Talent of the Month #2 From $10 to $800 Million

It’s hard to believe that a 12-year-old who began work as a cleaning boy in a small shop in Karachi, who later worked as door to door peddler of electrical supplies, can build one of India’s leading business conglomerates.

This is not a fairy tale story. This is a story of a real person with strong willpower who can always find a way to overcome the obstacles in his path to success. This month, we would like to introduce you to Prahlad P. Chhabria, a self made man. He is the founder of Finolex Group — India’s leading cable maker and the second largest PVC resin manufacturer, with a turnover that exceeds US$800 million.

In the year India gained independence, 17-year-old Prahlad P. Chhabria was a domestic servant working 14-hour days for a Pune moneylender, sending Rs30 a month to his widowed mother and nine siblings in Karachi, Pakistan. Back then, he could barely read or write; today, he’s chairman of Finolex Group and sits on the management council of the University of Pune. For years, he rode a rented bike; he now travels on his own private plane between his 15 state-of-the art plants in Pune, Ratnagiri and Goa.

His well-to-do father was from the traditional Shikarpuri Sindhi moneylenders’ community, but his untimely death and rash speculation by family members saw the son go from prince to pauper, overnight.At the age of 12, he started his career as a cleaner in a small cloth shop at a salary of Rs10 per month. At 13, he served sherbet to customers in a cloth store. A year later, he worked as a bill collector in Amritsar. While keeping accounts, he taught himself to read and write.    Later, Chhabria and his younger brother and business partner Kishan moved to Pune and learned their Engineering basics. In between jobs, they began selling electrical supplies all over Pune, soon opening a retail shop. The differentiator was their ability to provide electrical services. By taking appliances apart, Kishan learnt to repair them, moving on to laying electrical cables, even making his own line of irons.

It was this knowledge of fabrication that propelled them into the next league, and they began to supply to the army. While Kishan became an expert on manufacturing processes, Chhabria became well-versed in applying for licences in Delhi. The brothers clinched their first big contract for copper-braided cables, for Rs3 lakh, and bought a copper braiding machine from Japan. Says Chhabria, “Today, without planning and proper technology and processes, nobody could bumble along and set up a new industry from scratch as we did.” The new machine was installed in a cowshed. Undaunted by the instruction manual in Kanji characters, they relied on Kishan’s reverse engineering ingenuity, and made a whopping Rs1 lakh profit from the order.

Next came PVC-insulated cable. Reminisces Chhabria, “Our beautiful new cable was best described as “fine” and “flexible”, which became “Finolex”. It describes us as well today as it did in 1958.” Finolex is currently a family and professionally managed conglomerate with more than 3,000 employees, with interests in telecom, power, petrochemicals, agriculture and education.

On his 78th birthday last March, he released his autobiography, There’s No Such Thing As a Self-Made Man. This is an inspiring and motivational book for all of us to read as it shows how hard works and integrity brings about success.

We would like to conclude his story with one of his famous quotes:

“Poverty, luck and lack of contacts are merely constraints people carry in their minds. If you start with a positive attitude, half the job is done.”

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