Learning from Elders
Basant Kumar Parakh
It is said that entrepreneurship runs in the blood of Marwaris, but I believe elders in a Marwari family train children in the art of making business decisions.
My father, R L Parakh, worked with the Aditya Birla Group for several decades and always emphasised that in business, success will come and go, but integrity is forever. It is from him that I learnt that building a reputation takes years, but it takes only a second to lose it. Therefore, one should never do anything that would damage their integrity, and most importantly, malign the name of the family. This adds to your goodwill—wealth that cannot be sold, purchased or transferred.
Since the launch of the Orbit Group in 1985, I have always taken an honest approach in running the company, both with respect to our external dealings with customers and in our internal dealings with employees.
When it comes to Marwari elders, I feel that the meticulousness of their work, along with the discipline they imbibed from every walk of life and not just business, is worth emulating. Another important practice worth adopting is their enthusiastic response
My father, Ramawtar Kanoria, was an inspiration for me. The qualities of honesty and commitment that he practiced in his business—a venture in flour milling that he started after acquiring The Bengal Flour Mills in Kolkata—are the basic non-negotiable qualities I absorbed in my personal and business life from a very young age. In 1992, when I was 22, I branched out with my older brother and launched the Hanuman Group. I hope to never slip while practicing the honesty that I have witnessed among the elders of my family.
My father always said that the best way to gain trust in business is to demonstrate ethics and integrity. The family owned a textile retail shop in Howrah, West Bengal, and shortly after I finished my Class 10 exams, I started working part-time as a salesperson there. My father would teach me how we transact our business and the importance of being meticulous. He would emphasise how one must not consider the fruit of labour as the driving force for hard work. If you give your 100 per cent diligently to your work, you are bound to achieve your target and output. I have made a point to follow his teachings, especially from the time I started my own company, Turtle Limited,
At Turtle, every employee is aware of what happens in the business. The management is transparent not only with the staff but also with our associates—if there is bad news, we communicate it honestly. This transparency has prevented birth of any workplace politics within
Children are like mirrors—as they grow older, they start identifying with their parents and elders, and model themselves upon these significant adults. As children, we learn as we grow, and I remember seeing my father treating all his employees—whether it was the manager or the peon—as family and appreciating their unique talents and capabilities. It is also from him that I have learnt to be an active and attentive listener, and I follow these lessons when dealing with my co-workers at Peek-A-Boo Patterns.
A chemical engineer from IIT Kharagpur, my father started his company, India Forgings, in Kolkata, from scratch. He is still incredibly passionate about his work and I am no different—perhaps this passion arises from observing him give his best to his work all my life.
I have also picked up new skills from my husband and father-in-law by observing their business practices. The most important lesson I’ve learnt from them is to not keep payments pending. They believe that whatever good one does, it will come back, and say that the sooner they clear the opposite party’s pending bills, the sooner they will have the company’s bills cleared in return.
From my childhood, I have observed my father, Chain Roop Chindalia, and his close friend and partner at ZKL Bearings, Surendra Choraria, practice punctuality in business. They also focused on activities at the grass roots level within the company—something that top-level management rarely do. They would often visit the warehouses and check on marketing logistics and minor production line issues.
Going back to the ‘roots’ is what I was instructed to do when I joined the company in 2010, after pursuing an MBA in marketing from Nottingham University Business School. I started from the bottom rung and was assigned to work in the logistics department, where I could oversee the movement of material to and from operations, identify and highlight supply issues as and when they arose, and contribute to the development of logistic improvements. Once confident that I had learned the nitty-gritty of the work, my father would assign me to another department. This made me confident to handle all aspects of the business, and was a plus point when I launched FKL India in 2014 as a joint venture with FKL s.r.o, Slovakia, to manufacture bearings.
I studied at La Martiniere For Boys, Kolkata, before opting for a BBA in finance from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. A business school can’t provide the real-world experience needed to boil a business problem down to its simplest crux and approach it with a calm, logical mind—something that I have learnt from my father and grandfather. I’ve learnt how the matter at hand should not be overcomplicated with unnecessary details. This helps ease the way ahead for designing a process or system that can be adopted easily within the organisation.
When I joined the family business five years ago, I would observe my grandfather and father focus on long-term negotiations—often settling for less in the hope to build strong and lasting relationships with clients. I, on the other hand, would think that negotiating harder would have fetched us a good deal. The company’s solid and durable relationships with people over the years has made me realise that the trust we have forged is far more important than the transactions.
While I was growing up, an important habit my father drilled in me was that of punctuality. I have followed this rule to the letter after I started my company, Farinni Leather Pvt. Ltd.
As a parent, I believe that it’s important to encourage passion and instil the virtues of hard work and discipline in the younger generation and not give them a sense
When my son Raghav joined the business after pursuing his BBA from the University of Michigan, USA, I made sure that he started at the bottom of the ladder as a trainee and learned the fundamentals of the business. While he had worked for two years at the New York branch of Credit Suisse, a leading global financial services company, I wanted him to prove himself in my company. Once he managed that, I gave him the responsibility of handling one of our businesses independently.
Looking back, I’m happy that he has worked on several new initiatives within the company, including revamping the entire management structure and bringing new brands into the company’s portfolio.
While growing up, the word ‘business’ seemed alien to me. My father worked in the Public Works Department (PWD) of the Government of Madhya Pradesh, and the only link I had with the world of business was through the wholesale foods business owned by my maternal grandfather. I felt no affinity for dealing with
this business though.
It is only after a two-and-a-half year stint with Aircel, a leading mobile operator, that the seeds of entrepreneurship were sown in me. I recognised a big gap in the market in terms of providing integrated cloud communications solutions across SMS, voice, unstructured supplementary service data and e-mail platforms. So it was in 2003 that Unicel was born, with a start-up capital of R1 lakh. Later, I sold Unicel for R100 crore, and started a new company. Perhaps what we Marwaris are probably born with is spotting the right opportunity, and if you add commonsensical business practices and an aptitude for risk-taking in the mix, then one has the right recipe for a successful business.