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How Pawan Ruia turns around sick firms
Pradeep Gooptu in New Delhi | November 03, 2006
Having turned around the public sector entity Jessop & Co, the buyer of the former Manu Chaabria-owned (and sick) Dunlop & Co is being seen by more and more observers as a turnaround artist of sorts - a rare breed in any part of the world, a rarer breed still in a country with as policy-contorted a business history as India's.
Naturally, the man is loved by politicians grappling with sick or closed factories in their constituencies and entrepreneurs looking out with less than furtive eagerness for a safe exit.
And though Ruia himself is in love with his work and his companies, he is not one to turn away from such overtures. A challenge is a challenge.
"He used to visit the Dunlop plant in Sahagunj virtually every second day, walking up and down for kilometres at the plant and directing workers on every detail so that when the formal re-opening took place on October 31, the plant was up to the mark," says a source close to the development.
The unit was in shambles, having been operation for only a few months in the last ten years, but Ruia's visits ensured that when close to 10,000 people turned up for the inauguration presided over by Union heavy industries minister Santosh Mohan Dev and West Bengal's chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, its appearance impressed his guests no end.
So impressed were his VIP guests that they used the public forum to exhort Ruia to consider taking over the sick PSUs Tyre Corporation of India (TCI) and Mining & Allied Machinery Co (MAMC) and turn them around too.
Ruia's frequent visits to the Dunlop unit points to another aspect of his character - his eye for detail and his fetish for micro-management of what he sees as his focus area at that point, says a banker close to him.
As even some labour leaders at the Sahagunj works say, they did not expect Ruia to achieve so much progress in so little time at the Sahagunj unit.
Even as Dunlop takes up more and more of his time, Ruia is looking to professionalise the management at his first acquisition Jessop & Co, where S C Saxena and D Roy, a duo formerly with Tata Steel, have been installed as managing director and joint managing director.
For a first generation entrepreneur with strong views on the virtues of family-run businesses, the Dunlop move was well in keeping with Ruia's ability to take decisions that surprise even his closest associates. But then, if it's not something out-of-the box, it's something someone else could easily have done. And that wouldn't interest him quite as much.
Ruia, a vegetarian who shuns even onion and garlic, says he sees every factory he takes over as a temple in which he is the "pujari" - and if this belief is shared by the workers there, every factory can be turned around.
Ruia still remembers his initial visit to the Dunlop plant, made against the advice of his managers. He had braced himself for the sort of hostility seen in Hindi films of the 1970s - his way blocked, his car stormed and his dignity and the atmosphere rent asunder by gruff language.
In the event, he was mobbed. But by welcoming crowds. There were hundreds of children, and their parents (workers). They wanted to talk to him, and over misthi from the local sweet shop, they held an impromptu gate-meeting with him, urging him to help them turn out more tyres than ever before. To them, the news was evidently more boon than curse.
Is Ruia set for a period of calm after some momentary turbulence? It's smooth sailing for his other ventures, like his sugar mill, though his proposed businesses - a shipbuilding yard, not to mention TCI and MAMC - could keep him busy.
Yet, in spite of all this high drama, Ruia has the strange air of a man detached from all of it. "He says his reputation and fortune depends on them, so he will try his hardest to achieve success - beyond that, luck and fate will decide," says an associate, echoing his mind.