, and asked to see the owner, the manager and the complaint book. The answer I got from the attendants was, in all three cases, that the owner was a senior Congress politician, Datta Gaikwad, in those days loyal to Suresh Kalmadi, who was also a leading HPCL (Hindustan Petroleum Corporation) distributor as well as kingpin in the automobile and fuel business in and around Pune and for that matter all over the Maharashtra and Goa belt, and that I could lump it but nothing and nobody was available.

In addition, I was given the usual spiel by the hangers-on about how non-Maharashtrians were damaging the fabric of the city, which was even then becoming the standard ploy.

So, in the next phase, I decided to escalate the issue to HPCL. One Mr Ingle was listed as the HPCL area manager and his mobile phone number was provided. I called Mr Ingle, who gave me, in turn, the royal run-around, and directed me to visit his office, offer a written complaint, provide him with samples, and do many more things, in triplicate and in three bottles full. Interestingly, within one hour of that phone call by yours truly, I started receiving calls from the dealer as well as his ‘friends’ who wished to meet me, to advise me. In Pune, people know what this ‘advice’ means.

A lesser man would have given up at this juncture-but by then I was in full flow, so I escalated the issue by email and written letters to everybody there was at HPCL. Interim, of course, I made sure I avoided Aundh—because by then HPCL and their cohorts, one GSV Prasad Gottipati, chief regional manager, presiding, had started laying on the heat. Open threats, followed by tapping of telephone bills and data therein, as well as insinuations which were followed by a major campaign by no less than the chief manager, PR & Corp Communication, Laxman Motwani, to force me into withdrawing my complaint.

The matter then reached another level when the Maharashtra Herald, an independent newspaper in those days, organised a methodical survey of over 60 filling stations in the Pune-Pimpri-Chinchwad area, for fuel quantity and quality. The report was carried on its front page and was very illuminating. The MH was sold to the Pawars subsequently and the rest is media history.

Eventually, of course, somebody from assorted directors and chairman’s offices offered apologies. Another bunch promised action. Some people got transferred around. And Life went on.”

Till, somebody from Pune sent me a link to another article, this time by the “Pune Mirror”. Which also showed that I had mis-spelt the name, the proper spelling was “Ingale”. Manohar Ingale. I have it in my old correspondence.

CBI nets HPCL officer—“The Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has raided several flats, offices and bungalows belonging to Manohar Maruti Ingale, a project manager with Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) on Friday evening.”


Could this be, perchance, the same Manohar Ingale, who was probably involved in threatening me? And what, by now, has happened to Datta Gaikwad and Suresh Kalmadi?

But that’s not the point. The bigger point is this—we cannot live in fear of what may happen all our life. Yes, risks have to be taken, and precautions taken to counter threats. But one can not stop doing what one has to because of threats.

Each one of the players mentioned in this report above, and more, all the way up to the top at HPCL, pushed me in a variety of ways.

At the same time, there were even more people from HPCL who quietly provided me with information on this, and more.

You have your choices, you can stand in front. Or you can fight from the sidelines, even from behind, but fight to improve things you must.

This article is by way of thanks to the army of people from HPCL, some serving, some retired and yes, and yes, some unfairly fired, who helped.

(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved actively in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves. Mr Malik had a career in the Merchant Navy which he left in 1983, qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, a love for travel, and an active participation in print and electronic media as an alternate core competency, all these and more.)




Sanjay C

5 years ago

We are a Mafia state now.


Ratanlal Purohit

In Reply to Sanjay C 5 years ago

Diagnosis is half the treatment

Pawan Duggirala

5 years ago

"You have your choices, you can stand in front. Or you can fight from the sidelines, even from behind, but fight to improve things you must"....just became my most favourite quote.Thank you again for sharing your experiences.

Ratanlal Purohit

5 years ago

Remembering Poet Bharat Vyas song Yeh kahani hai Nirbal ki Balwan se. Yeh kahani diye ki aur Toofan ki.

P M Ravindran

5 years ago

'...but fight to improve things you must.'

Amen to that.

Krishnaraj Rao

5 years ago

Excellent, Veeresh. Glad to read this! Kudos, and more power to you. May your tribe multiply.

K B Patil

5 years ago

I hope this Ingle and Kalmadi get their just desert and share a common cell wherein they can entertain each other with stories of 'HOW THEY TRIED TO FOOL ALL THE PEOPLE ALL THE TIME" but could only "FOOL ALL THE PEOPLE FOR SOME TIME" till God said, "enough is enough".

Ratanlal Purohit

5 years ago

Yes single crusader is at risk against the organised crime supported by the very persons who are at the hem. Very few like Subramaniam Swamy dare take it to its logical conclusion.
All those who want to fight for transparency should operate as a group. But then we have to permit NGOs to seek RTI. At least individual risk to life will be reduced considerably.
More and more like minded groups will then come forward. Ingles will then can be singled out.
Ratanlal Purohit



In Reply to Ratanlal Purohit 5 years ago

Dear Ratanlal Purohit ji, thank you for writing in.

Each small candle in a corner of a dark room. That, and the freedom to be a bit of a maverick, though not without the support and even if I may say so, cover provided by MoneyLife and the good people there.

Shall certainly let my mother know about the name giving part.

Some day, shall publish what she said when somebody landed up to provide a threat in the form of "advice".


Ratanlal Purohit

In Reply to malq 5 years ago

Ricardo Semler's book Maverick is the best book on Workplace management that is being studied by even Boston or Harward. We have to be a maverick in our own way.
I am sure the conviction and courage will take anyone to the pinnacle.
Keep it up.
Waiting to hear your mother's advice to you. But because of Veermata Shivaji was Shivaji

Cement prices to rule firm in FY12-13: CMIE

“Cement prices are likely to remain high in the coming months. The growth is expected to moderate as the base effect sets in. Prices are expected to recover and rise by 6.4% in FY11-12, after falling in the previous year,” CMIE said in its monthly review

Mumbai: Cement prices are expected to rule firm in the coming months due to rising input costs and manufacturing expenses, reports PTI quoting the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

“(Cement) prices are likely to remain high in the coming months. The growth is expected to moderate as the base effect sets in. Prices are expected to recover and rise by 6.4% in FY11-12, after falling in the previous year,” the think-tank said in its monthly review.

The prices are expected to average 3.8% higher in FY12-13, it said.

During the third quarter of FY11-12, power and fuel cost rose by 10.7% year-on-year (y-o-y) due to twin effects of higher coal prices (both domestic and imports) and cheaper rupee against the dollar.

Freight costs were also higher by 12.5% y-o-y due to increase in diesel costs and surcharge levied by the railways.

The cement price in Mumbai, one of the largest markets, shot up by Rs42 per 50 kg bag, from Rs248 in January 2011 to Rs290 in January 2012. The average price of cement bag was Rs292 in January 2012, CMIE said.

Meanwhile, the demand of cement is expected to improve in the coming months and growth in despatches is likely to be modest at around 4% during the March 2012 quarter, the research outfit added.

Leading cement producer ACC said its production for February 2012 stood at 2.14 metric tonnes per annum (MTPA) as against 1.97 MTPA in the corresponding period in 2011. The despatches increased from 2 MT in February 2011 to 2.15 MT last month.

Ambuja Cements’ output shot up from 17.91 lakh tonnes in February 2011 to 19.93 lakh tonnes in February 2012. The despatches rose from 17.74 lakh tonnes in February 2011 to 20 lakh tonnes in February 2012.

Cement production of Aditya Birla Group-owned UltraTech moved up by 3.02% at 357.28 lakh tonnes for the period April-February FY11-12 as against 346.82 lakh tonnes during April-February FY10-11.

The company’s despatches moved up by 3.2 per cent at 357.41 lakh tonnes in April-February 2011-2012 compared to 346.33 lakh tonnes in the corresponding period last fiscal.

Cement output of UltraTech for February 2012 stood higher by 4.96% at 34.68 lakh tonnes and despatches at 35.17 lakh tonnes, up 5.67% over February 2011.

The cement industry expansion is set to moderate, with only 31 MTPA of capacity expected to be added this fiscal, much lower than 55 MTPA added in 2010-11, CMIE said.

However, a slowdown in demand has become a bigger concern, Angel Broking analyst Sourabh Taparia said.


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