The writer describes the days when he began his working career—the pitfalls, the challenges and successes. These last two chapters form the epilogue describes the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
An initial overseas assignment for three years became extended to almost four decades due to the circumstances and exciting opportunities that came about. A few were responsible in creating the opportunity; some caused it to happen and I took them as an acceptable challenge to overcome my many drawbacks.
Though I was ‘born’ in Calcutta, I was ‘delivered’ in a small village in Tamil Nadu. When I was about four, my parents decided to send me to the loving care of grandparents in the tobacco town of Dindigul. My grandfather (late) Kachapeswara Iyer was a lawyer who worshipped his work and never lost a case because he could distinguish between the good and the bad. As a teen I returned to Calcutta to continue my studies, where my father worked in “Indian Finance”, a reputed commercial and financial weekly run by late CS Rangaswami, my uncle, who owned the weekly, and we lived in a huge house on Lower Circular Road.
It was during this time, I had the chance to hear the predictions of a “well-known and reputed” astrologer, who declared that I would have a hand-to-mouth existence. This shook me, and I took refuge in the terrace of a palatial building owned by my uncle as cried my heart out. In the end, I made a deal with God asking him to bless me so that I can at least feed one other person everyday in my life, and that I was ready and willing to do any work that I was assigned.
Oh, yes, he predicted that I would fail in the matriculation examination that I was about to write a few days hence. In fact, just before that, a close family friend and a champion swimmer, Dharmarajan drowned in the Calcutta Lakes in Ballygunge. This shook me too, but when I failed in the examination, it tore me apart.
My father was angry and upset. He swore he was not going to pay any further for my education and told me to earn so that I could continue my studies, if I wanted to. However, he was kind enough to get me a typewriter and taught me...
A quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog...
I struggled, did odd jobs, including a brief work at the Indian Finance and worked for some two years in the Punjab National Bank in the district manager’s office, under the Gandhian, Khadi-clad Kashi Prasad Mishra, a loan officer. Everything was fine until the day I was asked to arrange for a farewell party for Sitaram Mohindroo, the DM, who was on a TCM scholarship to US to study the banking procedures there.
All that I had asked my colleagues was to “come well dressed”, and in those days, in the late 1950s, wearing a tie was chic! Mr Mishra blew his head off, and chided me for wearing the tie, calling it a sign of British slavery and taunted saying “your grandfather never wore this”. I took an exception to this attack, complained to the DM, made and got an apology and told him that I would never work under him from the next year!
In the next few weeks, I was on a job hunt, and armed with a letter that my father (late) Ananathanaryanan typed for me, I walked into Dunlops seeking a job. I did not have a good reception, but managed to go to the office of the operations manager. Mrs Spencer was kind enough to pass on my visitor’s slip to the boss, who forgot all about me, until he walked past me just before lunch. He turned back, apologized for his lapse, and asked me to come back at 2pm!
When he did, he took me along to his office and asked for my application. I had one in hand, but offered to fill up the company’s standard form if given. I was sent to Prem Pandhi, manager, imports and exports for an interview. It was brief but Mr Pandhi wanted someone who knew everything about exports, as the department was commencing operations in a big way. It was just couple of days before Christmas; so I requested that I be given time to come equipped and join duty on 2nd January and promised to give him all the info he would need. He phoned to say “Bill, I think I have the man I need”. He was addressing to William Sherrat. I had suggested to Prem Pandhi that if I did not know answers to his questions on 2nd January, he could send me home. I think that kind of a confidence got me the job.
In the next few days, I found out that Capexil (Chemicals & Allied Products Export Promotion Council) handled tyres and tubes while Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC) covered steel rims. Here is where my association with both the organizations began.
Prem Pandhi was my first guru in management techniques. I learnt not to decline any work by giving excuses; if I did not know a job, I learnt from him that I would seek the answers and talk to others to know. I never left any job for the next day, regardless of the time, whether it was paper work or typing of import license application forms. I had wonderful colleagues like (Mrs) Phil Henderson, (late) Promod Ganguli and Ram Mohan Sinha. We were a fantastic team who were assisted by BK Dey an accurate typist, the most silent person I knew.
Zinc oxide is an item that is used while preparing the rubber mixes for tyres before they go into the moulding machines. Dunlops, like all other tyre manufacturers, had to import zinc metal, which was given to converters like Binani Metals who would process and return the zinc oxide to us. Our exports were picking up, and related imports, under “export promotion licenses” were my responsibility. These would be processed by Capexil or EEPC and I had established good rapport with all officers of the councils as well as the joint chief controller imports & exports in Calcutta. In a likewise manner, establishing drawback of duty, though a very long and cumbersome process, was part of the scene, involving factory visits, submission of statements, customs and central excise, etc. Prem Pandhi would give the job, and ask me to study and get it done; “ask me for any assistance you need” was his friendly approach. He was patient to hear and clear in his advice.
Now when the application for zinc import license was “approved” some smart Alec decided and reduced our import value by 14% all because, when zinc metal was converted, it would produce 14% more of zinc oxide! I had taken up the issue with (late) K Rajagopalan (DGTD) and presented my case, asking the government to give me the full value of export entitlement and, if, in the process of conversion, we received more zinc oxide, which would enable us to manufacture and export more tyres/tubes, this would be indirect incentive, and that it should not be reduced. I won the case, much to the delight of my immediate boss, and others like Moni Mohan Sabherwal and Madhav Lal Capoor, besides the top management.
Encouraged by Prem Pandhi’s approach, against the normal permission of using 10% of the import entitlement to use for machinery imports, using similar arguments, I was able to get an ICT data processing machine for our factory, much to the satisfaction of PK Mukherjee our asst works accountant, by utilising 100% entitlement license. But all these good work came to an end when Prem Pandhi's recommendation to the board for making me a “special assistant” (meaning an officer grade) was not accepted. He resigned on the spot; which I came to know some thirty minutes later, and I followed suit, with no job on hand.
Without my idol, I did not cherish the idea of working in Dunlops. Couple of days later, Prem Pandhi offered me a job in the Calcutta Management Association, in which he was closely associated, mentioning to others that “Ramdas has the latent talent that needs to be moulded”.
My ‘understudy’ assignment with CMA lasted for nine months. As I was about to complete this, I began looking for suitable openings, specifically related to export, as I responded to the call that our PM Jawaharlal Nehru had made: “Export or Perish”.
After a long and tough interview, I joined the Indian Cables, a subsidiary Indian arm of BICC (British Insulated Callenders Cables of UK, the world’s oldest and largest company, at that time). I was one of the three management trainees and reported to Jan Manekshaw (brother of late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who was, at that time GOC at Fort William, Calcutta). My immediate boss was Kishan Kapoor, general sales manager, who was aided by Adi Dalal, a brilliant young man, who passed away very early in life.
After a few months of training, which included three weeks at Jamshedpur, we returned back. My contacts with the EEPC staff were regular and every import enquiry was promptly attended to. Small and regular orders started coming in, and, we took the orders from agents like CIEL (Commercial and Industrial Exports, which had some Tatas association).
Later on, when we started getting enquiries from VD Swami & Co Private Ltd, Bharat Exports and few others, we began to make some headway.
As I regularly attended the various panel meetings of the EEPC and began to take part in workshops, etc, some senior exporters began to notice my activities, resulting in Dr RK
Singh, secretary (at that time, who later became executive director) getting me involved in various committees.
Back in the office, at the Indian Cable, soon after I joined the company, we lost Pillu Shavaksha, our MD. I think he was succeeded by Dr William James John Curry, who came from UK; Arun Basak, a brilliant chartered accountant, who was formerly with Indian Oxygen was already on board; Ronnie Bowyer at the works, aided by Dr A P Sabherwal and S Ganapathy.
Our office timings were 9.30 to 5.15 but I was always the first to come by 8.30 in the morning and the last to go. From time to time, Jan Manekshaw would give special jobs some of which related to the Non-Ferrous Metals Association and I would complete them to his satisfaction. Likewise, when we had some small licensing problems, he would seek my assistance.
In the meantime, our overseas sister companies, all independent operators, began to send their urgent requirements, which came from Malaysia and from Singapore a great number of tenders for their expansion. Our orders began to flow, once we supplied our first lot to a company called Boon Liew. Malayan Cables from Petaling Jaya also placed regular orders.
It was around this time a major upheaval took place, as our rod mill broke down. Apart from the company’s own requirements, this mill processed many other companies’ needs by converting their bars for further processing. This was a well-kept secret.
I was therefore totally surprised when one morning I found the whole bunch of directors in the lobby seriously discussing something. It was about 8.30 or so, I wished them, as I passed by towards my office. It was Jan Manekshaw who called out: “Ramdas come here. We need a license urgently. Can you get one?” Spontaneously, I replied, “No problem sir” and waited for him to go on. And it was Kish Kapoor who responded, saying “Do you know what we are talking about?” “I have no idea except we need a license.”
From the beginning he was not friendly or accommodative and I felt reserved in dealing with him. My efforts to know him were in vain and he was always ‘official’ in dealing with me. There was no warmth, which was the basis of my relationship with Jan Manekshaw and many others. He continued: “Suppose you cannot?” For me, it was a do or die situation. “Mr Kapoor, if I can not get a license in India, no one else can, that I promise you; but I won’t fail.” There was absolute silence until Dr Curry announced: “Jan give this job to Ram Dash... I think he will deliver the goods”. Saying this, he walked away; the crowd dispersed.
Co-ordinating with Jan Manekshaw, I was able to get the relevant details from Alex Fernie, the purchase manager. Using my contacts with Rajagopalan, Mondal and PC Sen, the joint chief controller of imports & exports in Calcutta, I obtained the license in a record 48 hours, much to the chagrin of Kish Kapoor.
This episode was followed by many relating to dealing with government departments. And at every stage of work matters I depended upon Jan Manekshaw, who became another idol and guru for me.
While writing all this, I forgot to mention that ever since my working career began, I began to read all sorts of success-related books. Everyone reads Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I did too; but, to me, it was Dr Napolean Hill, who authored “Think and Grow Rich” which changed my outlook towards life. Not only did I read this book every time I could lay my hands on it, but the entire series written by him. This is one author whose books should be used as a reading and practicing material for all our students.
Our exports began to grow; while indigenous sales brought profits for the company, exports brought both name and profits. Everything was going fine, until, 6 June 19766, Sachin Chowdhry, our finance minister, devalued the Indian rupee by 57.4% sending shock waves in the country.
We shall discuss the impact and changes that happened thereafter in my concluding chapter...
(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; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected])
During the April-June quarter, exports shrunk 1.7% to $75.2 billion while imports also dipped 6.1% to $115.26 billion from same period last year
New Delhi: India's exports contracted by 5.45%, year-on-year basis, to $25.07 billion in June due to the persisting global economic slowdown, reports PTI.
Imports also declined by 13.46% to $35.37 billion, leaving a trade deficit of $10.3 billion, according to the Director General of Foreign Trade A Pujari.
Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary SR Rao told reporters that, "Exports have contracted but trade deficit is also coming down."
During the April-June quarter of this fiscal exports have shrunk 1.7% to $75.2 billion over the first quarter of 2011-12. Imports have also dipped by 6.1% during the first quarter of 2012-13 to $115.26 billion.
Trade deficit in Q1 has declined to $40.06 billion, from $46.30 billion in April-June last fiscal.
Tata Power customers from Mumbai can now pay their bills from anywhere, anytime at their convenience using Itz Cash Card
Tata Power said it is offering one more payment facility for its customers from Mumbai through Itz Cash Card.
Tata Power customers can now make their bill payment anywhere, anytime at their convenience with Itz Cash Card.
This facility not only provides them with the option to pay their bill online from the comfort of their home or office, but also to use Itz Cash World Outlets of their choice, the company said in a release.