By Raju Mandhyan
MANY years ago, I failed at two attempts at starting and running my own business. The first time, I failed at putting up a trading business with a partner from the Middle East. The second time I failed at making success of a small retail business with my spouse as a partner. Sometime in the late 1980, I started and began to nurture a third enterprise. For this third time, before I ventured into it, I spent years understanding and experiencing the trade. I spent years in knowing the supply side and the demand side in the industry. I spent years saving up money and building up other resources and connections in the industry. I’d also spent years in learning the rights skills and competencies to help me become a self-dependent, and a complete entrepreneur.
I remember one morning, six months and a year into it, I was in the middle of strapping some cartons for a shipment when an officer from the Department of Labor and Employment came knocking at my door. He was conducting a random, spot inspection for unfair and inhuman treatment of employees by small business owners.
“As an owner of this company, I wouldn’t mind answering a few questions would I?” he asked.
“Sure! Go ahead and be my guest.” I replied.
“How long has this business been operational and what is it that you do?”
“Well, it’s now been a year and half. We are in the business of trading soft goods like house decor, apparel, handicrafts and stuff. We buy them here, in the Philippines, and then we ship them to clients across the world.”
“Hmm, that must be quite lucrative and how many people do you have working here?”
“Two. A girl and there’s this bloke.”
“Can you please describe the job of the girl?”
“Well, she answers the phone, takes messages, files loose papers, types a letter a day, once in a while makes weak coffee and every fortnight runs to the bank to draw her salary.”
“Right, that sounds like she is the Office Assistant. Awful supporting aren’t they? Does she put in any extra effort for the business?
“Oh, yes, yes! She takes time to fix her hair, powder her nose, file her nails, and chat on the office telephone with her girlfriends on weekdays and her boyfriends on Fridays. Then there are also days when she doesn’t have a boyfriend, she spends her days crying and eating chocolates in the office. Poor little girl!”
“Oh, that’s quite sad. How many hours a week, would you say, does she suffer like this in here?”
“Oh, the poor thing, she comes in a bit after 10 in the morning to avoid the morning traffic and leaves just before 4 in the afternoon, to beat the evening traffic on weekdays. On Saturdays, she drops by for a quick brunch and then leaves to get her hair done.”
“Gosh! That’s over 30 hours a week and does she get a fair pay, social security, health insurance, all the prescribed holidays, annual vacation and sick leaves too?”
“Oh, yes she does get all that plus another three days every month.”
“That’s quite okay. Now about this bloke who works here what exactly does he do?”
“This ‘bloke’ as you call him gets the orders, draws the contracts, does the purchasing, chases the mills for delivery, drives the truck, manages the inventory, packs the shipments, does the billing, cleans the car, answers the phone and makes coffee when Jane is not around.”
“Sounds like quite a handy man. What are his working hours around here?”
“He’s here before the break of dawn on Mondays and then stays till all the work is done for the rest of the week.”
“That’s amazing! Does that mean he also sleeps over here?”
“Yes, on that wooden bench over there by the dog-house.”
“That looks quite inviting and warm. Now, does he get a fair pay for his hours, social security, medical and health insurance, annual vacation and sick leaves?”
“Oh, yeah sure!” He gets two square meals a day, a daily cup of weak coffee, a pack of cigarettes every month and he is also allowed to sneak off early on Christmas Eve and come in a bit late on New Year’s Day.”
“That’s preposterous and inhuman! Sneaks off on Christmas Eve! I think you, Sir; you are an animal, a monster and a slave-driver! Please call that man, here, right now! I’d like to see the poor slob!”
“Sir,” I said quietly, “you are looking at him!”
Though this story is slightly sprinkled with sugar and spice, it does come close to putting across the point that an entrepreneur, a business owner, has to work, eat and sleep like a dog. He has to put in atrociously obscene amounts of time, effort and dedication for the success of his business. It is all a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
Entrepreneurs do not get born, they are made. In my early teens, I was surrounded by a large, close and distant, family of entrepreneurs. Most all of them either owned a store, a trading business or a small manufacturing or service business. During our family get-togethers they would talk shop, compare notes and share tips on how to start something new or improve and expand existing businesses. All of them considered owning a business was the most proper and decent way to live. “Working for others?” Well, it was “working for others” and it was looked upon with disdain and shame. There was, and is, pride, honor, and freedom to earn and grow exactly as one wished for in a self-owned enterprise.
One of the many, very Indian, catch-phrases my grandfather used to nag me with was, “Apni ghoat to mazaa aaye!” Literally translated, it meant, “The fun lies in brewing and grinding your own.” Metaphorically, it meant, “If you want to amount to something, if you want to make it big and be fulfilled then start and build something on your own.” This kind of subtle and consistent programming of our minds by our elders was our family’s culture. The young ones, in response, had no choice but to constantly think, explore, talk and dream business opportunities and ventures. This influence and programming by the elders of the family was quite intense. The long-term results of this culture building were resilience, tenacity, and the ability to save, survive, and build from scratch. These entrepreneurial habits got seeped into our neuropsychological systems for life.
A large percentage of my family members are still private business owners and continue to breed their offspring into the same atmosphere and culture. I, personally, moved in out of the corporate world and the world of the rugged, resilient and resourceful entrepreneurs. I regard both breeds with respect and reverence for their skills but here, in this book, I pay homage to the maverick, the jack of all trades — the enigmatic entrepreneur!
Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach and speaker.