R Chenraj Jain, an entrepreneur and exuberant visionary, is the founder chairman of the Jain Group of Institutions. He is a person with a strong conviction that much more is possible than people ordinarily think.
Tell me about your early life?
My family background was very humble and there was no exposure. In our community we never had education as an agenda. We could see that the education system as a whole was as good as just mugging up and doing the examination. I saw people around me having a mechanical approach. So I chose sports as my passion rather than academics; that is the only way I could prove myself. So I created a situation wherein I could come out of school, when I was in std 8.
How did you get into sales?
I worked in Basavanagudi for 6 months in a Bombay Dyeing showroom. There were salesman with 10-15 years experience in the shop, but they could not break through to the customers. My salary was just 50 rupees and others' salary was 600 rupees but I did phenomenal sales. My first sale, convincing a customer was a delight to me. Later in my uncle's textile shop another person called Devaraj Ranka spotted me. He took me to Dhirubhai Ambani of Reliance industries. And there I got the distributorship.
How did your journey as a businessman start?
I became a distributor at a very young age with a credit of 3 lakh rupees . I sold goods, which were lying unsold for 2 years, in just 2 months. I went across to Tamil Nadu. I had my initial failures. I lost about 1 lakh rupees by selling to the wrong customers. But my agent and Dhirubhai Ambani were impressed by my initiative and spirit. He gave me more business instead of reprimanding me for the ‘failure'.
I did a roaring business for ten years. I was responsible for 1300 counters in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. This networking created more dealers for Reliance across South India. I used to handle unsold goods like damaged goods. Nobody wanted to touch raw, uncut material. They wanted to sell it at kg rate but I would sell it at market price. That created a new wave. I was a trend setter with all other textile units in the country. I created when visiting shops I used to spot talented people, convince them to setup their own shop and supply them with Reliance products.I used to also put them on to others who would supply them goods. That is how I created my network of 1000 entrepreneurs without any capital.
I preferred 100 small customers than 1 big customer.
What kept you going?
I myself was enthusiastic; I used to bring that enthusiasm in others. From young to old, I used to give them these ideas. I have always kept a one point formula - mind and passion, energy, drive and will. One boy, Nageshwar Rao has got 9 shops now while, earlier he earned Rs.300 as salary.
I worked 18 hours a day and networked. I felt inferior, I saw many people around me feeling inferior. I made them realize that they aren't inferior and that they are better than their boss. I used to invest time, sit down and convince people to start on their own. My mantra was : Sell your idea and make business friends. Create an enterprise for those who aren't confident.
How were you convinced that you can achieve as an entrepreneur?
My targets used to drive me. The spirit is required. I saw a market when there was no market. I was at an advantage; I was one step ahead in delivery and services. I was developing concepts.This used to encourage me. People liked my sincerity. My products were not available anywhere else and my profits were high. What would happen in 10 years, happened in a year all through networking. I never used to lose a customer. I didn't force anyone to give me business. I was only interested in contacts. Out of 100 contacts, 10 will give business. Chances are that you will get an order only once in six months. When I was 25, I realized I had contacts with more then 5 lakh people.
What motivated you that time?
My biggest motivator was targets, lack of formal education, people laughing at me and my community not having an image in Bangalore. I wanted to be positive in whatever I did. I wanted to prove my competence.
How did the Jain Group of Institutions start?
Swami Vivekananda's books inspired me. He said, knowledge is the future and it is important to make people stand on their own. I was feeling bad that my community wasn't educated. This was the inspiration for the start of the Jain Institutions. At the heart of the curriculum at Jain's schools are values imbibed from such people as Swami Vivekananda, Dhirubhai Ambani and N R Narayana Murthy - all of whom have shaped my own thinking.
I would have lived only for myself if I become a more successful businessman. In 1986, I came completely out of my business. 30-40% of my profits went to the rural people. I had even adopted 10 students in my shop. I happened to read articles about vocational education in America. I attempted education in 1990; I've never looked back since. 12 years of experience helped me. By 1993 Jain College got recognized. I used to come out with a lot of innovative, trendsetting activities. I gave them intellectual forums. I adopted the same concepts of networking, motivation and hard work that I used in business. My teachers are social entrepreneurs. I never sat in the office. I amalways in touch with the students. That brought me more knowledge and insight into the minds of the youth and what they want. If they wanted fun, you need to give them space. It is the same as what a customer wants.
We also started the Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain Hospital at Vasanth Nagar, Bangalore, which has grown into a super-specialty hospital.
If I had 90% failure and 10% success, that success was like a 100% to me.
When did you start the first school?
In 2000, I got a real opening with the advent of globalization in India. I myself was a victim of the mugging up system. I started thinking of how talents could be enhanced. I learned the concept of being together, leadership and group dynamics. All simple principles and values worked for me. It is important to expose the students to information and technology. I started Jain Vidyaniketan that imparts education to the rural population of Kanakapura Taluk where all the students are provided with free uniforms, lunch and stationery. They needed encouragement. They were always dependent on their jobs.
I've set up about 3 schools now. It is to help them become entrepreneurs or consultants. I'm replicating 100 schools in Karnataka in the next 5 years for one and a half lakh rural children. I have 28 institutions now. 50% of my wealth goes to charity.
When you give, it comes back multifold.
What is your vision for the group?
Education can help in nation building and this can happen through human resource, not money. The wealth is human resource. The human potential and capital should remain with us. I help them identify their core abilities not only through a degree but various value-added programmes and exposing them to various intellectual and talent forums. It is important to allow people to explore and discover their talents. I listen to their problems and see how I can bridge the gap. I am a facilitator. We give support and encouragement, no advice. I only follow networking; everything else will fall in place. With drive and determination your goal and vision will become larger and better. You will also learn. Young people teach me now. My colleagues build my organization. Being humble and positive are the ingredients for you to succeed in life. You have to be optimistic and have that passion and objective to achieve the target. Misery starts when you have expectations. You should be detached.
How do you manage and motivate people?
It is very simple. If you are complicated, have a lot of do's and don'ts and you think you are brilliant, it's wrong. Nobody is an employee, they are all participants and contributors. Allow them to play multifaceted roles.
Don't lose the spirit. Unless you experience something, you won't be able to come out with a better thought process. Be optimistic. Create an environment which is friendly as far as possible. Allow them to have freedom of thought and expression. Reduce bureaucracy and facilitate interaction. As a leader, even you should learn. Respect each one's contribution and give people credit, for what they have done.
As an entrepreneur, is a different mindset required to scale up?
Come up with your own micro activity and then make it macro.You have to take risks. High risk, high gain. Sometimes your convictions might help and you should stand by them. Lows will be more, highs will be less and you should be prepared to go through these lows. You need focus. Anything takes time to achieve. I never lose that spirit. That keeps me going. I never lose focus even though mistakes are bound to happen.
Who are the people who gave you the most support and in what way?
It starts in my house. My father was a very supportive person who gave me independence. He never tied me to a particular situation. My colleagues, corporate team and students support me. Dhirubhai Ambani was a great support. Very good case studies of Mahatma Gandhi, great speakers, thinkers, our Indian culture, ethos and philosophy and people who have gone against all odds have all had an impact on me.
Does education limit people's potential?
Education is for life. You should synergize your expertise with networking. Businesses without human values or value to the customer will not sustain. They bring temporary happiness for those who want money. But if you want to have a sustainable service, you need to give value to what you think and do. Ethics and transparency are very important. No business can fail if you keep changing and improving as per the need. Money isn't everything. Your people should benefit. Entrepreneurship is a great service to the society. It creates jobs and leads to economic development.
If you can create growth, that is the greatest gift in life.
Tell me how you are nurturing entrepreneurs?
There are about 20 companies that I have incubated. Combining turnover is about 100 crores. Over the next few years, these companies will replicate more . This formula of - word-of-mouth, realizing your potential and patience will always be relevant. Extraordinary things can happen for ordinary people but that doesn't make people extraordinary. Only ordinary people can do extraordinary things. I look at the person and then the idea.
Do you believe that different entrepreneurs have different styles?
There will always be common approaches. Entrepreneurs succeed by being an example themselves. They have indigenized their needs and are go getters. Even at the highest level, they will fail but that's what makes them try again. It is all a part of their life and it takes time. It is an ongoing process, a never ending journey.
What do you do once you identify the entrepreneurs ?
We give them the capital and the place. We also give them the support to set up companies and then venture out. I don't give them contacts. We are just initiators.
We help them keep their spirits alive and hopes high. The focus is on motivation. You need to support them for at least 3 years because there will be a lot of pitfalls. We encourage them to give 50% of their profits for rural development. I share what I have done. Success is not tangible. It is different for different people.
Reported by Vaishnavi Vittal a consulting correspondent for Businessgyan.
Issue BG65 Aug06