Chapter 6 : The Businessman
'I have a non-working director, in all my new companies, with a 5% share holding' Mishra told his Korean guest, over lunch at the Taj Palace in Delhi.
'Is he a family member' Kwon asked him.
'No. He is kind of a priest. We call him the Saadhu'
'How can a priest be a director of a company?' asked Kwon, who was a Buddhist.
'That is why i told you he is a non-working director. He does not even know he is a director. We remit his 5% share to the Saadhu Jana foundation account'
'What is this foundation' the Korean asked him
'It is a social welfare fund. The money is used for helping poor people. There are many businessmen in India, Sri Lanka and many other countries, who contribute to this fund' Mishra explained.
'He must be getting a lot of money'
'Yes. He would be the richest priest in the world. The richest god in the world used to be God Thirupathi, but i think our priest has beaten him' Mishra said, and added. 'But he doesn't use any of this money for his personal benefit'
'Why are you giving this'
'It is not easy to explain. But i know for sure that every company where i have made him a director, the business has been most successful' Mishra replied.
As Mishra watched the roses swaying in the soft cool breeze in the hotel garden, in late February, his mind went back about six years.
Mishra was a salesman for a company in Mumbai, marketing a range of goods, mainly soap, toothpaste and tooth brushes. He operated from Nasik as his base. He came to Mumbai once in three months to attend the sales meetings. He did not have to return to Mumbai often, as goods were sent by train to Nasik.
He was invited to join the Nasik Saadhu Jana Samaja, by a school mate, who was also now working in Nasik as a production manager of a pharmaceutical plant in the industrial zone. One day, almost by accident, during a Saadhu Samaja prayer and meditation session, Mishra made a promise to the Saadhu, that if he could achieve his sales target that month, he would donate 5% of his sales commission to the Samaja. It was at a time when he was under tremendous pressure from his area manager to achieve his targets, because the manager had been given three months by the company to show results or quit.
Mishra achieved his target, and even before he received his sales commission he gifted 5% of what he would receive, to the Samaja, without any mention of why he was making the gift. Next month he achieved 150% of his target and continued to maintain a high achievement for several months, each month making his contribution to the Samaja.
A few months later, during a visit, his area manager, Damien Fernandez, invited him for dinner.
'I think you are wasting your time in Nasik. You could do much better in Mumbai' he told Mishra.
'I know that. But you won't give me a transfer to Mumbai' Mishra accused Fernandez.
'There is nothing i can do. You know my position in the company. They are waiting for me to leave'
'Do you have any plans' Mishra asked. They had become close friends during the past few years. Fernandez did not answer at once, making Mishra worried that he had asked a sensitive question.
'I have been thinking' Fernandez said after a few minutes, which he used to pull out his packet of cigarettes, selecting one, and lighting it slowly.
Mishra waited for him to continue.
'You have met Mr. Henry Wong when he came here last time' Fernandez said.
'Yes. I remember him. The export manager of our supplier' Mishra could recall the tall lean Chinese.
'He is leaving Alpha Exports, to form his own export company, and he has asked me if i would like to be his agent in India'
'That is a good opportunity for you' Mishra said.
'Yes. It is a good break. I have already talked to Mr. Pandey, he has agreed to set up a new company. He will be Chairman and i am going to be the Managing Director' Fernandez replied with a smile.
'You are lucky' was all Mishra could think of saying.
'I need a good Sales Manager' Fernandez said.
'You will be able to find someone easily'
'I was thinking of you. Would you like to join us' Fernandez's question took Mishra by surprise, and he could not reply at once.
'I don't have that much experience' he said hesitantly.
'Your experience is more than enough and i know you can handle it, and i also need someone i can trust, before Pandey takes in one of his own people' Fernandez told him, and added, 'i could offer you ten thousand and a car and commission'
Mishra could not believe what he was hearing and unconsciously his hand reached to the pocket where he kept the Saadhu's photograph, and promised to himself, that he would continue to donate 5% of all his earnings.
As sales manager for the new company Mishra was based in the Hughes road office in Mumbai, and had to travel only occasionally to supervise his sales team. He got married the same year, since now he was in a position to rent a house of his own and live his own life. His income continued to increase and his donations to the Saadhu continued to increase.
On a visit to Hyderabad for a sales training program he managed to find the time to visit Ananthnandi. Here he found that he was not the only businessman who made regular contributions to the Saadhu. In the shrine room at the temple, near the feet of the Saadhu statue, there was a till, with an unusually large opening. Mishra wondered why the opening should be so large but within a few minutes he saw the reason. A Sri Lankan businessman came carrying a briefcase. Mishra wondered if he was trying to do business at the temple. He went straight to the till, opened his briefcase, and started pushing in the bundles of currency notes that were in the bag. It appeared he did not even bother to count the money he put in. When the last bundle was pushed in, he knelt down before the statue and started praying.
Mishra decided that when he formed a company of his own, he would name Saadhu as one of his directors with a 5% share holding. He was already the Marketing Director of Fernandez's company, which had several agencies from Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. Mishra was traveling to these countries very often, to locate new suppliers and to inspect new products.
He was always able to negotiate better prices than Fernandez could have done, and one day after a very hard bargaining with the General Manager Exports, of a Japanese company, the Japanese made a proposal to him, over dinner.
'You are a very good negotiator' said Yamamoto.
'I try to make the best deal for my company' Mishra replied.
'Very true. You save a lot of money for your company. What do you get for your troubles'
'I am happy with what i get'
'But don't you have any plans for the future. Wouldn't you like to start your own business, instead of making a rich man richer'
'I have been thinking of starting my own company. But i need a lot of money' Mishra confided.
'So why don't you start earning that money now' asked Yamamoto.
'How could i. Mr. Fernandez trusts me and i have always been loyal to my employer'
'Who says you have to be disloyal or dishonest' Yamamoto asked again.
'That is the only way anyone can earn a lot of money in a short time' Mishra told him.
'I don't think so. Today you managed to bring down our price from yen 135,000 to yen 110,000. That means your company would be saving 25,000 per unit, 1.25 million per month. If not for your efforts, Mr. Fernandez would continue to pay that 1.25 million to our company. Am i right?' he asked.
'Yes. You are right' Mishra agreed.
'What i propose to you is this. Now my company has agreed to 110,000. But i tell my MD that you have asked that 15,000 to be added to our price, into the invoice, as your share, and that you will assure an increase of monthly imports.'
'What if MD tells Mr. Fernandez?' Mishra wanted to know.
'Why should he. When i tell him, that the 15,000 will be shared between the three of us!'
'I don't know. It doesn't seem to be right' Mishra was worried.
'Look. You can't succeed in business with that kind of misguided honesty. You are not stealing from your company. In fact you are saving 10,000 per unit, and that is 500,00 per month and six million for a year. Shouldn't Mr. Fernandez be happy with that. You will only earn six million for a year on this deal' Yamamoto explained. Mishra was calculating now, three million rupees in one year and he should be able to set up his own business by that time. He still felt guilty, because he was very loyal to Fernandez, and grateful for taking him into his company. All that Mishra owned now, was possible because of Fernandez.
Then he remembered that it was the Saadhu who had made all this possible and not Fernandez, and that he need be loyal to Saadhu only. So he should find out what Saadhu wanted him to do.
'Let me think about it' Mishra told Yamamoto.
'You have to tell me by tomorrow morning, before we prepare our sales contract for this year. I have to talk to my MD in the morning'
'I will let you know in the morning, when i come to your office'
That night Mishra placed the Sadhus photograph on the table, in his hotel room, knelt before it and started singing hymns, after paying homage to Siva and Ganesh. After the hymns, he spoke to the Saadhu, telling him in detail about the discussion he had that night and asked him for his advice. He then switched off the lights and fell asleep soon as he hit the pillow, because he was so tired after a full day of business discussions and hard bargaining.
He looked around to see what had woken him. His watch showed the time to be three in the morning. It must have been someone in the corridor, a guest who had just come in, probably. He did not feel sleepy. After tossing around in bed for a few minutes, he drank a glass of water and switched on the TV and started skipping from channel to channel.
He saw a glimpse of the temple as he flicked from a channel and went back. It was the SadhuTV channel, which had never been available in Japanese hotels before, and during this visit he had not even bothered to find out if SadhuTV was available. He sat up, cross legged, in bed, for he did not want to point his feet at the Saadhu on TV. Mishra suddenly realized, while listening to the Saadhu's words, that this was the sign he had been waiting for, that he had been woken up by the Saadhu to watch him on TV to tell him that he had the Saadhu's blessings for whatever he planned to do.
Mishra made the same arrangement with one more Japanese and two Korean suppliers. He opened a bank account in Singapore and within a year, after making the 5% share to the Saadhu his bank balance was USD 350,000, more than enough to set up his own trading house.
Mishra made it a policy to keep all discussions, negotiations and correspondence with foreign suppliers under his personal control. He knew that what he did to Fernandez, his own staff could do to his company. He did not mind the frequent traveling, he had to undertake, but he planned them well so that he managed to complete his business within a day or two and return to Ahmedabad where he had his head office.
Kwon had arrived in Delhi for the launch of their new business in India. From the moment that Mishra learnt of the economic crisis in South East Asia, he wanted to find a way to make some money out of it. He explored all possibilities, visited Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Korea. He considered the used-car market, where he could pick up nearly new cars at less than half their price in Thailand, and the construction equipment in Malaysia, from the collapsing construction companies and plant and machinery from Indonesian manufacturer who were putting up shutters. He saw many others interested in the same type of business and knew that within a very short time there would be too much competition.
In Korea he found what he was looking for and immediately he thanked the Saadhu for giving this opportunity. Mishra had met Kwon during a visit to Seoul with an Indian trade delegation organized by the Korea Trade Center.
The journey had started off very badly and Mishra had thought of giving up the Korea visit and returning to Mumbai. At the Singapore airport, where they were in transit they had to wait over five hours because the Asiana flight was delayed. Finally when they lined up to check in, the girl at the counter looked at his passport carefully and then called another colleague and showed it to her. She returned to Mishra.
'Where is the extension of the passport validity' she asked.
'It is still valid' Mishra told her
'It is expiring by end of June, that is only one month' she told him.
'I am going for a four day visit'
'Your passport should have a minimum of six months validity' she said returning his ticket and passport.
'How can you say that. I have got the visa from your embassy in Delhi and they should have told me of this requirement at that time'
She did not reply.
'If they required six months validity the embassy should have told me. Any way they would not have given me the visa then'
'We have instructions unless the passport is valid for six months we cannot issue the boarding pass'
'This is ridiculous. My visa is valid for only two weeks, which is well within passport validity. I have a confirmed return ticket and will be leaving Korea four days from now.
'I am sorry' she again told him. `she called someone on the phone and instructed that his baggage should be held back.
'We are traveling in a delegation organized by KOTRA. There is a Korean official with us. Let's call him' one of the other delegates called the assistant director of the KOTRA office to explain matters to the girl. He talked to her in Korean, but she shook her head.
Mishra left the counter, making room for the others to check in and sat down.
'I will spend a day in Singapore and go back to Delhi on the next flight. If they don't want me in Korea, why should i go'. He told one of the other delegates.
'We will try again. There must be someone in a senior position who could take a decision' the other Indian told him. 'Let me give it a try' he approached the counter.
Mishra thought of the Saadhu. He thought that if the Saadhu really wanted him to go to Korea, he would make it possible. If the airline refused to give him his boarding pass, then he knew it was because the Saadhu did not want him to go.
The other Indian delegate was seen talking to the girl again, who was on the phone. The time for boarding was approaching. All the other delegates had got their boarding passes and they were gathered around Mishra.
'You go ahead. They will be calling for boarding now' he told them. I will stay in Singapore.
'No, we can't leave you like that. Let us find a way. `one of them said.
'Why don't you tell them that you guarantee his return. You are a government official' another told Choi, the KOTRA official, in an accusing tone. Choi was a young an, probably without much experience and probably did not know how to handle this problem.
'You go ahead' Mishra told them again and settled back on the seat. The others continued to stand around.
The delegate who was talking to the girl at the counter beckoned him. Mishra went up to him, without much hope, only because the others urged him to go. There was another girl standing next to the one at the counter.
'Let me see your passport' she asked. Mishra gave it. She looked through it for sometime and then asked for his ticket.
'What if they refuse to allow entry at Seoul?' she asked.
'I will come back. I have a return ticket' Mishra said.
'How much money have you got' she asked again.
'I have two thousand dollars in TCs and my credit card with a five thousand dollar credit Limit' he showed them to the girl. She looked at the TCs. `compared the signature on them, against the one in the credit card and the passport.
'They are treating me like a bloody criminal, or as if i am trying to stay back in Korea' Mishra told the others who had gathered around him now. Everyone was talking, pleading, arguing and complaining about the way the airline officials were treating Mishra. In the end she returned his TCs and card and punched several keys on her terminal.
He was given his boarding pass. Mishra did not even bother to thank the girls because he knew that he should thank only the Saadhu.
'How about my baggage' he asked
'It will be on the plane' one of the girls told him.
At the immigration desk at Seoul, he was a little apprehensive that they may turn him back. The immigration official went through his passport and his immigration form and the ticket, and returned them after stamping it.
It was raining and very gloomy outside. They were taken in a bus to the hotel, where they arrived around 9.00 am. Check in time is 12 o'clock, they were told when they approached the reception.
An argument again started. The receptionist was not very fluent in English and Choi was not a very persuasive person. They had to keep their bags and hang around. There was no lobby and no chairs to sit down. All the delegates began shouting at Choi.
'What kind of hotel is this'
'Can't we go to another hotel'
'You invited us here, and is this the way you are going to treat us'
'We have to pay for this. You are not giving us free accommodation, to be treated like beggars'
Mishra did not get involved with the arguments. He knew that the Saadhu had a reason for everything and he need not try to change anything that was happening around him.
In the end the hotel agreed to give them rooms. The rooms were damp and cold. Mishra thought that the Saadhu must be having a plan to make him go through all this. Next day, the trade meetings were a disappointment. Most of the companies listed to meet them, did not turn up. Mishra told the organizers that he would not be coming for the meetings the next day, but try to find his own contacts.
He telephoned an old friend, K. K. Lim, who invited him out for dinner, where he introduced Kwon, who was in computer software.
Kwon was complaining about the fall in business and he was thinking of moving on to some other field.
'What is the price of a used computer in Seoul' Mishra asked him.
'I don't know. There is no market for used computers. Who would buy one' Kwon asked him.
'What do they do with the old computers, when people go for new products' Mishra asked again.
'I have never thought of it. They just throw them away, i suppose' Kwon was not interested.
'I think they just end up at junk yards' Lim joined in.
'Can't we buy them' Mishra asked.
'What can you do with old computers' Kwon asked, looking at him as if Mishra was an idiot.
'I think we can create a market for them. In India and even in Korea' Mishra continued.
'I don't think so' Kwon dismissed the idea.
'How do you think you can do it' Lee asked, worried that Kwon had offended his friend.
'It will depend at what price we can buy the old ones. If we can sell them at very low prices, we can spend a lot of money on publicity to create an awareness that the old computers are good enough for more than 80% of the computer users in India. I don't know much about the Korean market, but i am sure that even in Korea we can find a market' he said.
'Tell me more' Lee said, with the idea of trying to smooth things out between Kwon and Mishra.
'The computer technology is advancing so fast, that it is almost impossible to keep up with it. Before a new product comes into the market it is almost obsolete' Mishra said. Kwon agreed.
'The computer vendors promote only the latest designs and models, and very often they do not even stock the older models in the showrooms and so the manufacturers discontinue the older versions, as soon a new version is introduced' Mishra continued, thinking aloud, 'people who want to buy a computer for the first time, those who want to add more computers to their office, those who want to buy them for their children, they all end up buying the latest model in the market, because that is the only product available' he looked at Mishra.
'So far you are correct' Kwon agreed again.
'In India, as i know for certain, about 60 to 70 percent of computers are used only for word-processing, and at most for a few spread-sheet applications, or to run a software package for accounting, sales or stock control. Even in Korea i think that would be the case' Mishra said. People still continue to buy Ambassador cars, even though now they have such a wide selection of latest models and makes available
'Yes. That is my experience too' Kwon was still with him.
'When the desktops first came in, people used these computers for the same applications, on XT machines, with about 512k memory and sometimes with a 10MB hard-disk' Mishra asked Kwon.
'Yes. I have done it myself' said Lee.
'Do you think the efficiency of the secretaries or the executives or even managers increased from that time up to today when they are using a pentium II?' Mishra wanted a reply from Kwon.
'I don't think there is any improvement in efficiency, except may be in the presentation, printing facilities and other enhancements and in network facilities and internet communications' Kwon replied.
'Then don't you agree that out of the total computer market in India or Korea, there is still a market for 486, 586 or older slower pentium models?' Mishra asked Kwon now.
'Come to think of it, yes. There could be a market' he said slowly, 'but i see a problem, most people do not like to have something which is far behind times than his neighbour, schoolmate or competitor' Kwon said.
'But think of all those other people, who are not going in for a computer because they cannot afford 15 million yen or in our country fifty thousand rupees? Think also of those people who pay this amount of money because of their ignorance that they could buy four machines with that money for their office, or purchase one for his child without going into debt' Mishra went on.
'I think i understand your point now. We will have to educate our customers, convince them that they could manage their work with an investment of around 25% of what they originally thought it would be' Kwon was showing serious interest now.
'Let us find out what the market prices would be, if we are to purchase used computers' Lee was thinking now as a businessman.
'That should not be a problem. At the start, we should be able to buy, almost for nothing, all the old computers that dealers are collecting on 'trade-in' arrangements. But they will not give them once they realize we are eating into their market' Kwon told him.
'We should also be able to buy whatever left-over stocks are with the manufacturers, their components, at bargains' Mishra added.
'Even in Korea, i think i can get hold of stocks of motherboards and harddisks which the manufacturers want to get rid of. Then we buy the casings and power units from Taiwan and we could even assemble new computers to cater to the market, when our used computer stock goes down' Lee was really enthusiastic now, as he saw the possibilities opening up.
'Now we are talking.' Mishra was happy, and he knew Saadhu was guiding them on the correct path. 'I can stay a few more days in Seoul, if we can work this out' he said.
'That is wonderful. I will start my inquiries tomorrow and let's meet in my office around 10 o'clock' Kwon told Mishra, and asked Lee, 'what do you think, would you like to join us?'
'Why not. I think Mishra has a very good idea. Let's be partners. I can push this idea into Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh' Lee too was excited now.
When Lee dropped Mishra at his hotel, he called Choi in his room and informed him that he will be staying a few more days in Korea, and that he will get his passport extended at the Indian embassy in Seoul, so that Choi would not have any problem from authorities.
Mishra was grateful for the Saadhu, and prayed for guidance to make this a success and as usual offered 5% of all earnings from the project to the Saadhu.