Friday, May 27, 2011

Raunaq Singh: Rags-to-riches Entrepreneur

Raunaq Singh, a first generation entrepreneur, in his leisure time would often recount his days after Partition and how he built his business empire from scratch. He along with 13 others had to camp in a single room in Delhi’s Gole market after Partition. A job in a spice shop, Munilal Bajaj & Co, did help him to somehow survive but could not contain his entrepreneurial instinct.

Having sold his wife’s jewellery for about Rs 8,000 in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk in November 1947, Singh went to Calcutta to try his luck.

Singh set up his office at 85, Netaji Subhash Road, first to start spice trade but later founded Bharat Steel Pipes. The rise of Raunaq Singh is considered in the corporate world as a rags-to-riches story. He grabbed every opportunity which came his way.

He related his pre-independence enterprise to his friends, in Lahore, how he sold old pipes to a customer for double its price that too by getting an advance from him. His trademanship could be seen in procuring water pipes without investing a single rupee. His first deal of Rs 1,000 was the beginning of his fortune in steel pipe trade.

Like any other Indian living in what became Pakistan post-independence, Singh also faced the brunt. But his resilience helped in re-building an enterprise. Says Mr Harish Bhasin, chairman HB group, “from selling tubes he dreamt of a tube factory and made it possible. Even when Apollo Tyres was taken over by the government, he fought tooth and nail and later he was reinstated in the company.” His corporate friends give credit to his political connections.

His organisational skills could be seen in shaping three apex associations, Ficci, Assocham and Fieo. The only person to do so. CII president Ashok Soota remembers him as “a first generation entrepreneur committed to the industry association movement in India.”

Ficci recalls Singh’s tenure as president during 1989-90 as year of transformation for both the Indian economy as well as for the organisation. Even during the early years of economic liberalisation when India Inc was apprehensive of the globalisation process, Raunaq Singh commented in his president’s report: “India of the 90s is ready to face the challenges of change”.

His business rival Mr Hari Shankar Singhania chairman, JK Industries, says: “As a person he was very amiable, full of wit and humour and he would put many a serious matter into simple earthy language sorting out differences with his penchant for humour, besides his great business acumen.” His contemporary and friend Dr Bharat Ram, SRF chairman, recollects: “He was an entrepreneur and an example of how one can grow with hard work and commitment”.

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