After eighteen years of a tough life, working excessively hard for no return, Chandubhai Virani often felt deeply disappointed in the course of building his company, Balaji Wafers. There was a time he felt leaving the business to take up a job that would fetch something regularly. But, a risk-taker since childhood, his inner conscience kept him bound with the ailing business, fearing the loss of balance receivables from the miserly clients. Efforts continued without making big calculations. He crawled through bad times, but with a resolute spirit of never to give up. Now more than three decades into business, Balaji Wafers is a giant Indian food company, the largest one fully built and owned by an ordinary Indian villager. The history of Chandubhai Virani is a voluminous lesson for every entrepreneurial aspirant.
“My success hasn’t changed me, nor would it ever. No success comes so easily. When one is successful in his business he must attribute the same to his hard work, sagacity and perseverance,” he tells.
The Rajkot-based Balaji Wafers is one of the largest unlisted companies with a top-line size several times more than that of most of the listed corporate entities in India have. Why unlisted? “We have never felt a severe need of getting listed on stock exchanges. But that doesn’t mean we will not go for listing. Many buy-out inquiries had come, but I did not want to leave the brand for others’ control. It is the brand I have built with my hard work. When the right time comes we will take the call,” spot came the answer from Chandubhai Virani, the founder and Chairman of one of India’s largest wafer and namkeen manufacturers.
“I consider my business as my life. I still work along with others in the company instilling in them a frame of mind that each of us is working for ourselves. All are equal human beings. That is the ethos I still uphold. It has grown as time progressed giving us the due result of hard work.”
Today, the value of the company may be anywhere above 5000 crores, though the exact current valuation is yet to be ascertained. Nevertheless, without any boastful commentary and show-off on big stages, Chandubhai prefers to remain an unchanged man. “My success hasn’t changed me, nor would it ever. No success comes so easily. When one is successful in business he must attribute the same to his hard work, sagacity, and perseverance,” he tells. Rather he prefers to tell his true story of success, that has come after many years of toiling, to all the fledgling and slow-growing entrepreneurs to derive inspiration. “Never give up, hold on your hope, never stop working,” he advises all small entrepreneurs who are struggling to survive through bad times. A man with a strong grip on his village roots is still linked closely with farmers and villages. Many farmers have become rich through their direct and indirect linkages with their company for the supply of their produces. His life is a big book, as big as an epic.
One or two percent higher tax is not going to be a big concern for businessmen. They primarily look for an easy-to-do business atmosphere. After the GST implementation, I see my truckloads moving smoothly across State borders.”
Life in a rainless village is naturally tough for farmers. Dry farmlands add to their worry and anxiety about their future. “When finding roti became tough in the aftermath of drought for many straight years, we had no option but to leave our village and move into towns to find a living. I traveled 85 kilometers from my village to reach Rajkot in 1974 to find a job. I thought somehow, I must set my foot here and not to return home with disappointments,” he recalls. What had driven him was the mindset for working hard with a sense of belonging to where he used to work.
After eight years of working in the canteen, where he started working at the age of 18, his father bought a house by selling some assets in the village. They started manufacturing namkeen for supplies to canteens. Slowly, they found potential in selling their products in open markets. “We started supplying good quality products in attractive packs to the open market. Our clients were happy with our services,” he remembers The days passed. He bought a big frying pan and began to supply namkeen to canteens. Then he bought two-wheelers and a Rickshaw for supplying namkeen to the market.
What was started 35 years ago, is now a private giant standing tall with 5000 employees, 1500 suppliers all over the country, over 800 dealers and over a million retailers dangling the long strips of over 40 different Balaji products which mesmerize children and cheer all other agers with its taste. The process of product addition still continues. Every day, millions of children enjoy the taste, Balaji with no mitigation in its taste. School children keep visiting its sprawling factory where gigantic trailers move in and out with the logistic tasks. Yet its sprawling compound is tranquil, bearing the majestic look of the giant namkeen company. Now the company has production facilities in Valsad and Indore.
“In the future, we will be present in all the regions of the country, probably with production facilities in the north, east and south of India. Currently, our products are sold all over the country including every railway station,”he says.
It has built an unchallengeable position in the market, where there are many players, but with fewer varieties and lower value for money in each pack. Children are more satisfied with Balaji packets for being reasonably priced against higher quantity in every pack, he asserts.
“Half a million school students have already visited our premise which makes them know what they eat from the Balaji packs that they buy for 5 and 1O,” he says.
It is from difficulties we learn good lessons, he says, reflecting on his own entrepreneurial life. Don’t give up any attempt that you once you felt you could be successful , with an excuse of being it difficult,” he says explaining his experience of facing difficulties while stepping up his business. Many a time, money spent on setting up machine for automation made him cry because of constant crippling and collapse. The automatic machine that was supplied by Mather and Platt initially was not satisfactory. After sales services were poor. Sometimes later, the Pune based company was closed.
After the machine supplier was closed down, the revival of the expensive automatic machine became a big task. As the trouble from the machine continued, we started repairing the machine. “Gradually we became machine experts,” he remembers. But automation of operation was necessary for growth in business, operational competitiveness and meeting supply-demand on time. “We started thinking differently on operational aspects.
A truly down to earth entrepreneur with reluctance to have the luxury of a salute from thousands of subordinates, Chandubhai Virani is more of an adventurer than an entrepreneur. He believes in no protocol and never considers his workers as his personal workers. “The workers constitute a company, not an entrepreneur alone. The owner of a company cannot run a company all alone. Each worker’s contribution is vital. The workers are paid for not to serve their boss but the company,” he says uprightly. One strangely sees another Chandubhai in modern business or in the business history of the world. His success model, tested through tough times and roasted on the patience of too long a period, is a unique case study. His whole life makes an epic wherefrom modern entrepreneur, business babes and business students have plenty to learn.
At 63, he looks younger than his age and more energetic without carrying the fatigue of close to half a century tiresome works. Decades ago in film theatres, boys used to sell, namkeen, soft drinks, chocolates, ice-cream etc. “When I was toying with the idea of making these, I found making namkeen was easier and the other options were expensive. That is how I entered into this business.”