“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”
– William Shakespeare
The seed of entrepreneurship germinated early:
Born to a joint family milieu, with 5 brothers, Ajit Gupta’s life was markedly different from the beginning: his walk from the world of a teenager, full of loud dreams and heroic aspirations to that of a young hard-working entrepreneur, who stands and thrives on the hard-hitting soil of pragmatism and reality was nothing less than a “(Robert) Ripley’s Believe It or Not” story. Just right after completing his XII boards, Ajit Gupta went to the United States of America! A teenage boy, who had not yet been to Bombay (now Mumbai), had not had the experience of wearing suits yet, straightway went to the US. His father’s friend helped him not only with a million-dollar business idea but also made his suits and passport available to him. The idea was to get solar films for glasses. It was around from 1982to -83. A US company had innovated and had started the business, But Ajit Gupta’s entrepreneurial farsightedness made him quickly realize that this business has huge potential here in India, with hot tropical climatic conditions. His father chipped in and gave him the much-needed funding – 10,000 dollars, which was around 1, 20,000 in Indian currency at that time. When finally, Ajit reached there, he almost had nothing with him to present himself to the company and convince them for an association, except his iron will, high self-confidence and unmatched sincerity, commitment, and promise in his eyes. The US Company had no distribution network in India till then, they accepted his proposal more than gladly. Ajit Gupta came back to India with a legal distributorship and agency of a product, which was still more or less fairly unknown here then. And as it happens with any novel product or business idea – much ahead of its time – the first year of its reception in India was nothing of much glory, it went rather bad. But Ajit Gupta was too ambitious and sincere a young entrepreneur to be bogged down by this temporary setback.
Let’s hear as he fondly reminiscence: “I had a two-wheeler then. I was the seller. I was the buyer too. I was a Marketing guy, sales guy, accounts guy – everything. I had to work hard. Had to convince a quite lot of people about the usefulness of the product.” The biggest challenge for Mr. Gupta was how to ensure the circulation of his money and set the business ball rolling. As mentioned earlier, the product was new in the Indian market of those days. And not many knew about its use and usefulness. So, on the one hand, Mr. Gupta had to set the accounts book ticking, and on the other hand, he had to ensure that demand was being created for it, and this was the toughest part at that time. Tinted glass, in those days, as Mr. Gupta can very clearly remember, used to be very costly and not many could afford it. But when this very shadowy film gets pasted over a plain glass –it almost gave the same result of tinted glass – but most importantly costs not even one-tenth of that of the latter. Moreover, not only did this initial good amount of savings guarantee, but it also guaranteed a long-term recurring savings on electricity bills by reducing the cost of use of air conditioners – and this was the crux of this product’s USP that Mr. Gupta had to make everyone realize and the job would be done.
He managed to get contracts from many buildings and big business houses. But it was indeed a hard ordeal to make them believe in him and his product and its benefits: it has the potential to reduce the electricity cost of any building by 30%. Taj Group of Hotels, Seimens, and American Centre came forward with their contracts and many followed suit. Then in 1986 Maruti came into existence and it was indeed a “Eureka” moment. They initially offered two variants of their legendary Maruti 800 car and also offered them in AC and without AC options. One was having plain window and rear glasses and the other variant was having tinted glasses. At that time for the car with tinted glass, Maruti used to charge ten thousand extra from its customers. Whereas Mr. Gupta made it available only for 600 rupees! So quite expectedly, Mr. Gupta set sail on a travel spree across the length and breadth of the country; dealers’ network grew at a very fast pace and the film business boomed for the time.
There was another technical challenge in store for him. And as usual, he knew how to overcome! He got trained in the technique of fixing the film on any glass surface from the original US-based company. And he passed on the skill to every staff, whom he handpicked and trained: the nuances of clearing the glass surface, sprinkling water on it, and then cutting the film roll in exact measurements, finally fixing it without leaving any air bubbles.
His penchant for education and the never-ending quest for knowledge
An entrepreneur’s life is a never-ending saga of hard work and sacrifices. Ajit Gupta lost the first year of his regular college due to his over-burdened shoulders and the multifarious responsibilities that he handled for his business. But that can never be easy and convenient giving up the education, that he was so passionate about and anything of the opposite was also quite not possible under the most committed and sincere tutelage of his father. So after one year, he joined the evening college and even with so much workload on him, completed his commerce graduation through the 6 pm to 9 pm daily class routine and this shows the dogged tenacity of this achiever extraordinaire. He topped his evening college and also achieved 6th rank in the whole university that year. Soon after completing his graduation, he joined evening law school to complete his law education in 3 years. He had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and education. And a wonderful and extremely supportive family to back and compliment that passion of his. He is lucky to have such a family, but he believes more in hard work than just luck itself. He even had a car at his disposal at that time – an ambassador, which got burgled off. But his dad was happy that it was gone! He got the car he wanted after that – a Maruti Van! As far as acquiring more knowledge is concerned, Mr. Gupta just did not know to stop! He wanted to glide into a full-time Business Administration program right after completing his Law. But his father had a different orientation to present in front of him: he told him to get married immediately and the lessons of married life can be no less than the best of the business administration courses ever! Well, he was a man with a great sense of humor and as Mr. Gupta reminisces in hindsight, he was spot on at that time. So, he got married in 1988 and is the proud father of two very sharp and intelligent kids. His elder daughter is working with him in the company and his younger son is busy finishing his studies.
Now as he looks back and connects the dots, just as the legend Steve Jobs used to do, he can only realize the worth of the education he got – and how important it is for one to get properly educated. He can clarify with autobiographical anecdotes: for instance, the indelible, overwhelming, life-changing impact that his years at the Law school had had on him and the man that he became. The law education perhaps had the most telling and long-lasting impact on his business, his thoughts, his life, and the way he is. Law taught him how to think logically – the commitment towards being selflessly fair and reasonable under any circumstances. The Case Studies that he got to study in a fair bit of detail – made him the great listener that he is. One must and must listen to be successful in any profession whatsoever. Even if one disagrees and would reject the views of the person on the other side, still listening is a must. In judgments, judges use the most sensitive and polite of expressions. They, as a policy, don’t go behind the person but their characteristic. Mr. Gupta also follows the same principle in his professional life. And he always prefers to be very straightforward right in front of the face of any individual he is dealing with.
The Second Innings, still batting Unbeaten…
What many call coincidence, some prefer to call miracles and miracles do happen! One day it happened in Mr. Gupta’s life as well. He received a letter from a stranger from Coimbatore on a plain sheet of paper. It was about some new business plans. Mr. Gupta send him a fitting reply: he can come and contact him if he had 30,000 rupees with him. But little did he realize that 4 days later, a man would indeed appear in front of him with 30,000 rupees in his hand! Soon rest of his brothers also joined the business and sooner he realized the film business is good but it can’t be enough to run the household of five of them. Thanks to the Liberalization policies of then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and his Finance deputy Dr. Manmohan Singh film business was hit. Mr. Gupta was quick enough to re-negotiate the price points and the revenue verticals with the US-based company, but they refused to give in to any kind of compromise whatsoever in the margins. Also by that time other companies started coming up with similar products and ideas –and Garware became Mr. Gupta’s most formidable challenger in the business additionally as dollar prices started rising (it went up to Rs 26) they became cheaper as compared to the US-based products. But still, amidst all these tough challenges that Mr. Gupta confronted from all around, he was considered a name to reckon with in the film business of those days, and that too with the highest form of customer trust and recall. Even Garware distributors used to put his brand “Sunshade” in their products and sell them. Mr. Gupta made it a point that he never used the US name on the products that he sold and marketed in India; he always used his homegrown name.
But just like any other great business mind, Mr. Gupta knew the right time and the right place to call it a day in his film business. He did it with emphatic decisiveness. And got his runaway fixed to take off into a new world altogether –the world of manufacturing adhesive tapes. And the rest, well the cliché goes: is history!
It all started amazingly and is no less exciting than a sci-fi thriller. Way back then, as Mr. Gupta was in the quest for his 2nd innings in the business, IIT, New Delhi came up with a tender. They needed a special kind of tape to put inside telephones. Mr. Gupta pounces on this opportunity. It was somewhere in the late eighties, that he started searching for that kind of special tape. He got to know about a supplier in Singapore and the company agreed to give him a margin of Rs. 200 – Rs. 500. But unfortunately, the order failed to pass the quality checks. Gupta Ji realized that the quality check did not happen successfully only because they had not found the correct requirement. He went to the factory and matched the correct requirement and the order went through and he never looked back after that.
AIPL (Ajit Industries Private Limited) was established in 1998-99. And his father was one of his most crucial pillars of strength in setting up the business. He started with a state-of-the-art manufacturing unit in Haryana. It was on his father’s insistence that the company was named after him.
AIPL initially started with the manufacture of industrial tapes, self-adhesive tapes, and specialty tapes. No companies in India used to manufacture these materials then and it was an export-oriented industry. It started with a ratio of 2:8. 20 % of AIPL started manufacturing in its home turf while 80% were still coming as exports. Today, AIPL had grown into becoming the largest player in its segment. It manufactures some 150 – 200 types of tapes of every kind: foam, paper, plastic, single side, and double side – which cater to multiple industries across many segments – general industrial supply, automobile industry, paper mills, electronics, electrical, AC industry, construction companies, signage industry and many more.
Ajit Gupta is a very pragmatic man at heart. Though his passion is very much evident in everything he does for the business, he knows that one should not attach any sentiments to Business enterprises. If there is a growing and fast-expanding market, then keep the business running and in case it’s just the opposite never hesitate to wind it up. And Mr. Gupta is passionate at heart but he is never sentimental in his decision-making. His decisions are always guided by logic rather than emotions. So, his is policies for manpower. If anyone fails to meet his expectations at the workplace, he never loses his cool as he firmly believes in giving as many opportunities as possible. There is no aura of awe about his presence in his company and he knows well how to get the best out of his team.
In both his companies: AIPL and AIPL Zorro Pvt Ltd. he had been successful in building from a one-man army into a well-connected team of some 1000 individuals.
World Wide Web-the ultimate game-changer for AIPL
As Yuval Noah Harari, well known for his bestsellers like Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind; Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow; and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, rightly says, a world emboldened by the internet will undergo an evolution – the changes that would come across every aspect of our existence in next 10 years will be more than what came in last 200 years. And who knows it better than the man himself! For Mr. Ajit Gupta, the evolution led by the Internet is an enabler in every sense of the term, a massive opportunity, not a threat. “Aaj kaal ke mein dhekhiye kitna khamosh hain, aur online mein Kitna shor hain” – Mr. Gupta puts it in his inimitable style and the confidence that radiates from his demeanor, his farsighted business mind is bound to impress anybody who meets.
Mr. Gupta knows very well that ultimately the entire responsibility lies with him and it’s he who has to ensure the 360-degree welfare of his workforce. And to ensure that, one of the most vital priorities for him is the medical and life insurance cover for all, especially medical, as most people get trapped in debts during health issues and the ever-increasing cost of treatment in our country. Along with that, the usual safeguards of ESI / PF, gratuity, etc are of course in place.
And what can be a more effective way to keep the healthy air of brotherhood and consolidated fellow-feeling freely flowing other than having chaupals” every three months at every factory? And in them, there is no corporate structure, there is no hierarchy of rank and responsibilities – everyone can speak their heart out, hear others speak, and get immediate resolutions to problems. One can speak, can sing, and dance even! If a junior staff member has lost his mobile and finds it difficult to buy another, get one in the Chaupal! In another instance, when a complaint is heard from a junior that they don’t have safety shoes, everyone gets a par each right after that.
Mr. Gupta’s penchant for cleanliness even further consolidates his bond with his workforce. In the MSME industry segment, as he points out quite correctly, factories and production units are not often kept very clean, and the highest standards of dust-free hygiene get neglected. But not at AIPL! AIPL factories adhere to the highest form of cleanliness and Mr. Gupta has a very unique and effective way of ensuring that. So, he used to go on rounds of the factory accompanied by one cleaner, another man with a dustbin, and another person with a money locker. And wherever he found anybody not maintaining the usual cleanliness standards, that person had to pay a fine from their pocket. And the money collected as a fine was redistributed as extra cash awards to those who had maintained their cleanliness successfully.
A staunch believer in a fit body and an agile mind, Mr. Gupta encourages the participation of all his employees in sports and other fitness workshops outside working hours. Through AIPL Foundation, he ensures that everybody gets proper training in their sport of choice for free of cost. So, from the top-level executives to the clerical staff, the message goes clear and loud.
And as sports can guarantee physical health, mental health needs also to be prioritized and addressed too. He thinks a lot about ways how to enhance the EQ of his workforce and how to make them more assimilated like a cohesive big family unit. There should be no ill-feeling toward each other, no fear of subordination, or any sense of repressed leg-pulling. Like the Chaupals, they further ensure that milestones mix freely between themselves, they get a DJ booked and dance together to his tunes regularly! And with a healthy, happy, stress-free, and loyal workforce, that is how Mr. Gupta can successfully dream of taking AIPL from 700 crores to 2000 crores. And as before, again Yuval Noah Hariri comes to his mind. The change is coming through the internet. All should adopt the technologies coming in the next five years. Every new technology – like the CRM software for example – is always welcomed with outstretched hands at AIPL.
Besides its readiness to amalgamate and incorporate every technological advancement that comes its way, AIPL, under Mr. Gupta’s leadership, is never oblivious of its role in saving the environment by curbing industrial pollution. Registered under plastic waste management rule 2016, AIPL has always been proactive and had driven its R&D especially directed toward sustainable solutions for a safer, cleaner & greener society. Through all these years, AIPL has always believed in recyclable and optimized use of natural resources and has considered itself a responsible Corporate towards the futu against anything. And all his staffs more than readily agree that any word that comes from their boss, is good enough to be true, and can never be the other way round. As American educator, author, businessman and speaker Stephen Richards Covey puts it in his bestselling “The 8th Habit”, one has to attach the highest value to spoken words – to one’s voice. And this steadfastness to his voice not only helps Mr. Gupta to win hearts across his business relations but also makes his family life easefully beautiful.
As Mr. Gupta reminiscences some of the life-changing lessons that he had learned from others about what to do, and more importantly, “what not to” – there was a tape company, that ran the same business-like AIPL. But among everything else they had a nasty habit of lying – they never paid or delivered on time, and as obvious, came to an abrupt halt with all the clients that the company had shifted to AIPL. As Mr. Gupta emphatically confirms – “I cannot give in 4 days, but I can give in 10 days and I always ensured that I made it very clear on the very first interaction” – and this very approach gets the appreciation and respect from all his buyers and suppliers alike.
He made it a habit to always deliver before time and always stand true to all his commitments and words and for that reason, one has to learn and understand the reality well so that one does not ever OVER PROMISE. AIPL is a company that withstands and was founded on the pillars of honesty, clarity, and truthfulness. The 65-meter adhesive tape – most of the manufacturers willfully choose to give 60 meters –almost 70% of manufacturers practice this shameful cheating, but AIPL made it clear that 65 meters are 65 meters only – always and forever. And the fact that AIPL is one of the most recalled companies in its industry, distributors great the real pleasure out of it in the long run.
For the first 4 years, the company incurred losses, and many complained – but Mr. Gupta stood his ground as he enjoyed every bit of the challenge. And he is not at all apprehensive or afraid to teach and empower his juniors and colleagues. Some might still leave after all the time and hard work of Mr. Gupta in training them, but he is not afraid that they will leave, he is rather more concerned about those who stay back and who take the company forward. But even if someone is leaving, it should always be structured and graceful, with common memories of a lifetime of the days spent at AIPL.
And if asked how he manages to carry that big smile always on his face as well as on his sleeve, how he manages to stay always jovial, always humorous and fun-loving; and the way he is running the show, even his AGMs are total fun – the very big smile again resurfaces to explain – “I start the day with music, end with a book. Daily go to the park and exercise, not spending too much time on TV and work every day starting from 11 am.”
Well, that sums up the ordinary life of this extraordinary man.