Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Moving from building materials to setting up garment factories

Setting up another garment factory was met with hurdles, but the author used his earlier contacts to get the work done. The 19th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business in the mid-1980s

After my discussion with Rupak I came down eight floors and outside the lift, I was surprised to see Shohaib, a friend of mine whom I had met many years earlier as the man who set up the Chicken Tikka Inn in Dubai.  Later, I was introduced by Ajay as his friend after which we had met many times but had no business relations, as such.

After exchanging a few words, he asked: “Ram, when is your agreement with Rupak going to expire?” When I asked, why, he said that a cousin of his was keen to set up a unit and that he had assured him that his friend Ram would certainly do the needful if and when he is free! In the market everyone knew that I had moved from being a building materials man to start garment factories.

I mentioned to him that I would be able to take a new assignment shortly and would be looking forward to a long lasting relationship.  Enthused by this response, he spoke to someone and gave him my phone number and looked forward to our meetings in the next few days.

By the time I arrived at my residence my wife had already received couple of calls from Zubair and I called him back immediately. He wanted me to present him a proposal and to meet him the next day, if it was possible. I prepared the basic information and met him and he wanted to discuss the issue with his advisor and let me know the next day. When we met the he confirmed that he liked to go ahead with the proposal, but he wanted to be sure that licenses were being issued by the Free Zone and there would no problem for issuing visas for female workers. 

We proceeded to the Free Zone and met an officer who processes the industrial applications; the minute he saw us, he said, “Ramdas, I told this gentleman that we have stopped the license for garment factories. So, what are you doing with him? It is then I realised that Zubair had done his home work and wanted to be doubly sure before he made any commitments.

I cannot accept ‘no’ for an answer easily from someone who was not the final authority.  So, as I had no alternative, I moved on to meet Sultan Sulayem and requested his secretary, who knew me well, to get me a few minutes with the boss himself.  She was kind, and Sultan Sulayem met us within the next 15 minutes.   

I presented my case, and he was fully aware of my work in the first plant with Rupak and how I assisted in bringing in the nail plant also into the Free Zone. With all these factors in mind, he agreed to give us a license, as a special case, and made it the very last one to be issued for the garment factory, after we assured him that it we intended to actually build a plant, rather than occupying a shed. He called the license section’s Mohammed to ensure that our license was issued without delay.

Thus, Fine Textiles was born. An immediate arrangement was made for us to be taken to see some sites and in the next hour or so we finalized our plant location. Zubair had brought his cheque book and we completed all the formalities before returning back to the city.

The next few days were hectic; I prepared the basic drawings for the plant and luckily Zubair being a qualified engineer, made the corrections and changes. Once this was done, I took him to chief engineer Brown’s office, for his advice and approval. He was not only straight forward and friendly person, but also always appreciated good work done in the Free Zone. Once he okayed the plant outlay we had prepared, we then passed it on to an architect to get the blue prints ready for further processing. Brown had a soft corner for me, as Sultan Sulayem himself had.

Based on his own local experience, Zubair also called for bids to build the plant while I was renewing my contacts with labour suppliers in Sri Lanka and overseas agents and buyers whom I had met in course of my work.

Nothing happened for more than a week after submission of our drawings to the engineering department and on checking the progress I came to know that these were lying with William McFadden. I went to his office and was greeted by his Sri Lankan secretary, whom I had met several times earlier. When I called on him, he told me that our papers were in the queue (which I saw lay down on a huge table) and it would take some time, and he could not say when or give an estimate or projected time for the study. Since I did not know about other proposals, which surely were not for garment factories, I went back to chief engineer Brown and sought his assistance, explaining the situation with Mr McFadden. A phone call later, these were personally brought by Mr McFadden, who was advised: “Bill, these drawings were cleared by me, even before the blue print was made; you can go ahead and approve them in my presence”. With Mr Brown’s call, we received the approved drawings on the spot!

The plant contract was given and on an auspicious day, I did the bhoomi pooja and our work began in right earnest. I oversaw our plant being built brick by brick and an 18,000 sq ft plant was completed on schedule. Meanwhile, Zubair visited the site regularly, while I was present every day; our machinery requirement had been finalized and order placed. Earlier, during one of our regular meetings, Zubair asked for a D-day to commence our operation; I think it was just when we had finalized the building contract. I closed my eyes in prayer and sought divine help: and in the mental screen of mine, appeared the date: 17th July, which was what I conveyed to him.

Meantime, I had cultivated my friendship with several factory owners and it was Mohemed who agreed to join me in Colombo to assist me in the recruitment process in Haji Cader’s office.  I finalized my trip to Colombo the following week, in the middle of April, when both Sinhala and Tamil New Year holidays will be celebrated and the selected staff would require at least one month's notice for their employers, and I would need at least 6-8 weeks for obtaining the visa.

This would be the first of the many visits to Sri Lanka in the garment business. 

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. 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])

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Life Exclusive
The race for the US presidency: The advantages of incumbency

Since 1968 when Richard Nixon was elected, only two elected presidents one Democrat and one Republican got one term, the rest of the presidents got two. The major difference between 2008 and 2012 is that the president will have to play defence instead of the offence— a skill in which Obama is really untested in

The Americans are a generous people. They like to give their presidents a second term and a second chance. Since 1968 (ten elections ago) when Richard Nixon was elected, only two elected presidents one Democrat and one Republican i.e. Jimmy Carter  and George Bush Senior got one term. The rest of the presidents got two. (That is Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush). Further, even in the race for the Senate or the House of Representatives, incumbency is regarded as a huge advantage and a seat is regarded as ‘open’ only when an incumbent is not running. Typically a Senator or a Congressman will have multiple terms in the Senate or the House, which should mean that Barack Obama should start the 2012 race as the firm favourite. 

But the problem is that America is more polarized than ever before and this has led to a virtual gridlock since the mid-term elections of 2010 when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and closed the gap in the Senate and the Republicans seem to be hell-bent on destroying the Obama presidency even if that means undermining America.  

The economy is sluggish at best and though there are seven jobs reports to go before the election, every job report has “on edge of the chair” feeling about it—there is no certainty about where it will be next month and every disappointing jobs report invariably leads to a demand for quantitative easing from the Fed (Federal Reserve). For instance, after three strong job reports, where the economy grew by 2,00,000 jobs a month, the  March job report showed the economy  growing at 1,20,000 jobs—much less than expected. So the economy is sputtering at best and gas (petrol) prices at the pump are $4 a gallon and the world environment is anything but benign. And the troubles with Iran cast a long shadow on the recovery. The jobs lost during the great recession have still after three years not reached the pre-recession level. The US has lost more than 9 million jobs in the recession and has regained not more than 3 million.

The president is quite unpopular, his favourable rating at 47-1—that is less than 50%—which makes him vulnerable in an election. The unemployment rate is 8.2% and is stubbornly refusing to come down below 8%. On taking office, president Obama had promised an unemployment rate of less than 6% and his promise has fallen short. The deficit is ballooning—trillions of dollars have been added to the deficit under president Obama’s watch. Barack Obama will argue that it is the failed Bush/Republican policies that got them into trouble in the first place. The question that the voting public will ask is that “since you were at the helm for the last three years how can you blame Bush”. It could have been worse, the Republican candidate presumably Romney will argue that it can be better and if the Republican candidate can frame the debate as a referendum in Obama’s economic policies the president has a genuine problem. Only 20% of the population says that they are better off than four years ago. The 2008 candidate Obama was running against the failed policies of George Bush. The Republican candidate will run against the failed policies of Barack Obama. The two major differences between 2008 and 2012 (and there are many) is that the president will have to play defence instead of the offence. As every one knows playing defence in basketball or American football is a whole new game from playing offence and requires a different type of skill—a skill in which Obama is really untested in. And secondly the president is unlikely to have a major money advantage. He outspent John McCain several times over but with the new campaign finance judgment of the Supreme Court, which has unleashed the Super PAC, it is a real possibility that the president will be outspent. A super PAC run by Karl Rove is ready to splurge $200 million in favour of the Republican candidate. After all, the presumptive Republican nominee was the head of Bain Capital and billionaires always vote a Republican. 

(Harsh Desai has done his BA in Political Science from St Xavier’s College & Elphinstone College, Bombay and has done his Master’s in Law from Columbia University in the city of New York. He is a practicing advocate at the Bombay High Court.)

 

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COMMENTS

Bharat S Adarkar

5 years ago

Well balanced, unbiased analysis, Harsh. Just one point - Gerald Ford too was in office for one (partial) term upon Nixon's resignation and chose not to rerun. Refer to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Ford.

Tata Motors, Aditya Birla, Bharti Airtel most reputed: Nielsen

Nielsen's Corporate Image Monitor has given highest rating to Tata Motors for its “innovative techniques, providing reliable products and striving for excellence”

New Delhi: Tata Motors has emerged as the most reputed company in India followed by Aditya Birla Nuvo and Bharti Airtel in a survey by Nielsen, a global information and measurement firm, reports PTI.

 The survey that tracked the reputation of 32 companies in India based on what they offered in terms of service levels, product quality, financial performance and talent pool, also featured Reliance Industries and Tata Steel among the top five.

Nielsen's Corporate Image Monitor has given highest rating to Tata Motors for its “innovative techniques, providing reliable products and striving for excellence.”

 The company was ranked second in the last year's list.

 Interestingly, Tata Steel dropped from the first position to fifth this year, while Wipro also slipped from fourth to seventh position.

 Other major corporates such as ITC, ICICI Bank and Hero MotoCorp Ltd are the new entrants in the list of top reputed names in the 11th Corporate Image Monitor survey that measures perceptions of the image and reputation of India's leading companies.

 “The Corporate Reputation Index is a testament to a brand's reputation, by people that matter most to it," Nielsen India executive director Dinesh Kapoor said.

For stakeholders, this implies they feel the brand is reliable and sustainable in difficult times, he added.

Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), Wipro and HDFC Bank also figured in the list of top firms.

 Over 1,700 respondents, consisting of stakeholders such as policy makers, influence groups, the financial community, investors, top level management across corporates, and the general consumer, were consulted for the survey.

 Nielsen said “certain 'excitement factors' such as innovation, pace of growth and the extent of media visibility also play a subliminal role in shaping reputations”.

 Respondents also outlined 'hygiene' factors or attributes for a company such as 'vision' or 'leadership' as 'must have' image drivers for a brand, it added.

 Over one in five respondents indicated that ITC and Tata Motors are the corporates seen most actively involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, followed by Aditya Birla Nuvo and HUL.

The survey covered the top listed companies of India across industries. The selection of companies for the survey is based on market capitalisation, sales and assets.

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