Wire tycoon weaves power dreams

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By Business Profile - Mahesh Poddar
  • Published 11.03.04

For Mahesh Poddar survival is success. “What does success mean in Jharkhand? If anyone has managed to survive, it is a success story. I do consider myself successful because I have survived despite adverse conditions,” he said.

From Gumla High School to an intermediate course in St Xavier’s College and a degree in mechanical engineering from Bangalore, the journey for Poddar was smooth. Trouble started when he separated from his family and decided to set up a wire manufacturing unit in 1978.

“I needed Rs 1 lakh as loan. It took me one year to persuade State Bank of India to sanction a loan of Rs 20,000. I managed to set up the industry because of friends like Sachit Budhia who lent me some machines, without insisting on immediate payment.”

The annual turnover of his company is about Rs 20 crore per annum.

Today Poddar provides direct employment to around 100 people. More than 100 workers depend on his Miki Wire Works Private Limited for indirect employment. He has also set up another unit in Bangalore.

“A small-scale unit or for that matter any industrial unit needs uninterrupted supply of power to survive. A unit should run at more than 80 per cent efficiency if it has to make profit. If it utilises even 80 per cent of its capacity, it breaks even. Anything less than that means a loss,” Poddar said.

Needless to say, most of the small-scale units in the state have suffered because of frequent and unscheduled power cuts, he added.

“It is important for everyone to realise that the majority of first generation and new entrepreneurs are victims of false promises who start projects on politicians’ false promises of funds, subsidy and power. Later they realise that nothing is easily available,” Poddar said.

It pains him that the system is not as “sensitive” now, as it was in the 1970s when he started out. “There was some problem with the district industries officer and the matter was reported in The New Republic, a local English weekly. You will be surprised to hear that though the officer was close to then chief minister Kedar Pandey, the matter was investigated and the officer was removed from Ranchi.”

“Any system which wants to deliver has to be sensitive. The Tatas have prospered because they are sensitive to customer satisfaction. Similarly, a service provider like Jharkhand State Electricity Board should be sensitive to its customers,” Poddar said.

“Take for example, Karnataka, where I have set up a second unit. The government departments in that state are are more efficient, accountable, and deliver fast.”

“In the past 12 years, I have not visited even 10 government offices there, which includes finance corporations. Can you visualise such a scenario here?” he said.

“The Jharkhand government is busy distributing cycles, tractors, buses and jobs. But unfortunately it does not realise that if proper care had been taken to create a favourable situation for industries, development would have been greater. Had the government and its different offices sincerely implemented the Jharkhand Industrial Policy, 2001, in these three years I would have doubled my capacity. That would have meant employment for more people and more revenue to the state too,” he said.

Poddar says businessmen are treading cautiously. “If I have adopted the policy of wait-and-watch, do you think investors from outside the state will be so naive to rush in and get trapped in a situation where no one knows what a government department would do next?”

What special quality should an entreprenuer have? “An entrepreneur has to be an optimist out of necessity. One has to keep looking forward with hope. In business, struggle is an ongoing process. We are operating at a level when everything is pledged to financial institutions. We just cannot be complacent and enjoy life,” advises the 54-year-old “survivor”.

According to him, his business can grow in Jharkhand. “Given the right environment it can grow by four times because of the easy availability of raw material.”

“We are awaiting implementation of the Jharkhand Industrial Policy. It is a sound document that was prepared jointly by the government, entrepreneurs and the political leadership, accommodating each other’s views, expectations and aspirations. It has clear-cut priorities but unfortunately it has not been taken seriously by the people who were to implement it,” Poddar said.

Poddar has been elected the chairman of the Steel Wire Manufacturers’ Association of India for a two-year term.

“This is a big honour for me because it means I have been accepted as a successful entrepreneur. I also feel proud to have followed Basant Jhawar of the Usha Martin group to this chair,” Poddar said.

Poddar has also been president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industries and other organisations. “For me work will always be my first love. I believe that if one works hard then successs is bound to follow. Budding entreprenuers should keep faith in their abilities,” said the industrialist.

Arun Kumar Thakur