This is the first part of the four-part series on the difficulties of an entrepreneur doing business in India and how India loses by forcing small businesses to pay for bribes and lose out to multinationals. PS Deodhar talks about his background and his love for engineering
Friends and relatives often ask me one question that puzzles them: Why is APLAB not a thousand crore company despite its reputation for high its quality products, innovation and business integrity and solid exports. The answer is simple and two-fold—my upbringing and, two, our sense of integrity and unfaltering resistance to making deals with government authorities. Unfortunately, in India, there’s a price to be paid for being honest and full of integrity.
Chasing money never excited me. Business circles like the chambers of commerce, CII or FICCI do not interest me either. I do hold in great esteem a few of the successful entreprenuers whose money has been a corollary of their great vision, extra-ordinary skill and wisdom. They wear their wealth very elegantly and conduct themselves in a gracefully simple manner. However, there is another kind that make me sick—those who conduct themselves without any respect to society, law & order and integrity. I never can admire their commercial success accrued through moral and legal compromises. This type of business people will never be role models for anyone with respect for law and integrity.
In India, one also has to be willing to make compromises. My domain knowledge happens to be in electronics and engineering materials. I never really pushed my team for monetary growth. I was happy as long as my company had enough wealth to invest in the development of products that excited me. I preferred to focus on product development, continued learning of technological advances and deliver products that consumers wanted which other Indian companies could not. My ego booster is technological achievement. I have the mindset of a craftsman and love to harness technology to provide a well-crafted solution. This is because I had the benefit of coming from a “Do It Yourself” (DIY) family.
I had adequate technical knowledge and skills in design and production of well-engineered electronic products. In the early years, I enjoyed great benefits of being a pioneer. Many companies were admirers of APLAB: IIT Bombay, BARC, TIFR, Bharat Electronics, Indian Telephone Industries, NAL and many others. We were developing products for them, helping them to substitute imports with superior domestic products.
My priority was always to put unrelenting efforts in manufacturing such products and trying to match them with those from Europe in terms of quality and packaging. My annual visits to Japan in the early seventies, and then to Germany till the early eighties, helped me understand the intricacies of technological excellence. I challenged to attempt their technological approach in India.
I recollect, in 1967, Lt General AC Aiyappa, chairman of BEL, called me, offering a challenge to develop an AC Voltage Regulator to meet the K114E environmental endurance test. The product had to work at -40°C, that too in a moving military vehicle. Within four weeks, I went with a sample that passed all the stringent tests. This helped BEL to replace a similar product from Siemens. Big orders followed from the Indian military for decades! Never ever was there a word about a bribe or a gift.
My first mentor was an engineer par excellence who lived and breathed engineering: Late MG Bhat of Automatic Electric. We quickly developed mutual respect and appreciation. He was a total “hands-on” electrical and mechanical engineer and had an outstanding range of electrical products, ranging from electrical panel meters to variable torroidal transformers and resin-cast metering transformers. All these were deeply integrated developments started with basic materials. Bhat and I together developed India's first stepper motor and a range of line voltage regulators. All his products were highly respected by big electrical engineering groups in India. He introduced me to Japan, which we often visited together. Our skills were complementary and in 1964, two years after I set up Applied Electronics Laboratories, Bhat became my sleeping shareholder in APLAB. Throughout his life, he never once questioned the way I managed APLAB. A few mutual friends often tell me that he was proud of what I was doing.
In the second part of the series, he will discuss how the company evolved, by using quality engineering and talent, to grow from a small company to a world-class exporter and finally how his decision to work for the government and honest approach affected his company.
(PS Deodhar is founder and former chairman of the APLAB Group of companies. He is also the former chairman of the Electronics Commission of the Government of India and was an advisor to late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on electronics. He also was the chairman of the Broadcast Council in 1992-93 that set in motion the privatisation of the electronic media with metro channels.)
Read the Second part of the series
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