Men Who Matter : Pawan Kumar Ruia

cover11Pipri, 21 KMs from Renukoot, in Uttar Pradesh. Call it the back of beyond, or the edge of the Hindi heartland, this idyllic town with its pristine environs has made its way into the corporate folklore of India. For, it was here that the irreplaceable Pawan Kumar Ruia, the single handed creator of the Ruia group spent his childhood, his formative years. For, it was in the factory in Pipri that his father helped manage, the workers and the people who inhabited the company colony that helped give shape to the unique corporate philosophy that today is the hallmark of the much talked about “PKR way”.

Pawan Ruia had outgrown Pipri, enrolling himself in the esteemed St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta and had followed up his graduation there from by empowered his skills with professional degrees in Chartered Accountancy, Cost Accountancy, Company Secretary ship and Law, but the early impressions that Pipri created remained. This early life view was, to a very great extent shaped by his ever doing father, the Late Shyamlal Ruia and bolstered by the strong bonds of his family – a lifelong bond of sibling fraternity.

 A long stint as a practicing Chartered Accountant only refurbished what he knew instinctively and it was not long, before, at the height of his professional career, Pawan Ruia took the plunge to answer his inner calling. Jessop, the heritage Engineering giant, with examples of its excellence dotting the country was quietly becoming comatose unable to reinvent itself to meet the dynamics of the times, its mammoth proportions hastening the inevitable.

Why had Pawan Ruia, a relatively young Chartered Accountant and a first generation entrepreneur rushed in where even the Gods of Indian Engineering pantheon feared to tread? His answer was tell-tale “Companies and businesses do not fail. Managements fail. I had grown up within the factory precincts in Pipri to cherish how the workers relate to and stake their all for the companies with which they tie their knots. I grew up believing that the dedications of the people, like the companies they create are lifelong, even eternal. And I have always felt that it is my sacred duty to tilt the balance in the favour of life, industry and the struggle of the workers by identifying, isolating and administering the right dose to cure the ailments afflicting the entities.”

Secure in his belief and emboldened by an unshakable faith on his abilities, Pawan Ruia took on his the onerous task of turning around Jessop and put it firmly back in the pedestal it had so painstakingly created for itself. “Over time, even the most efficient of entities start showing signs of aging: tiredness, lethargy, breathlessness. When even insignificant wounds, drain out the blood and the life giving force leading to decay, desperation and death. My expertise, if there is a thing like that, is in identifying the wounds, the cancerous growth and ensuring that the leakages are plugged. Once the hemorrhage is stopped, it is a matter of time before the lethargy is shrugged off, and the company regains its focus on the path of revival.”

The 225 year old Jessop, once consigned to the undertakers is today a thriving, vibrant entity that has not only swathed the accumulated lethargy and losses but has also gone the dividend way. The miracle of Jessop was followed by a phoenix in Falcon Tyres where Ruia waved his magic wand of management. Falcon Tyres, for the records is today the largest manufacturer of two wheeler tyres and tubes and is constantly reinventing itself to keep its tryst with destiny. “Given the right support and inputs, people will follow you to battle where the adversary takes the form of an external army which is strengthened by the fears of failure that plagues the workers inside. The first challenge is always to explain your intentions honestly and win their loyalty. That removes the “us and them” divide, turning everyone into “we” – a team. And the moment you have a team, the winning streak begins.

The Jessop acquisition was also significant for another, though seldom acknowledged fact that stands mute testimony not only to Pawan Ruia’s ability of taking a holistic view of things but also his incorrigible faith in his abilities. Ruia’s investment in Jessop was at a time when West Bengal as a economic destination was even worse than a basket case. The economy was in the shambles and no industrialist in his right senses would even consider venturing in, leave alone going in as an investor. History will someday acknowledge his contribution to the economic development of the state he has made his home as it was Ruia’s takeover of Jessop that had acted as a tilting factor in attracting investments to many a project including those by the Tatas and the Jindals.

But success has not been a one-way road for Ruia. There have been instances where on reaching what he thought was the destination; he has been greeted by another signpost, stretching the distance to some unchartered point into the dark recesses of the future. Dunlop is a case in point, where every Ruia move for regeneration has been matched by empowered by vested interests and emboldened by petty political considerations. Post takeover, Ruia had started in right earnest to apply the Cardiac Rehabilitation that is almost his patent and had to a very great extent succeeded is meeting the problems of a moribund entity with a huge pile of debts, rusting production processes, a vanishing market and a completely demoralised workforce. As a matter of fact, in those early days, there was a genuine air of hope as the people of Sahagunje, whose life revolves around Dunlop had started to dream again. Today, the pall of gloom may be back in the lives of those who have suffered the most because of the doldrums in Dunlop, but Ruia remains firm in his conviction.

 “My loyalty lies to the company and its people” says Ruia, adding “temporary setbacks do not deter me. I remain steadfast in my mission and am not one to quit when the going gets tough. Revival of Dunlop too, is a matter of time. One needs two things for success: a hunger for success and the desperation to achieve it. It’s as if your life won’t be complete until you succeed. In the end it’s all about challenges, opportunities and the joy of creation.”

However, this ability to hone in, lock on the target and follow it through against seemingly insurmountable odds does not mean that Ruia does not possess the flexibility re-charting, even retracting and retracing his path. Having rightly identified technologies in Europe that were available at attractive price points and were capable of being deployed as tools to add steam to the India growth story, Ruia had ventured out, taking over prized asset plays. It had soon become apparent that the resources utlised to access such assets could be deployed back in India to achieve much more than what was originally envisaged, leading to a tactical pullback and reworking of the focus.

The aborted European Adventure, however, was not a case of the Pawan Ruia magic of turnaround entities failing across the oceans. While every turnaround case is unique in itself, the fundamental reasons why entities become sick and the ways how the trapped resources can be freed and redeployed to meet the challenges of the times are universally the same. It is something that is Pawan Ruia’s continuing passion and his abilities are well chronicled, in every entity he has sought to breathe life in – be that here in India or elsewhere.

But what drives the man that has the Midas Touch of creating wealth from waste? “It is not merely about earning profits. It is not about the creation of wealth per se, either. I was earning more than what I needed as a professional and had no need to do what I have done, if money was the one and only prime mover. It is even not about creating something for the next generation of live off – my children have to earn their victuals, their keep. At the end of the day, it is about creation. It is about reaching out, touching and transforming lives – of men as well as entities, which too, are living, thriving beings like us humans.”

That perhaps is reason why, Pawan Ruia does not believe in CSR. To him CSR is not merely a corporate’s effort to earn its keep in the society by spending a part of its profits. To him, CSR is a way of life, built into all that he does so that the fruits of his dedication can be shared by those who need them the most. An extremely family oriented man with a deep, spiritual sense of his Karma, the PKR philosophy is to view the world as an extension of his personal family unit through his business family, the community, the society and the world at large. CSR to the group is thus not a function of the profits earned and funds as a rule, the entire cost of education of some of the poorest students of Bengal every year. The Group also provides financial incentives to over a hundred meritorious children of its employees in the fields of higher education, sports, visual arts, music, dance and other performing arts.

The boy from Pipri may have traversed around the globe and scaled every peak conceivable but remains a simpleton at heart, with extremely strong family bonds.  He is moved by the plight of people and is always eager to do his bit, for it was in the industrial colony of his childhood that his father had taught him to rise above the bonds of the members of his immediate family to embrace the people who create the entities.