The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Junk the job, idlis are tastier
- IIM grad shuns rat race, follows in mother’s footsteps

Ahmedabad, April 1: From helping his mother sell idlis on Chennai’s streets to starting his own catering business may not sound like a giant leap for a slum kid.

Unless, in between, he graduates from an IIM and turns down a corporate job offer.

When 27-year-old Sarath Babu, a software engineer and MBA, made his choice at this year’s placement on the Ahmedabad B-school campus, he was clear in his mind about two things.

One, he would chart his own course as an entrepreneur and two, he would continue to sell food like his mother Deeparamani, who still vends idlis to pedestrians in Chennai.

“Nobody would have imagined this 20 years ago,” said IIM Ahmedabad chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy, referring both to Sarath’s progress from a slum to the B-school and his rejection of a cushy job to start an unconventional business with little capital.

As he lit a lamp to inaugurate the Foodking Catering Service, Sarath’s firm in Ahmedabad, the Infosys boss, however, suggested how the young man could pay his mother an even more fitting tribute.

Compared with Deeparamani’s customers, Sarath’s usual clients would be somewhat more upscale: BPOs, pharmaceutical firms, multinational companies and college canteens. He says he plans to turn his company into a food chain that will be a “national brand” employing 50,000 people.

But Murthy reminded him that millions of poor Indian children, from whose ranks he rose, never go to school let alone B-school and he needed to do his bit for them.

Why don’t you take up the mid-day meal scheme, which can lure underprivileged children to the classroom, the Infosys chief asked.

Sarath’s eyes seemed to moisten. “Sir, I’m happy to tell you that my mother has worked for the Tamil Nadu government’s mid-day meal scheme. She cooked mid-day meals in a nearby school and earned Rs 30 a day. She still sells idli in Chennai. That is how she brought me up and my two sisters and a brother,” he said in an emotional voice.

As the audience erupted in applause, Sarath rang up his 52-year-old mother and introduced her to Murthy.

A proud Deeparamani said she knew her son had declined a well-paying job but she was happy that he had chosen to be a caterer. “At least, he would be feeding people,” the mother said.

Sarath described how he had made it through school with help from a teacher who paid his fees. State government scholarships allowed him to get an engineering degree from BITS, Pilani, after which he worked with a software firm for about two years.

“In the last four decades, such a thing has never happened in IIM Ahmedabad,” institute director Bakul Dholakia declared.

Sarath’s classmate Gaurav Dagaonkar shared the spotlight. The Mumbai boy, too, has turned his back on corporate jobs to follow his life’s passion ' music.

Murthy today released a demo album by Gaurav, who was the campus cultural secretary, sang for a local band called Zaahir and had designed a studio in his hostel.

For Sarath, it has been more uphill. He has had to ask friends to chip in to raise his initial capital of Rs 10 lakh and form a 15-member team. But with “quality, cleanliness and delivery” as his business motto, he expects to emerge a market leader in 10 years.

Murthy praised both the young men. “I am happy and proud that they have opted to walk on a road less travelled,” he said.

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