From Kisanganj to the helm of construction industry; story of Bijay Agarwal, MD, Salarpuria Sattva group

While traveling in Bangalore, it is hard to miss out “Salarpuria Sattva” on many tall buildings one crosses. Founded in 1986, the Salarpuria Sattva Group has grown into one of the most famous builders in the country today. It has a formidable presence in Bangalore, where it is headquartered, and is also a well-known name in Kolkata, Pune, Jaipur, Vizag and Hyderabad. With 15 million sq.ft spaces completed and 30 million more in stages of development and planning, this group also wears a feather in its cap with an “A Stable” rating from CRISIL, a top notch financial rating amongst realtors in India by an independent international rating agency.

Bijay Kumar Agarwal, MD of the group, has spearheaded the company’s growth and scale from day one. Bijay has come from a very humble background and has always kept his values and integrity as the utmost priority and the pillars of his business. When we met Bijay, he told us about his life, lessons and learnings very openly.

Humble beginnings

Bijay was ambitious and wanted to be a better version of himself every day, always looking out to achieve a bit more. There was a big fire in the belly to do something, but he never really thought that he will be an entrepreneur. He says, “I never dreamt I would be where I am today. It was just about getting to the next level.”

His parents had migrated to India from Bangladesh in 1965. Born in a family of a middle class businessman, he spent a lovely childhood with 9 siblings in the small town of Kisanganj in Bihar. Growing up with limited resources, Bijay learnt to be penny wise very early on in his life. He moved to Raniganj in West Bengal with his sister and brother-in-law after completing his 10th standard. Bijay started helping his brother-in-law at his novelty store in the time he could spare post his classes.

“Theory of business remains the same, be it a Rs 5,000 business or Rs 5,000 crore”

Bijay learnt some of the very first and important business lessons from his experience at this small store. “It taught me marketing & negotiation skills. I learnt that customer satisfaction is the biggest satisfaction of a businessman’s life. I used to go to Kolkata every weekend to buy something new to offer to our customers. Sometimes the stock used to get over in 2-3 days and I would go again in the pursuit of keeping our customers happy by offering them more than what they wanted. I negotiated for the best price in Kolkata while buying it and sold it at the best price possible in Raniganj. In 4-5 years the store became quite famous. I still apply what I learnt from that store in my business today. The theory of business remains the same, be it a 5,000 Rs business or 5,000 crore.”

Bijay moved to Kolkata in 1985 and joined a finance corporation. During his tenure, his firm had to take on a half constructed project from a builder due to his unstable financial conditions. Bijay would have never thought that what started as a project to recover his company’s capital from the builders would lead him to be a construction magnate in the future. “I didn’t know even A-B-C of construction and here I was, forced to looked after a full fledged project. It took us 2.5 years to complete it. We finished it, recovered our capital and also made a profit. This unfinished project had taught me a lot and I never looked back from there.”

Bijay Agarwal, MD, Salarpuria group

Growing the construction business, step by step

He kept taking construction projects from there on and was mentored by late G.D Salarpuria. In 1993, Bijay and Mr. Salarpuria visited Bangalore to buy their first property here and they completed their first project named ‘Money Chambers’. They were doing multiple small sized construction projects but when market started opening up in 2000 with MNCs coming in, they took a big leap. They stepped up to the opportunity and took up some very big sized construction projects. Without any pre-sold area and any clients, they were able to finish all the projects they had started. They leased out their properties to Lucent technology, Big Bazaar, Intel Technologies etc.

“Intel said we need plug-and-play. It was a new thing for us and the challenge was that we had to complete it within 90 days or we would be penalized 1.5 lakhs per day. It was a new concept for us, we were ready to give the bank guaranty to them instead but MNCs don’t work like that. It was a new challenging experience and we were apprehensive about many factors not working out but we finally took it with a condition – that we would receive equal bonus of 1.5 lakhs per day if we finish it before time. We completed the project in 67 days and the bonus money we got was a big amount for us in 2002.”

A very tough time

“On Sep 9, 2003, Mr. Salarpuria, my friend, mentor and guide, suddenly passed away. I felt like everything around me was a big hole, a big zero. I didn’t know where to go, how to go. It happened all of a sudden and I had no time to prepare myself to handle it. It just happened in a minute. That year was challenging for us. For 2-3 months we were all very disturbed and the market was also talking about what would happen. We all sat down along with the family and amicably decided how to go ahead. His blessings and guidance are what has kept me going.”

Pearls of wisdom from GD Salarpuria which Bijay never forgot

-          Penny saved is penny earned. Income is not in your hands, you don’t know how much will you earn but if you cut down on your expenses, you can be sure of at least earning that much.

-          Chaadar utni hi phailaani chahiye jitne pair ho (Spend only as much as you can afford, don’t overdo it)

-          Never depend on debt. “When our OD limit by the bank was increased from 50 lakhs to 1 crore in 2001, I was very excited and went to give the good news to Mr. Salarpuria. He said it’s not a good news, it’s a bad one. It means your liability is increased by 50 lakhs. The good news would have been the liability decreasing to 25 lakhs,” shares Bijay.

-          If you want to give some charity, do it in the exact moment you think about it. Don’t postpone it to tomorrow. You may change your mind. Life is not certain, if you want to do it, do it now.

Building a family and future

Bijay shared that they have an extremely high retention rate, above 97%. They have people who have stayed with them right from the day one. They had started with a 5 member team and today the group has over 1600 employees with a 700 members team, in only the construction vertical. He has led the group to venture into a diversified portfolio including aero accessories, facilities, warehousing and IT. They have also entered into education with The Greenwood International school in Bangalore.

He believes that personal rapport with employees is very important. One should not be bossy and feel that he/she should not go and talk first. Treating the team as associates and as a family is very important. “Employees are very smart and they know everything, treat them as family and they will treat you as a family too,” opines Bijay.

Climb one floor at a time, not ten

All human beings are born free and equal, true winners are those who convert every challenge into opportunity and strive to achieve their goals. Every organization faces challenges, and that’s how they become stronger. If a car driver says ‘I have not encountered an accident ever, I would say he has not driven the car’ and same is the case with business. If you have not done mistakes, you haven’t really done any business.

Just do your duty. Don’t think of any work as small or big. When you do small things with devotion, they will keep adding on to become something big one day. Climb one floor at a time; if you climb all ten at a go, you will get breathing problem, jokes Bijay.