Joys of being an Entrepreneur

The writer bats for entrepreneurship and says that it is imperative for youngsters to create their own jobs

Larsen & Toubro is today a well-known and respected engineering company employing over 80,000 people across India and abroad. You probably did not know that two entrepreneurs Henning Holck-Larsen and Soren Kristian Toubro started their dream concept in India over seventy years ago. Henning Holck-Larsen was educated at the University of Copenhagen and came to India in 1937 as a chemical engineer working for F. L. Smidth of Copenhagen. Partnering with his former schoolmate and fellow employee Søren Kristian Toubro, he set up Larsen and Toubro in 1938. The idea of L&T was conceived during a holiday in Matheran, a hill station near Bombay. Holck-Larsen was a risk-taker and a marketer while Toubro was an engineer and more conservative. Larsen and Toubro saw opportunities in India at time when few Europeans had realised the country’s potential for industrial growth. There was a long-standing myth that Larsen and Toubro were selling bicycle parts near Crawford Market in Bombay when they got stuck at the start of the Second World War; though not a true story, the reality is not too remote. Their supplies from Denmark stopped with the start of the war, and therefore they had to be innovative and create a business that they could sustain with products available in India. After receiving the Magasaysay Award in 1976, Holck-Larsen was asked “To what do you attribute your success?” His answer should not come as a surprise to any entrepreneur: “We have always kept our eyes open. We have never become complacent or stopped learning. By observing what people are doing all over the world we have gained a great deal.”

Reliance Industries and other Reliance companies that form the largest group of companies in India, employing over 200,000 people, is well known to us all. The person who laid down the roots of the company in the early 1960s was none other than Dhirubhai Ambani. Contrary to many who believed that Ambani was a ‘cloth merchant’ in Bombay, he started life as a trader in West Asia. Ambani returned from Yemen to India and started “Majin” in partnership with Champaklal Damani, his cousin, who lived with him in Turkey. Majin was to import polyester yarn and export spices to Yemen. The first office of the Reliance Commercial Corporation was set up at the Narsinatha Street in Masjid Bunder. It was a 350 sq ft (33 m2) room with a telephone, one table and three chairs. Initially, they had two assistants to help them with their business. During this period, Ambani and his family stayed in a two-bedroom apartment at the Jai Hind Estate in Bhuleshwar, Mumbai. Fiery instinct, futuristic outlook, indomitable will, and a burning passion was all that Dhirubhai Ambani had when he set out to work his way up for a living in the lanes of Bombay, way back in 1958. From being a spice dealer to a cloth merchant to a textile producer, it was his overarching ambition, inexhaustible energy and never-say-die spirit that led him through all obstacles to emerge as the business tycoon of India. Dhiruhai made a profound comment many years ago. “If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help them build theirs.”

You often hear people say “Entrepreneurs are born as entrepreneurship cannot be taught.” That cannot be further from the truth. All of us have creative ideas. We do not allow those ideas to move our creativity through to successful implementation. We feel that we are either too young or too old to start a venture on our own. “What if it fails? What will I do then? What will others say about me?” All of these are perfectly reasonable thoughts, but if you have a solid vision, and you have the practical ability to move forward with your idea, neither age nor lack of money should hold you back. Speaking about money, becoming an entrepreneur is not about becoming rich and famous like the the people mentioned above. Earning money is only a by-product of the excitement of moving from the original idea to the successful completion of the project. As Fred Durkin mentions in his book Making it Happen: “The most important skill in the 21st century will be the ability to create your own job.”

It is essential to have a clear vision of the proposed entrepreneurial activity. Think about taking the opportunity when it arises, not when one needs it. It is even more important to take emotion out of the projected plan. Think about all elements that could misfire or go wrong. Consider the possibility and probability of the project taking twice as long with costs that may double over time, leading to profits heading ‘south’. Prior to starting your dream project, consider the worst case scenario just as any unconnected investor would.  Even after all eventualities have been considered, it is quite possible that a new competitor that you had not considered, or a new directive from the government that may have not been factored in to the business plan, comes to the fore. It is the entrepreneur’s ability to adjust the projections, and continue the project, that will be key to success.

Take the situation in the late 1980s when some of us were working on our vision to liberalize the Indian telecom market. We had factored in all of the variables that we could forsee based on the international models of mobile telephone usage and growth. We had completely misjudged the possibility of government intervention to aid local companies. We had also not considered the difference in culture of an Indian mobile telephone user to that of a user with a similar background in the United States. Several American companies abandoned their Indian projects, leaving Indian entrepreneurs to take over and build extremely successful communications companies. The question an entrepreneur must ask is not if the project can be done, but how can it be done, and that is exactly how individuals like Sunil Mittal and others took the sector forward. Success is like climbing a mountain – the last mile up the slope is the most difficult.

Those of you interested in fulfilling your entrepreneurial dream may enjoy reading Everyday Entrepreneur – Making it Happen by Fred Dawkins, Dundrun Press 2013.

Go for it, and be happy, be successful, and be the person who creates jobs in your area.

 

 

JAY DEHEJIA

The writer used to be a senior corporate executive, now a social entrepreneur.He spends most of his time between Goa and New York. He can be reached at jay@dehejia.net

 

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