Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Rokda: How Baniyas do Business



I always feel that writing about business in India is a gold mine. There is a tale to be told in every corner of every city. What is interesting about Indian business structure is the interlinking with caste, community or even religious groups. In this light, journalist Nikhil Inamdar’s second book Rokda: How Baniyas do Business is something of a read. 

Hee, the focus, we are told, is on how this enterprising community – the Baniyas – has managed to not be restricted to the usual business areas it is connected to. It has gone beyond what people expect them to be prolific into. You get a small pitch of the community in the book’s introduction where Inamdar speaks of the community’s origins and how he approached the topic and the entrepreneurs regarding an interesting topic without sounding too focused on the caste aspect. The book comes out as how that particular individual has come into the said business and has managed to reach the position he is in and the struggles.

Inamdar has picked up five brands and the names behind it which have changed the game in many ways. While reading each of them, one finds them to be quite distinct in the way they approach their work, entry into the field of business, their method of looking at each & every detail of work, tackling success & failures and so on.

You are introduced to Neeraj Gupta, the name behind Meru Cabs which changed the scenario of private taxis in India. His story comes across more as a tale of someone who did business more with accidents opportunities and was a mix of luck, looking for the extra kick and smart choices. You are allowed to visualise Gupta’s start as a member of a family which strived to set up their small-time eateries in Mumbai. What made Gupta reach his present state is a certain attitude of taking life as it comes but jumping on opportunities which stared at his face. One of them is his response to a tender by Maharashtra Govt to set up private radio cabs in Mumbai as an answer to bludgeoning public transport. His method comes out as a trial and error one where one see Gupta accepting mistakes and also help. Inamdar has a certain method of allowing you to decide to see if Gupta’s methods of business are correct or just acts of over-confidence.

You go over to the two powerhouses behind the renowned cosmetic brand Emami, the two Radheshyams - Radheshyam Agarwal & Radheshyam Goenka. They are an earlier generation Baniyas with ideologies and business skills of a different generation. Though they met during school, Agarwal is the brilliant brain with a ‘photogenic memory’. But Goenka was no less. What Agarwal thought, Goenka was able to put into action with greater success. While travelling with them in their various ventures, takeovers and moves, it is their friendship which probably is the star in the whole journey. Here you come across the brains and risk-taking factor which has made this community such a business success.

The story of Snapdeal is the one which might attract the young generation as almost every her young one has done a ‘deal’ via it. Here again, a different kind of business mind comes through which is young, well-educated and willing to take calculated risk. IIT pass-out with a well-paying job, Rohit Bansal comes across the quintessential young well-educated  Indian who prefers being one’s own master over a well-paying job. Bansal, along with pal Kunal Bahl, established Snapdeal in 2010, but the build-up for it began from Bansal’s life in a small town, Mahlout. His family’s small fair price shop depended on weather meant that he was witness to ups and downs. A certain force to do well made him take to Delhi on a scholarship where he met his best friend and future partner, Kunal. Inamdar keeps the narration more upbeat, keeping in mind the subject of this tale and the fact that the duo are the representative of today’s India. Even while doing the nesaccary to set up Snapdeal, you see them struggling with making internet selling concept work for the Indian market.

I personally felt that the fourth case study was the typical one representing the Baniya community, just like Emami’s Radheshyams. RK Somany of HSIL which owns the sanitation business leading company Hindware, comes from a family which had slowly made its way up in diverse businesses in Calcutta, including arms & ammunitions. As part of his elder brother idea of giving each sibling a business to run independently, RK got into sanitation ware business. A small spark to get the best in this business made way for RK to not just travel abroad and learn the best of technology but also hone his own business acumen. Inamdar has been successful in getting RK’s tough nut acumen with his efforts to understand the market.

The last one is one which I would call both an oddity and also intriguing. It is an oddity because the said case study is not the run-of-the-mill business tycoon. V. K. Bansal of Bansal Classes probably changed the game in India coaching capital, Kota, Rajasthan. VK’s journey started small from Jhansi in a poor family, but sheer grit made him reach engineering and pass with flying colours. A happy marriedlife in Kota changed when he was diagonised with Biocitis or muscular dystrophy. But where there is a will, there is a way. From one student, his success as a teacher grew into an empire which exploded the coaching classes scene in Kota like no other. His sheer bull spirit to achieve the best without compromise on his teaching or his students overshadowed his personal life. His story comes out more as a personal battle than business acumen.

Throughout the book, the success of the community as a whole comes in parts. It comes via their own personal grit towards going into business. Inamdar’s choice of entreprenuers is intruiging. Only Neeraj Gupta comes from India’s financial capital, Mumbai. The ‘Emamiwalas’ and RK Somany come from Kolkata, a city which owes it financial success to the Marwadi families residing their for ages. The northerners here are the two Bansals – Rohit Bansal and VK Bansal. The case studies are also interesting from the point that none of the names come from establised Baniya families but have created their own presence. Even second generation enterpreneur RK started from a scratch at the sanitation business.

Inamdar’s method of narration is presenting facts without taking sides or trying to blow things out of proportion. He starts with an interesting annecdote or story of the said people. It allows you slowly get introducing to the protagonist. The only thing which stuck me as a little bother is his rather neglect (in my views) to speak of the Baniya connection in a separate chapter with each case study.

With Rokda: How Baniyas do Business, Nikhil Inamdar tries to bring out the spirit of the business community who probably define Indian economy and business in their own unique way. One should pick for a light business reading, if one must.         

Book Title: Rokda: How Baniyas do Business
Author: Nikhil Inamdar
Publisher: Random House India
Price: Rs 175 (Paperback)

Photo Credit: www.businesstoday.in 

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