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Making his first million, from IT

Prateek Garg | August 27, 2005

Prateek Garg came from a business family, but decided to become a professional. Nevertheless, after five years of working for HCL, his business instincts seemed to rear up, and he started his own company, IT&T in 1990.

He built this up for seven years to a turnover of Rs 35 crore (Rs 350 million), and then left again in 1997 to start Progressive Infotech, which is booming today with a turnover of over Rs 80 crore (Rs 800 million).

Bright beginnings

I come from a business family, but this is the reason I got out of business, not into it. My family had a brassware manufacturing business, something I was never very interested in.

There was never any pressure for me to join either, so I did a degree in Electrical Engineering from Kurukshetra University. I was picked up for a job from college itself, by HCL. In 1985, I joined them as a trainee.

Venture into the unknown

I stayed with HCL for five years, during which time I did a one-year stint in the United States. At that time, there wasn't much knowledge about the workings of the Silicon Valley, and I went there convinced that I would be less competent than everyone else.

It was a surprise to me then that I was not only competent, I was much more so than many there. This may have given me the confidence boost I needed, when HCL decided to get out of hardware in the US and I came back to India, to branch out on my own.

In the services sector

I left HCL (as a technical manager) and set up my first company, IT&T in 1990 with five of my colleagues. Although I didn't have a business degree, my other partners were all business managers, and I really felt like we had the right skill set, and we could set up a strong services company.

We started with an investment of Rs 1 lakh (since we wanted to start up in services, we didn't need very much capital). First, we got into third party maintenance -- back then, this segment was very disorganised, even though, or perhaps because of the fact that there were a growing number of PCs in use.

Starting over

By 1997, IT&T was one of the top three third party maintenance vendors in the country. However, I feel like it wasn't structured properly, for soon my colleagues and I fell out, and I decided to strike out on my own again.

This time I was with one other partner, and together we started Progressive IT in 1998. This was my foray into IT infrastructure management. The net was just starting to come up, adding to complexities within the internal workings of companies -- I felt like most companies would need some kind of service provider.

The lean years

From 1998-2000, Progressive IT did quite well. However, when the boom started slowing, our fortunes slowed in parallel. Between 2000-2002, demand evaporated.

Since we had built in capacity for growth, this affected us quite badly. We had to trim some of our costs -- and I tried to trim at the top end as well as I could, leaving the customer-end alone.

In this way, I managed to keep our employees together, and also kept our customers' faith in us. These were tough times -- I myself was at zero salary -- but by 2003, we were back on the growth track -- we grew 40 per cent that year and 105 per cent the next.

Back on track

Now we have 400 people working for us, in 80 locations around India. We work with companies like Dabur, British Gas, Ericsson and Gillette.

I think what's made a difference with us is the fact that we value human relationships, whether it's with our employees or our customers, we always try not to be just a faceless corporation.

Every client is different and has different needs -- it's important not to be a homogenous entity and be creative when tailoring solutions.

- As told to Samyukta Bhowmick



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