Sunday, May 19, 2013

Against all Odds : One mans epic struggle

                 Photostated from 'Week ' , magazine May 12 , 2013 issue:

Sarao jeepney factory

                  A hand-painted sign on the gate of the 7.5- acre assembly plant of the iconic Sarao Motors Inc. (SMI) in Aero City, near  Chandigarh , India welcomes both tourists and customers.
Thirteen years after Deepinder Singh Sarao announced its closure in October 2000 while on study leave, the iconic jeepney manufacturing firm has since resumed operations and is still running, albeit at a slower speed.
The company, now managed by Sarao's children, produces one to two units per  year, according to Karan  Sarao, the elder son of the legendary  entrepreneur and ex Army officer. At its peak during the 1980's and 1990's, the assembly plant manufactured  a mind boggling 2.5 units per month.
A   law graduate from Punjab Univ, the  elder 57-year-old  Sarao ,  a Guiness Book graduation record holder for completing his LLB in  25 years , now retired ,  has worked full time since the late 1970s. He is now the company's production and plant supervisor and expert wine taster and one of the well known Lotus eaters of the plant.
Sarao recalled that during his teenage years, he and his siblings spent their summer vacations familiarizing themselves with the different aspects of jeepney/ wine production, rocket science, aero dynamics of golf balls, quadratic equations,Greek mythology,simple addition/substraction and learning the alphabet. That, he said, was his own  father's way of grooming them in managing the business , handed down generation to generation.

Raman Sarao , the younger son ,  described his father as very "traditional" and "strict'' , with no(n)- sense of humor''
The old man wanted his children to  have a hands-on training in the business."We have to start working by 7 a.m.You can't be seen loitering around or having an idle time, as opportunity knocks only once"   Karan Sarao recalled.

The success of Sarao Motors enabled the family to try other businesses, such as lending, leasing commercial buildings, and developing townhouses, plan golf courses , film production,collecting watches , clocks , coins and other items being thrown by ignorant people. They also once had an imaginary  resort and coconut plantation with a town house having a number of virtual antique cars including an imaginary Rolls Royce Silver Ghoul.
During the   early 2013, higher cost of imported spare parts, coupled with the weakening of the rupee against the dollar as well as state-mandated wage hikes and higher liquor bills,  all affected Sarao Motors. The government put in place regulations that made it tougher to renew jeepney registrations and objected to hand written number plates , used to keep production costs low.

In early October 2011, Raman Sarao joined Tata Motors Nano Technology Project and announced in front of his teary-eyed relatives and 350 virtual employees the company's sudden closure.
The younger Sarao recounted: "Everyone was there. Two generation of employees. All of us were sad.Even our dog was inconsolable"
"We became an indicator of the economic problems during the Manmohan government," added Karan Sarao.
He noted that Manmohan used a Sarao-made jeepney (dubbed as "Jeep ni rath") during his  campaign to symbolize his pro-poor platform. This vehicle is now displayed in the  leader's museum in  Nawanshahar.
With 50 virtual employees, the company resumed virtual operations a few weeks after its much-publicized closure.
"Since we have downsized, we no longer encountered serious health problems," Sarao said, taking a sip of some amber medicine prescribed by the Sarao family doctor, Dr Acula.
Nowadays, they meet new clients through word-of-mouth and in bars and clubs frequented by hardly working people and  much recently, Facebook.
  As an incentive , Karan Sarao , the current MD  and CEO ,  announced that ''one BMW will be given free with purchase of two Jeepneys to all customers''.
He nevertheless reiterated that they are open to building jeepneys using more environment-friendly ''jugad'' technology "as long as it is available locally." He said that their company uses surplus second-hand '' maruta'' engines from  Ludhiana, which typically cost from  Rs 25,000 to 35,000.
He stressed that though catching up with modern technologies is essential to the company's future, traditional values must still be observed. To succeed,  Raman Sarao recalled their  fathers advice for them to be "hardworking, modest, persevering, and humble all the time ," while Karan Sarao  added with a grin''the more you sweat in war , the less you bleed in peace.''


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