Poets, politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, sportspersons … the St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata has given the world some of her brightest sons and daughters. Achievers, whose exploits are the content of endless tales, of ballads extolling virtues for successive generations to take lessons from. However, the story of an army of Xaverians, who, armed with their B.Com degrees go on the crack Chartered Accountancy to open their own firms and mints have seldom been told. Partly because, Xaverians, who view themselves as men and women for others have an almost nihilistic disdain for those who sell their souls to Mammon, and partly because, innumerable as they are, they did not possess a face to project, a brand ambassador, as it were.
Enter Pawan Ruia. Having flown through B.Com with enviable grades, he cracked CA and set up shop at the terrace of 9 Ezra Street, at the heart of the then financial district. Legend has it that it took the young Ruia only six odd months to identify the most lucrative financial service of the day, strip it down and offer the same at a price point that was still then unthinkable. The rest, like they say, is history. And yes, that was the first of the game changers that were to become synonymous with the name Pawan Ruia.
For the next decade he continued to extend his grasp over the financial services sector of the city, quietly throwing a challenge that few of the established firms could meet, thanks to his sheer brilliance with numbers coupled with his ability to burn the midnight oil. “Ye choro bahut dur jaogo” (this boy will go very far) I remember hearing an industry stalwart say, parental affection oozing from his indulgent voice.
But the staid world of Jama-Kharchi did not have enough wherewithal to continue to attract the young Ruia’s interest. He was already feeling suffocated and wanted to spread his wings. The year was 2003 and Pawan Ruia the dare devil, pulled off a feat that astounded even the most adventurous in Kolkata’s business circles.
Kafka’s prodigal son
As the company’s website proudly claims “The turning point in the history of the Ruia Group was the acquisition of Jessop & Co Ltd and the successful turnaround initiatives that led to a complete metamorphosis of the heritage Engineering and Infrastructure giant which is now over 224 years old. Jessop is a classic study of a sick heritage company rejuvenating itself in less than a year’s time, through good, strategic leadership and sound fiscal discipline.”
“Pagal ho gayo choro. Bi ko khabor ko ni, bi ki krse. Khud bhi dubogo, bajar ki pisa bhi dubougo” cried the horrified industry elders in unison. (The kid’s gone mad. He knows not, what he is up to. He will sink along with the monies raised from the market). To them, a brash chartered accountant taking up the reigns of an engineering behemoth tottering towards oblivion obviously made no sense.
Many years on, face lit with the smile of containment, Pawan Ruia was to explain, “it is all about your ability to spot opportunities – to spot the resources that can be unlocked and your ability to have faith on your judgment, especially on the face of stiff skepticism. I had full faith in the engineering legacy of Jessop. What I found was ailing the giant was the lack of strong, forward looking management. Backed by strict financial discipline (“figure juggling” claimed detractors then) there was no looking back. It took us less than a year to get Jessop back into reckoning and shut the skeptics for good.”
And this transformed Ruia into the swashbuckling takeover tycoon that he was destined to be. In 2005 he took over the global tyre giant Dunlop, followed by adding the Mysore based Falcon Tyres to his portfolio. In 2007 the cycle completed itself with the acquisition of Montana Tyres in Maharashtra giving Ruia a pan India presence, an opportunity to dominate the segment which is yet to bear fruition.
The Global Desi
“The great thing about Pawan Ruia is his ability to expand the horizon of his dreams every time he reaches towards achieving the previous one. The sheer scale may look mind-boggling from where we are, but is well within the realms of possibility to him. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, the down side is horrifying. But that is what makes him what he is, to smile at the face of adversity and trudge on regardless” said Anil Goenka, fellow Xaverian and a self confessed Ruia fan.
And true to his self, Ruia took the plunge, this time to reinvent himself again, as a global player. In 2008 the first overseas acquisition was executed seamlessly. The Ruia Group took over the Coalville (Leicestershire, UK ) plant of the Metzeler Automotive Profile Systems – one of the three internationally acclaimed Tier-1 manufacturers of automotive sealing systems. The acquisition was later rechristened Schlegel Automotive Europe Limited, UK. In 2009, the Ruia Group consolidated its presence in the international business of automotive sealing systems by acquiring Henniges Grefrath GmbH and later renamed it as Draftex Automotive GmbH. The German company has been in operations since 1958. This was followed by Gumasol, a company founded in 1946 and located in Germersheim, Germany. Gumasol Rubber-Tec GmbH is a leading name in solid tyre and industrial rubber products and produces a wide array of rubber products including rubber mixers, tank wheels, rubber-metal bonded parts etc.
2011 was slated to be another big year for the group and in an asset deal Acument GmbH, controlling 15% of the German automotive fastener market, was taken over by Ruia Global Fasteners AG. The company processes more than 55,000 tons of metal in a year and employs 1300 people in its four plants.
Another big acquisition came later in the year, when the Germany-based Meteor was brought into the fold. With the company’s multi-location facilities, the Ruia Group can now access many more markets and many more very specific high-technology platforms. This acquisition also propelled the group to the top rung in the automotive sealings segment in Europe.
“Our aim is simple” Ruia is reported to have said to his Commanders “to be within the top three, globally, in any business segment that we are in. We have the legacy, we have to work on them to retain our edge and work on the synergies to continuously upscale to meet our expanding horizons.”
“But aren’t you growing too fast? I had asked Ruia in his global head quarter in Kolkata. “isn’t this escape velocity attained by you fraught with possibilities of a burnout? Where will all this lead to?” His answer still rings in my ears –“we live in exciting times where we are blessed with opportunities everywhere. Don’t just look at me, look at the various other groups that have created enormous amount of wealth in the last two decades or so. As for burnouts and destinations, the answer has been provided by our ancestors – it is not for us to think about the fruits of our labour, we should, and I am content in the knowledge that I have given it my cent percent.”
“How has being a Xaverian helped you in almost single handedly putting India on the global auto ancillary map” I quip?
“St. Xavier’s gave me the ability to dream big. To dare, to set your sight at the top. And, to be humble, about your achievements.”
“It is this spirit that sets him apart” said Samir Saraf, management expert and fellow Xaverian. “Note the fact that Pawan Ruia views himself first as a professional and has despite all inklings, steadfastly refused to mould himself as a “babu”, preferring to create a chain of command. Some of his steps may seem audacious to the uninitiated, but careful scrutiny will reveal that there is a method in the madness. He possesses an extraordinarily sharp mind which coupled with his ability to take enormous workloads is sure to make him achieve things you and I will not even dare to dream about. I for one, will expect more outrageous fireworks from him in the future.”
“What’s next”? I ask. And Ruia looks you into the eyes, his sharp, penetrating gaze engaging your mind as if accessing the very core of your soul, before he says philosophically, “we believe that every single day is an opportunity to step ahead into a brighter future and work accordingly. We do not merely work, we celebrate life. We add our bit to the process called creation and in doing so seek to touch lives around the world and make them better. Don’t belittle it by seeking to put a figure on it!”
(This story by the author was originally written and published in the half yearly magazine of the St. Xavier’s College (Calcutta) Alumni Association, SXCCAA – “We Xaverians”)