Friday, July 22, 2011

The rise of Dalit enterprise: Pravin Meshram

For five years, Pravin has been waiting for a final clearance from the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) to build a petrol pump near Amravati Road in Nagpur. The company allotted the pump to Meshram's mother under the scheduled caste quota, and Meshram has bought the land and completed all formalities. "People from upper castes who applied with us are running their outlet," says the 32-year-old.



"Since we are backward class, they don't pay attention to our request." When they had applied, in 2004, Meshram was banking on the pump for sustenance. He had gone through a series of business failures, and the pump held the hope of income stability. Now, more than economic value, its value is symbolic. Between his application and now, Meshram has built a Rs 20 crore business manufacturing electrical transformers, and he doesn't need the pump. "If it comes up, I will be happy for my mother," he says.


FROM STRUGGLE...


Meshram grew up in an lower middle-class family in Nagpur. From a young age, he wanted to have his own business rather than work for another. As soon as he earned a diploma in mechanical engineering from Nagpur University, in 1998, he set off on that pursuit. "My father had a small electrical-repairing shop and I wanted to build it," says Meshram. He joined the shop.


It's where he mastered electrical repairs and equipment installation, and formed relationships that would shape his business. One of the shop's clients was the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB), which outsourced small repair and installation work for its plants and offices. Meshram started repairing fans and lights, and doing part of the installation work of generators, at the MSEB offices. The jobs fetched him Rs 100-1,000. He asked MSEB for bigger repairing projects, but was turned down. "Later, I realised my mistake was that I was born to poor parents," he says. It was a hand-to-mouth existence as the shop was the only income for the four-member family. Once, Meshram recalls, he worked for 18 hours at a stretch to finish a small project. "Had I not done it, my family would not have been able to cook," he says. He wanted more. So, starting from 2000, Meshram started looking at other businesses along with his brother, Rahul Meshram , who is now 29. Between 2000 and 2007, the duo hurtled from one failure to another. They booked advertisements for publications; they dispatched plastic boxes for nearby factories; they tried their hand at trading. After the last failure, Meshram went to work as an electrician with a local firm, at a salary of Rs 2,000. "It was a big struggle for me," he says. ...


TO TRANSFORMATION


Meshram still wanted his own business. This time, he chose something he understood: electricals. In 2006, he happened to visit a transformer factory run by a friend's relative. He worked parttime there for six months, and understood the manufacturing process and the business. He came to know that the MSEB bought transformers from three manufacturers in Nagpur who had been around for decades.



In late-2007, he borrowed Rs 2 lakh from his father and Rs 1 lakh from a friend to start a small transformer-manufacturing unit on the family's ancestral land near Amravati Road in Nagpur. The first transformer built by Bharat Electricals was rejected by MSEB. "That helped me," he says. "I got their approval after two months. I was thrilled that my family might have some security." The first transformer he supplied to MSEB was of 25 kilovolts (Kv). The company makes each piece by hand. "It gives jobs to a few people and they take good care in every part of the process," he says. Within a year, Bharat Electricals had crossed Rs 1 crore in turnover. Gradually, the orders from MSEB became bigger, in transformer capacity and numbers.


In 2009, he procured orders worth Rs 10 crore from MSEB for transformers of 200-650 kv. "Initially, people did not take me seriously as they thought I would return to my repairing work. It took years to build our reputation," he says. "And, trust me, it is not easy." Today, on his one-acre plot, Meshram has the capacity to manufacture 3,000 transformers of 25-1,000 kv capacity. About 80% of this is supplied to the MSEB, and the remaining to the SEBs of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. His current order book stands at Rs 25 crore. "He delivers on promises," says AD Sahare, executive engineer, MSEB, Chandrapur testing division, Nagpur. Meshram has two immediate goals: foreign travel for his parents and a Rs 100 crore turnover for Bharat Electricals.




The second goal is taking shape just behind the current factory. Over an area of four acres, Meshram is setting up capacity to make larger transformers, of 2,000-5,000 kv, which could potentially take his revenues to Rs 50 crore in two years and deliver higher margins. It could also add another 100 jobs. Meshram wants the new recruits to come from the backward class and is even willing to train them. Meshram is also talking to a Chinese company to partner him on this project. While he handles strategy, and product development and sakes, younger brother Rahul takes care of administration. "We are trying to rebuild our fortunes," says Rahul. That, today, is an understatement.


Source: Economic Times

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