An entrepreneur who refuses to stop

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 3.06.04
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N.C. Agrawal

This man from the city of Rani Laxmi Bai has done it all. From a stint at an engineering college to selling junk and expertise in electronics.

Nothing has stopped this 57-year-old, who appears to be motor-driven to keep moving ahead. Just like the Jhansi ki Rani.

Meet N.C. Agrawal, an engineering graduate in electronics and communications from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi. He is the man behind an industrial empire whose annual turnover keeps increasing.

From an annual turnover of a meagre Rs 90,000 in 1978, the company recorded Rs 2.7 crore in the last fiscal recorded. In the current financial year it is expected to cross the four-crore mark.

“It would have been more than Rs 25 crore, had I been
working in a better environment elsewhere,” he said with a touch of disappointment, but added, “Nevertheless, we are now geared for a vertical take off,”

Agrawal likes teaching and learning is his passion. “I read whenever I can. Mostly during on train journeys and on the way to my unit. I have read books on human physiology, medicine, palmistry, tantric power, psychology, management, electronics. I enjoy variety in my reading.”
As a teacher he says, “Any one who wants to grow and progress, should devote one hour a day to learning.”

His passion for teaching is fulfilled when he trains young engineers, diploma holders and other staff members at Meditron, his unit in Mesra.

“They learn, grow and move out in search of greener pastures. In the beginning, I felt bad when I trained and taught them and then they moved away. But I realised that’s what life is all about. One must keep growing and improving.”

He adds, “So far about 30 engineers have left and joined bigger companies like SAIL, Tisco or have gone to the Middle East.”

As a teacher, he was most pleased with the progress made by two tribal girls. One of them, educated up to Class VIII is so diligent that today she can draw confidently on auto-CAD, and the other one, educated up to high school, supervises 80 per cent of testing of panels at his unit.

He says the key to his success has been his habit of dealing with a problem analytically and logically.

“I believe in working systematically with complete and detailed planning,” he adds. This also explains his efficient organisation of the Jharkhand Udyog Mela, 2002. Cars are his second passion.

“I enjoy driving...and fast! My love affair with cars and bikes started when I tinkered around with them during my school days. I can repair a car without any help from a mechanic,” he says proudly.

“If I am on a tour to another city and I happen to see a driver facing some mechanical problems with his/her car, I stop to help,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes.

His first car, an Ambassador, was bought with his own earnings. He kept this car for 11 years. Though the Ambassador did more than 1.25 lakh kilometre, it had its original dynamo and self starter, untouched by a mechanic, thanks to the care Agarwal lavished on it.

“It used to give me 12 to 13 kilometre per litre,” he says, with unmistakable pride. These days he changes his cars every three years or so. “If you take basic precautions and pay
attention to certain minor details, any car will serve you well,” he adds.

But Agrawal has not forgotten those days when he did not have enough money to buy petrol to drive down to the bank in his car.

“When H.C. Pandey, then director of BIT and now vice-chancellor emeritus of BIT, Mesra, brought me to SIRDOT, Mesra, I had only Rs 20,000 in my account. He gave me a room, where I started afresh after leaving behind my pet TV and electronics project in Bhimtaal,” he recalls.

He started providing “import substitutes” to Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC), Bokaro Steel Plant, Central Coalfields Limited, Balco Aluminium plant in Korba, besides manufacturing voltage stabilisers.

His stabilisers, which he stopped manufacturing 10 years ago, used to be rated on par with the famous Sen and Pandit stabilisers because he used a modified circuit suited to the quality of power supply in this part of the state.

However, it was courtesy HEC that he was on the verge of being wiped out. “A few years ago, I was given a work order of Rs 75 lakh. My annual turnover then was Rs 55 lakh. To complete that order, I had to buy some components from Russia and other countries. I completed the order, but HEC refused to take the products on the plea that the money to buy it and its customer (Bhilai Steel Plant) had not paid them.”

“I thought I was finished. But, thank God none of my suppliers discontinued supplies to mebecause they retained their faith in me. I came out of the depressing phase when Bhilai Steel Plant bought the products and paid me my dues.”

Agrawal feels Ranchi used to be a great place to live in till the 1980s. But the situation started deteriorating from 1982-83, he said. The downward slide continues despite the formation of Jharkhand because “there is no political desire for development”. he says. “The leaders do not realise that industrial units will provide employment to more people.
Our leaders do not have any vision.”

Agrawal says if he moves out of Jharkhand, he will settle down in Hardwar, where he plans to set up a vacuum circuit breaker plant.

“I have been forced to take this decision because Ranchi has become unsafe for traders. That days is not far away when I will be called an outsider and asked to pay extortion money for setting up an industrial unit here, So, it is better to prepare oneself and think of an alternative.”

This man definitely has many parts. Apart from his passion for teaching and of course cars, he also enjoys cooking.

“Though I am a vegetarian, I can cook an excellent chicken curry and mutton keema.” Describing himself as a workaholic, Agrawal says he puts in 14 hours of work. And he relaxes by fixing a leaking pipe or doing some odd carpentry job in his house.

An entrepreneur who swears by technology, he likes some music in his life too. “I enjoy listening to old classics at bed time. Ghazals are my favourites. Incidentally, my wife is a post graduate in music,” he says.

“The University Grants Commission programmes that are telecast on Doordarshan in the morning are informative. I watch these programmes regularly and have learnt a lot from them.”

He is also hooked on to the Doordarshan news channel, which he describes as a “must see”. “At least one bulletin a day is sure to provide an overview of developments in the country,” he says.

“Though I am a member of Ranchi Gymkhana Club, I prefer spending my evenings at home. I don’t drink or gamble. I use the club facilities occasionally when I have to entertain relatives, friends or business associates,” he says.

“I like to dress well. You will always find me immaculately dressed. My favourite combination is a pair of trousers and shirt. I prefer light shades. No dark colours for me,” he says about his sartorial preferences.

Arun Kumar Thakur