The Entrepreneurship Summit 2018 organized by the E-Cell, Jadavpur University, is a fantastic initiative to encourage budding entrepreneurs. I have been advised to speak on “Industry through a philanthropist’s lens”. It is a great subject. Philanthropy for most industrialists is a matter of joy and pride. It is also a very relevant topic, especially after the government came out with rules on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In fact, if we go into the past and look around, we find that most industrialists took personal interest in philanthropy; it was very close to their heart. There is an opinion that philanthropy may have seen a decline during the period 1990-2005, but I do not agree. The government has come up with Corporate Social Responsibility. It is a good step, but according to me it is not so essential. Philanthropy by industrialists existed long before CSR.
I grew up in the rural areas of Bihar. My schooling was in the rural area under the love and affection of my grandfather. My father was living in Kolkata. After my schooling, I had got admission in Presidency College. I graduated and got a Law Degree from the University of Calcutta in 1963-64. While studying, I was involved in the family business, which we have for over a century. I had seen as a boy, how my grandfather used to help in the rural areas. We had schools, temples, and free distribution of food grains, clothes etc. They had built up schools, hospitals, inns, and so on.
I found that out of the sales and profit, a certain percentage used to be kept for Goshala (cow farming), schools, and other activities. So, the drive and desire to do good was more from within, there was no CSR rules then. They had a simple living, but high thinking. There are many industrialists like G.D. Birla, Kamal Narayan Bajaj and so on.
By reading the Gospel of Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and other scriptures, I realised service to humanity is worship of God. Swami Vivekananda was denied Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa said, “Service to Humanity Is Worship of God”, “Jeever Seva Shiver Seva”. All religions advise one to do charity. Lord Jesus had advised a rich person who wanted to see the God, “Give all your wealth to the poor and come to me.” The rich person had distributed all his wealth amongst the poor and came to Jesus Christ to realise God, to be with God.
The principal messages of Vedas are Dharm, Arth, Kaam and Moksh. Dharm – righteousness, Arth – earning of money, Kaam – family life and Moksh – liberation
Entrepreneurship is also service to self, family, society, nation, and the world. Sacrifice is involved in entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurs’ core objective should be creation and generation of wealth, righteously for the welfare of family, society, and the nation. With mission and vision, despite all the problems and risks, I strongly feel that one will navigate his enterprise to success.
Lord Krishna conspired to help those who venture to do some enterprise for the welfare of humanity by the creation and generation of wealth. So whatever enterprise we launch, our purpose should be for the welfare of humanity. The life of an entrepreneur is not easy. Calamities will never come alone. One must be hardworking, courageous, fearless, have forbearance, righteous, have faith in self, in all and in God. One must have good habits and hobbies.
Any enterprise has to face internal, external and other problems. Despite all risk analysis, an enterprise may fail. One may have to close it. That is not the end. That should not push one into depression. Friends! Rise with a new spirit, new energy. While ailing, start making efforts to be cured. Side by side, develop a new idea and a new enterprise. Life is not forever. In my 60 years of business experience, despite my best and honest efforts, I have seen many enterprises, though booming for several years, failing. My largest flour mill along with other two flour mills were closed in 1988-89 due to the government’s policies. In West Bengal, more than 40 flour mills were closed. I had run these flour mills despite number of problems, not the problems but storms; those storms are unrest by labour unions, political interference, violence and so on. I had to risk my life at times. But having the faith in self and God, I worked on and on. While the industry was suffering a downtrend, I started thinking of some other enterprise. Export and import and infrastructure finance were started. Srei, as it is known now, was started in 1989 and despite tsunamis and storms, we have continued to grow in infrastructure finance and other areas of power, real estate etc. I have been looking for new business opportunities at all times. I found that development of infrastructure is a prime necessity of India for its growth. And I realised that it was only a matter of time before the government had to open the doors for private investments in infrastructure. Government also started realising the same thing. The fiscal situation forced the government to embrace economic liberalisation in 1991. This opened up huge opportunities for Srei. We realised that the small and medium contractors involved in infrastructure projects would require equipment and would not get finance from banks. So, we spotted an opportunity here – we realised that Srei could fill this void. Thus, started our journey. Throughout our journey, we have faced many ups and downs, but every time we emerged stronger. All through, we have considered ourselves as trustees. All employees are considered as members of one family Srei/Kanoria Foundation.
I always enjoyed reading and writing. I felt we needed to convey our views to the government and public. This thought gave birth to the magazine, Business Economics, in 1995. It was started as a tabloid initially. Despite my busy schedule, I had been giving time to this. By God’s grace, my sons had also contributed their best from their childhood. This is the tradition in our family. As I was a student, along with my father, I set up many enterprises in Bengal and Bihar. My sons have also continued this tradition and they have actively contributed to my endeavours. While working with me they had the practical training, as I had my practical training with my grandfather and then with my father. And now my grandsons have joined us, too.
Way back in 1960, the image of businessmen was not very positive. So I thought of not doing business, but wanted to pursue legal practice. I had enrolled myself as an advocate. But being inspired by my father and belonging to a business family and given my involvement from a young age in business, I decided to become an industrialist.
Friends and dear youth! I believe that sky is the limit. If I work with righteousness, God will be with me. From a young age, I was involved in philanthropy. I consider myself as a humble entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is definitely not a bed of roses. An entrepreneur has to be humble, but at the same time, know how to lead and strict. An entrepreneur cannot afford to be depressed at any time. It is the positive thought process and the can-do approach that keeps every entrepreneur going. Doing business in India is not so easy. At every step, one will find difficulties.
Not to glorify myself, but to share my experiences, I would like to say that I have worked not only as an owner but as a labour, clerk, assistant, relation officer, labour officer and conciliator, technician, tax planner, consultant and what not. To start an enterprise one has to play so many roles. One has to read technical books related to manufacturing. I had worked as distributor, manufacturer of stainless steel and aluminium utensils, pioneered the manufacture of animal and poultry feeds, as a supplier and pioneer manufacturer of agri-nutrient products.
A start-up enterprise has to keep a watch over the cost of overheads, rent, and interest. One has to follow the English saying, “Take care of the pence and the pound will take care of itself”. Taking care of all stakeholders and customers are prime. Manipulation does not have longevity. Live like Warren Buffet – no show, no glamour, no obnoxious display of wealth despite being one of the world’s richest.
Every human being is embedded with empathy, sympathy, and kindness. There may be some exception due to the circumstances. I shall tell you a small story. Demi-Gods and human beings were unhappy. So they went to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu told them, ‘Why are you unhappy? I have given everything to all of you”. Both Demi-Gods and human beings said, ‘But still we are unhappy’. So Lord Vishnu said to the Demi-Gods to learn daya, empathy and sympathy, and to human beings daan-donation. As industrialists, ‘daan’ should be a duty for human beings. Not with any pride or glorifying myself, let me share with you what our organisation is doing.
We have two schools in the name of Suryodaya. 700 children are studying up to class XII, free of cost, getting free food and uniforms. We have one school in Asansol. About 400 students are there and pay moderate fees. Srihari Global School started only two years back. We have the Institute Of Inspiration And Self Development under IISD Edu World. We are conducting coaching for administrative courses, judiciary, banking, commercial chartered accountant, cost accountant, secretaryship, international and domestic languages, school guides, school children tutorial and graduate children tutorial. The question is why do we provide coaching/tutorial for school children? I found that it is a difficult task for most parents, particularly middle class families, to take the child from one place to another for tuition. But here, under one roof, all subjects are being taught to the school children. We also have a hospitality management course tied up with the Pearson Group.
In Chennai, we have started the Holistic Happiness Centre for children and for senior citizens. In the slum area, for women’s employment, we are training them on sewing and getting jute/paper bags for sale. Last year, we rehabilitated 30 girls who were rescued by the police from different parts of India through NGOs with whom we have forged an alliance. Whatever little we can do, we are trying to do. Since the last ten years we have been organising the World Confluence of Humanity, Power and Spirituality. Swami Vivekananda said, ‘If we neglect spirituality, the third generation will be extinct’. This conference’s mission is harmony of all religions. The essence of all religions is the same. Religious and political leaders from all over the world participated in this. This year it will be held on the 21st and the 22nd of December 2018 at Westin Hotel, Rajarhat.
We have Acid Survivors and Women Welfare Foundation on an all-India basis. Acid attack is a heinous crime. In 65% to 70% of the cases, the victims are women. So, we have taken up the matter for awareness, legal recourse, law enactment, medical support, treatment of survivors etc. These chapters are working almost all over India. We have a shop at 18 Ballygunge Circular Road. Acid victims are working there.
We are selling old and new clothes at a very cheap price. In Diamond Harbour, women are being taught tailoring and other skill development courses like plumbing, fitting, welding etc.
Only few days back, in my village, Barhiya Bihar, Solar Charkha, weaving and other machines were set up. Women will be trained to run these Charkhas. We will supply the cotton cocoon and purchase the thread from them and sell to the handloom/textile industry.
We have a planted lot of trees. I have a knack for agriculture. During my boyhood in rural areas, I was involved in gardening, agriculture etc. In my residence, on the roof top and other places, I am growing vegetables, fruits, flowers and medicinal plants. In factories and other areas where we have space, we have planted lots of trees. In 2004, the then President Dr. Prof. Abdul Kalam had come on my invitation to the Agri Horticultre Society of India. There we had planted herbal plants. A book was also published under my guidance, as the President of the Society.
So friends, there is no limit to your work. It is not just money by which you can serve the society. By your knowledge and labour one can serve the society. We can choose either to serve the society or waste our time on gossip and other hobby/habits. An entrepreneur may be very busy right from the morning till late at night, but he must find time for sports, health, family and society. Without health, one cannot do miracles. That is why Swami Vivekananda had emphasised on sports and good health. He even said, ‘Do not read Gita, but play football’. So, an entrepreneur has to focus on health. Healthy mind is a healthy body.
It is a matter of pain that society and nation look at businessmen differently. Press is also responsible. I may be excused by the press people here. There may be some black sheep, but it is not fair to equate all businessmen to those few. A businessman has to have creative and honest. There is a great definition of relative and absolute honesty. Our intuition, our God inside will guide us to act righteously and to be on the part of relative honesty. Our nation Bharat will progress. By the grace of Mother Kali it may be number one in the world. Here again I quote Swami Vivekananda. He said in 1893, ‘India is a sleeping dragon, when it will rise no power on earth can stop it from being number one in the world.’ So, let all entrepreneurs abide with this spirit of service to humanity, create and generate wealth for self, family, society, community and nation. May Mother Kali and Gods of all religions bless us.
I invite all the intellectuals and young writers to contribute their articles, feelings, opinions for publication in Business Economics. The social media is available but still one can write about opinions, ideas, inventions, innovations and so on.
Just as it is the duty of the industrialists to serve the society and the Nation, the society and the Nation also need to recognise the service provided by the industrialists. Some businessmen may make an exhibition of their lavish living and indulge in misappropriation of funds, but the public should not take those immoral people as the yardstick for businessmen and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs have to go through a lot of difficulty in order to get going in India. Even once their venture takes off, there is no guarantee that they will succeed. Many find success abroad. It has been reported that in the last few years around 20,000 entrepreneurs have migrated to other countries. Why so? Bharatwasis need to introspect and must reflect why so many entrepreneurs have become successful abroad. The least Bharatwasis can do is give due respect to those principled entrepreneurs who carry on here despite the odds.
So, entrepreneurs need not be afraid. They have to become fearless, righteous, and bold. Again, I do not glorify myself, but I have boldly faced the authority a number of times. May Mother Kali bless all of us, guide us and give us the strength and courage to take on all adversities.