CARPE DIEM!

Dr. Bhavarlal Jain
Posted on : 31stMar 2014, India

Dear Readers,

As the first blog post of this new initiative we have chosen to share with you an excerpt of a speech given by the Founder Chairman of the company. As with most of his speeches, these contain immense wisdom and thought-provoking words. This will be part of a series of speeches we will feature on this blog, so keep checking back!

‘Doctor of Letters’ acceptance speech, North Maharashtra University, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, 28 January 2006.
All my life and my work are centred on just one entity, and it is not any great philosopher or leader or celebrity. It is the faceless farmer of India who lives his hapless life and dies in want and abject poverty. He is the tiller of the soil who fills our bellies, yet remains hungry himself. He constitutes over 60 per cent of India’s population, but rarely gets his due place in any of our policy frameworks. He sweats and toils incessantly, yet his efforts remain largely unrecognized and unrewarded. That is the reason why I partner this faceless farmer in every award or reward that I get. The poverty-stricken, ragged Indian farmer is my role model, and he has inspired all my work in life. That is why he deserves recognition more than I do.
I would like to tell the story of my humble work and experiences of the past four and a half decades to the youth of today, who are on the verge of entering the practical world. This will be more an account of my failures and follies rather than my successes and achievements. As such, these failures may be actual or as perceived by my well–wishers and those close to me. Nevertheless, these ‘failures’ or ‘blunders’ have taught me the tough lessons of my life. My first ‘blunder’, if I may say so, was the choice of agriculture as my career. I had a difficult choice of careers before me when I was young. I had been offered a secure and respectable post of deputy collector at the age of twenty– three, but I opted for an entrepreneurial venture in the area of agriculture. It was not a very rewarding or lucrative option then, and it is not so now too. People thought that I was either silly or plain foolish to give up a paying and ‘well–rewarding’ government job and choose a risk–prone, uncertain and ill–rewarding business venture in agriculture. My well–wishers, and fortunately I have many, were forthcoming with well–meant counsel. Some advised me not to let the ‘golden goose’ of a government job escape my hands. Some said that if at all I wanted to do business, I should opt for something more sensible than agriculture. Yet others opined that I should choose one of the businesses in which our community had a stronghold; like becoming a cloth merchant or a grain merchant. And, last but not the least, some advised me to go for real estate, where the ‘real’ money was.
The range of advice confused me so much that I sought solace in astrology–the first time that I fell prey to face reading and palm reading and all that–and it resulted in only compounding my confusion. After reading my palm, face and my mind, the astrologer told me that I would ultimately find a career in oil, soil and metal. Now, these three elements practically covered everything under the sun; and also everything below the surface of the earth. Not sharing the over confidence that the astrologer showed in my capabilities at that time, I fled the scene, telling the astrologer that I do not trust his forecast. He quickly retorted,‘then get lost; I do not accept fees from those who do not trust me!’
Around the same time, I came across a beautiful poem by Burton Braley. The poem was titled ‘Success’. It so appealed to my young idealistic mind that it quickly became my guiding force. It cleared the fog of confusion in my mind and helped me arrive at a conscious and aware decision of choosing my career as an entrepreneur. In particular, one couplet in the poem moved my conscience, and I thought that if ever I was to achieve success in my entrepreneurial life, this is how I would achieve it:
Serving and striving through strain and stress,
Doing your noblest, that is success.
I want to say that this couplet in the poem is largely responsible for my entrepreneurship and for whatever little I have been able to achieve in business and life. Obviously, I trusted the poet’s clarion call for hard work, sincerity of purpose and integrity in order to achieve success, more than I did the astrologer’s forecast.
I thus decided my own destiny. I chose an activity that demanded constant hard work, constant struggling, insecure and unpredictable margins, and above all, no promise of easy or fast money. This last point is of particular relevance for the youth. To my mind, a worthwhile commercial activity is that which generates ample work rather than fast or easy wealth, builds credibility rather than cash. Such easily acquired wealth can never create value for wealth. It can only lure the present and next generations to seek more and more easy money, and this can open the doors to vices and a degenerate life. Gradually, one loses respect for self and society, and this is self–destructive. I have observed this keenly within my own community. Families who have amassed easy money by exploitation or manipulation and unfair or illegal practices have grown wealthy, but they have never been able to enrich their quality of life.
Of course, one inherits such values from one’s genes too. It is due to my chaste, pious, straightforward and very modest parentage that values like hard work, honesty, value for money, and ability to keep away from wrongful means of earning were imbibed by me. Also, my education and good teachers played a significant role in moulding my character. However, education can only be an input into the development of one’s moral code of conduct. It is this theoretical orientation which one has to blend with practical life to form a fine and industrious character. Ultimately, it all depends on how and what we absorb from our education into our value system.
I would like to summarize some important learning points: Notwithstanding one’s prevailing circumstances, one should not fall prey to soft or easy options that may generate high returns or rewards disproportionate to one’s efforts. Such money or wealth can only invite one’s own downfall in the long run. One should instead choose a path that seems arduous initially and demands continuous hard work. This is the only way in which one can create sustainable wealth in the long run. Education can never substitute real–life learning. What you gain in classrooms is theoretical learning and inert facts. But what you need in life is practical learning. This can be gained only by keen observation, vivid thinking and an avid adoption of learning.
My next ‘blunder’ was my first industrial venture of manufacturing papain, an industrial enzyme manufactured from papaya latex–a milky extract obtained after making an incision on the skin of raw papaya. It is another matter that due to this venture, we became the world’s leading papain manufacturers and won several national and international awards. However, at that time, many had thought that career–wise, this was a suicidal step to take.
It so happened that a state–owned sick banana processing plant was up for sale in Jalgaon. I studied the offer and made some inquiries regarding the matter. I found out that a technocrat from Nashik had also bid for this sick unit. Although neither I nor anyone else in my team had any technical credentials, I reasoned that if a technologically and technically sound person saw potential in this plant, obviously there must be something of value in it. And to the utter shock of my family, friends and co–workers, I made an instantaneous decision to bid for this plant.
What was worse, I placed the highest bid of ‘30 lakh for the plant, when my total cash reserves were ‘2 lakh! I don’t blame people for considering me a mad maverick or something close to that!
We somehow found the finances and bought the plant. After innumerable teething problems and technical hitches, we managed to modify the banana processing facility into a papain producing one. That was not all; we also managed to produce the finest possible world–class papain enzyme and converted the unit into a 100 per cent EOU (export oriented unit). We won many international customers and many international awards– about twenty awards in all for this single unit. But it all happened after five years of consistent and continuous hard work, making untold sacrifices and enduring formidable hardships. We had to forget our families and practically live at the factory. We had to spend days and nights on R&D. We had to do all this with empty pockets, and sometimes, with empty stomachs as well. But who had time for food anyway?
Papain is solely dependent on the agricultural raw material of papaya. Hence, in order to ensure smooth supply of high–quality papaya all through the year, we had to make pioneering efforts in the crop’s life–cycle. We had to search for and obtain disease resistant robust papaya seed varieties. We had to evolve our custom contract–farming model which ensured minimum guaranteed price for the papaya growers. And we had to buy back their crop, irrespective of demand levels. Our zeal to succeed made us work tirelessly, and ultimately, we overcame all the supply related problems and produced world–class papain.
Now, what about creating demand? India was still a socialist economy then and its exports were rated very poorly. However, we had faith in our quality. Gradually, we managed to get a few overseas buyers. But there was a heavy entry price. We had to go by their conditions. We had to supply the goods on consignment basis, which meant that the customer pays only after receiving the product in good condition and after satisfactorily testing its quality and quantity as per their parameters. Even after this, there were discounts and long credit periods. We withstood all these tests but ultimately we triumphed. As I said earlier, we became a respectable Indian exporter at a time when India was looked down upon in international markets. Facts and figures and awards aside, we earned priceless credibility worldwide, and we established long–term, enduring customer relationships at a time when the term ‘customer relations’ was not yet a part of the management vocabulary. Although we had to discontinue the papain plant in 2002 due to the natural end of the product’s life–cycle, I am proud to say that I am still friends with all my international papain customers. In fact, my first US customer, Mr. Haimes, is a close family friend. So trusting is our friendship and relations that he has even appointed me to oversee his will! And this trust and friendship is my bigger reward, more than the profits and the awards that this venture got me.
Some of the lessons we learnt were :
Opportunities are bald–headed. Unless you seize the moment, it will slip past your hands. I am not saying that you jump blindly into any venture. Of course, do proper homework, but also learn to take calculated risks. No entrepreneurial venture is ever risk–free. You cannot measure the depth of the ocean by sitting on the shore and enjoying the scenery. Always look to build long–term relationships. Don’t fall short on customer relationships. Have faith in your quality, and build mutual trust and friendship while dealing with customers. Don’t quit, even when you are hardest hit, and may I add, even when you are hit below the belt. Learn to endure pain and suffering, and take shortcomings in your stride. They are hidden opportunities that you can capitalize on to produce exemplary quality standards. Believe in yourself and your dream. Look confident. Back it with hard work and perseverance to the hilt. You will succeed ultimately.
This post is an excerpt from “The Enlightened Entrepreneur”, which is a compilation of lectures that Dr. Bhavarlal Jain has given over thirty years. Replete with instances and expositions of what constitutes enlightened entrepreneurship: a notion that Jain iterates, must be embraced by each and every entrepreneur. This book provides invaluable insights into what successes and failures mean to a businessperson, the tenets of effective leadership and transformational businesses.
The book is available for purchase online at: http://goo.gl/5dgHLb or at the nearest bookstore.
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