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The rags-to-riches story of a billionaire BARBER!

Last updated on: November 11, 2011 14:51 IST

The rags-to-riches story of a billionaire BARBER!

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A Ganesh Nadar in Bengaluru


Ramesh Babu has a barber shop and a booming car rental business in Bengaluru, but still prefers to cut hair so that he never forgets his humble beginnings, writes A Ganesh Nadar.

Fancy getting your hair styled for only Rs 65 by someone who goes to work at his barber shop in a Rs 3-crore Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost?

Yes, this is the amazing rags-to-riches story of 41-year-old Ramesh Babu who made it big in this cut-throat world all on the dint of his honesty, hard work, humility and some foresight.

Life wasn't always hunky dory for this man. He was only 7 years old when his father, P Gopal, a barber in Bengaluru, died. All he left behind was a barber shop: little did he know that his son would become a billionaire even before he turned 40.

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Image: Ramesh Babu with his newly acquired Rolls-Royce and a BMW.

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With her husband no more, Ramesh Babu's mother had to work as a cook to help feed her children, get them a semblance of an education and help them have a shot at life.

Since she couldn't run the barber shop, she rented it out for Rs 5 a day.

"We grew up on one meal a day," says Ramesh Babu, in between giving instructions to his staff and answering his mobile phone.

As he grew older, his sense of responsibility tugged at him and he couldn't quite decide if he should study further or start working to support his mother and the family income.

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Image: Ramesh Babu at his barber shop.
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar
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However, upon his mother's insistence, he resolved study up to the pre-university level and then obtained a diploma in electronics. All this while, his father's shop was still being rented out for meagre amounts. He then decided to run it himself and in 1989, he began working at the salon that had first been established by his grandfather.

His barber shop -- Inner Space -- did well enough for him to be able to not just look after his family's needs, but also to save some money.

By 1994, Ramesh had saved enough to buy a Maruti Omni. He bought it for personal use, but it "used to lie idle most of the time" so he decided to put it out on rent.

And that was the seed that later bore fruit and turned into his new company Ramesh Tours and Travels.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Between 1994 and 2004, he bought seven more cars and rented them out too. He ensured that his drivers were well behaved and his clientele happy. Sampath was his first driver and he still works for Ramesh.

Ramesh had a small office till then. In 2004, he decided to enter the luxury car segment. He bought a Mercedes Benz for a cost of Rs 42 lakh (Rs 4.2 million).

He took a loan from the bank for this. "It ran very well because other travel agencies with the same car used old cars. We were the only ones who used a brand new car." From then on, it was a one-way street to success for Ramesh.

He now owns 90 cars in all, most Toyota Innovas. His fleet of cars also includes 27 luxury vehicles: from Mercedes to BMWs to a white Rolls-Royce Ghost. He actually needed a paper and pencil to count the number of cars he owns.

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Image: (Inset) Ramesh Babu.

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Today, all his cars had gone out on rent. The lowest rent for a car he lets out is Rs 1,000 a day and the most expensive is Rs 50,000 a day (for the Rolls-Royce, of course. You can now roughly calculate his daily income.

His first car -- the Maruti Omni -- is still with him, but it has been 'retired'. He does not rent it out any more.

He has 60 drivers working for him, but you can also rent a car from him and drive it yourself.

At Inner Space, his salon, there are five more people working with him.

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Photographs: Reuters
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From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. he works at his salon, cutting hair. "Today I had three customers," he says happily.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., he works at his car rental office. At 4 p.m., he goes back to his saloon and works there till 7 p.m. Thereafter, he comes back to the rental agency and stays there till 8.30 p.m.

He is happily married and has three kids, all in school. The elder two are girls, the youngest is a son. "I will teach my kids to work in both my businesses," he says.

The man is a shining example of dignity of labour. He is not a member of any club because he "does not have the time".

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Image: Ramesh Babu with a couple of his luxury cars.

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On Sundays, he works the whole day at the salon as it is the 'rush hour' there. That effectively means he does not have a single weekly holiday.

He still remembers the days when his mom worked as a cook. He still cuts and styles hair so that he never forgets his humble beginnings. He says he never disappoints his customers.

He cuts men's hair for Rs 65 and ladies' hair for Rs 150.

Some of the costs that he incurs in his business include fines. Every month, they visit the traffic police and pay all the fines. The fine is taken out from the concerned driver's salary. He does not like authorities stopping his car anywhere and troubling his customers.

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And all this happened just because he could not bear to see his Omni lying idle.

His formula for success is simple, "Hard work and honesty," he says, grinning.

His humility is endearing. Success sits easily on his young shoulders even as he good-naturedly cribs about his drivers giving him all sorts of problems.

He has travelled to Germany as a tourist. He has also been to Singapore to learn how to cut women's hair. He works hard and says being honest is essential for success.



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