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Laboratory in Entrepreneurial Motivation - Prof. Sunil Handa

Monday August 17, 2009 , 6 min Read

On a cozy Saturday afternoon at IIT, when you find over hundred people sitting in an auditorium rather than lazying around in their rooms and another fifty lined up outside the door, you know something is different. It definitely was. Entrepreneurship Cell, IIT Kharagpur took the pleasure of inviting Prof. Sunil Handa,

Professor at IIM Ahmedabad and Founder of Eklavya Education Foundation – a no-profit-no-loss endeavour for a Leadership Guest Lecture on 8th August, 2009. Students had thronged up to hear Sunil Handa who is both an entrepreneur with a difference and a teacher with a purpose. He took a class on “Laboratory in Entrepreneurial Motivation, (LEM)”, the same course that he takes at IIMA. This course is an extremely coveted one at IIM and students bid almost 90% of their credits to get admitted to this course. 

He started the class on a grand note, describing his own fascinating tale of the transition from an extremely difficult childhood to become what he is now - a truly inspiring entrepreneur and a mentor to many other entrepreneurs. An alumnus of BITS Pilani 1977 EEE batch, he went on to join IIM Ahmedabad after his graduation. He considers the IIMA experience to be one the most challenging ones in his education, with the grueling competition and the enormous work-load. He believes that the experience of living two great years with the best minds of India is worth every effort. Right after graduating, he joined a company like many of his mates, but soon realized that he could exploit not more than 2% of his potential working on a desk. The job wasn’t challenging enough for him. Frustrated of the work environment, he left his job and decided to establish a consultancy company along with his brother. He took a small loan from his father and as he calls it, “plunged into the ocean of entrepreneurship”. His first idea was a mediocre success. He was not satisfied – wanted more. So he left the venture to enter into something else. The brothers toyed with various ideas with varied success and failure. Finally, after experimenting with about 8 ideas they finally “struck gold” with their 9th idea. His Core Emballage, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company became the largest manufacturer of IV fluids in the second year of its operation and went on to become third largest in the world later. The net worth of the company was over $240 million by 1998. Clearly, it shows that persistence is the key. The opportunities lie scattered around the world, we just need to dig them out for ourselves. 

He further elucidated his point by illustrating the tale of one of his student – Narendra Murkumbi, who started a factory that made Neem insecticide, something which was unheard of at that time. He was relatively successful with the venture, but like his mentor – wanted more. He bought sugar mills of a sick unit, shifted them to his base and started a sugar making company called Shree Renuka Sugars. Today, he is a man worth 1600 crores rupees.  

Prof. Handa kept on stressing on the fact that a job means to limit one’s abilities. Glorified technical clerks, as he calls them, are what IITians and other bright people become when companies lure them with six-figure salaries and perks. He, through examples from his own life and life of his students, was able to show the ability of the human mind and its infiniteness, and how entrepreneurship is able to draw it out. He exhorted people “not to sell your potential for a petty amount which service pays”, he told people to expand their horizon and startup to earn big. There are no traits of an entrepreneur – he says. An entrepreneur does not necessarily have to be a good speaker or a very outgoing person, even a shy and reserved one like another of his students, Raghavendra Rao, who was an average student with a vernacular education background and a particularly reserved person – now is a rich man and owner of a large pharmaceutical company, Orchid Chemicals.

He particularly highlighted the importance of a mentor in an entrepreneur’s journey to success. He says that the mentor should be someone who is someone close, and who is experienced and progressive; somebody who believes in your idea. The person should also be very honest with you and should not give you false assurances. Mentors are really important in the early rigors of an entrepreneur’s career.

Upon being asked, which thing to chose “Value Creation or money”, he replied that both entities went hand and glove. If one is creating something which will add value to the society then the idea is bound to create wealth. He also discussed about the fact that choosing your partner(s) is a very crucial decision. While starting up its really difficult to manage things all by oneself, so its always better to have a partner or two so that the storm can be weathered much easily, but the number should not exceed than that. However, he also warned that if the partnership breaks, it’s normally very disheartening and it takes the individual a lot of time to recover from it. He also took swipe at people selling their successful ventures for instant money.   

The next day he took another class at 8 AM in the morning, and students attended the session with even more enthusiasm. He spoke about potential learning environments where fresh graduates can hone their entrepreneurial skills. With all eyes open wide, he shared with us THREE jobs which one could take up before starting out. First one was to be a part of the execution team of a new upcoming field project of a large company. For instance, if Asian Paints were to setup a factory in Gujrat, they will need a project team that could spearhead their operations there. One could be a part of this team and being an integral member, one can understand the dynamics involved in putting up a new project in motion. Second suggestion was join to a middle-sized company in its growing phase as senior team executive - it would provide the individual a deep insight into the challenges of building a company. Third and the most interesting one was to become an executive assistant to the CEO/MD in a mid-sized company and be right in the middle of every important decision made by the company. One can learn all the nuisances of running a business being an executive assistant to a top brass of the company. Prof. Handa also said that starting up a consultancy is also a great option just after graduating, through which one can learn great deals. 

His life-story, right from a tough childhood to a fighter entrepreneur with a magnetic personality has inspired over 250 people to become entrepreneurs. If India has to solve its problems and make vision 2020 a reality, we need people like him to lift up young minds and motivate them into becoming world leaders. We salute the phenomenon that is – Prof. Sunil Handa.