[Book review] Thunder Unbottled - From Thums Up to Bisleri


As much as I love online media, the medium has impacted the habit of reading a good old paperback, I confess to be a victim too. But a recent autobiography that I picked up, I couldn’t keep down until I finished the whole book. More than knowing the man, it was the urge to know about the brands he built that kept me turning the pages.

‘Ramesh J. Chauhan - Thunder Unbottled, From Thums Up To Bisleri’ written by Patricia J. Sethi is a memoir of the man who gave India its most loved cola brand – Thums Up and the first bottled water brand – Bisleri. Given my interest in branding and marketing, I was hoping the book would take me behind the scenes of how these iconic brands were built.

I was tad disappointed on that front, because I didn’t get to learn how Ramesh J Chauhan built six super hit brands – Thums Up, Limca, Gold Spot, Citra, Maaza and Bisleri. Nevertheless, there is enough engaging content in this coffee table book about the man and brands, interspersed with pictures to keep you flipping. We spoke to Ramesh J Chauhan for an insight into the man’s genius, but that is for another story. This one is simply about the book. And we have chosen some of the most interesting things said by the serial entrepreneur to inspire and motivate you.


Introduction: Born on 17 June, 1940, Ramesh J Chauhan (RJC) was the fourth child of Jayantilal and Jaya Chauhan. After he finished school in Panchgani & Gwalior, RJC went to Boston’s Chauncy Hall and then to MIT, where he earned his degree in business management, with a minor in mechanical engineering. The untimely death of his brother, made RJC come back to India to take over the reins of the family business. Since joining business in 1961, RJC has not stopped and has built some of the most successful brands seen in the Indian subcontinent today.RJC’s way of doing business

1. RJC’s entire business trajectory underscores the passion with which he attacks an issue. He is on top of everything, all the time: he gives 100% of himself all the way. He claims he is “learning constantly as in the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen constant improvement.” RJC also refuses to dwell excessively on market share and what the competition is upto. “There is not much you can do about the competitors’ moves,” he says. “The only way you can always be ahead of them is that you never follow them, you never copy them. Instead you utilize your time analysing what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. That is the way to grow. There is no substitute for hard work. Your biggest competitor is your own incompetence.”

2. Great distribution is an important corner stone for Bisleri’s success. Innovative packaging and advertising are the other two pillars on which Bisleri has been built. The efforts RJC took to build the Bisleri brand, has today made the name generic to the category. So Bisleri is to mineral water, what Xerox is to photo-copying.

3. “We must be leaders, not followers. We need innovative and committed guys. We must always be learning. Building an attitude amongst people is the key to our success. The day we turn arrogant, like we know everything, we will be buried,” says the septuagenarian.

4. When adequate attention is not given to propelling forward a new product, we retract into a conservative ‘planning for failure mode. Instead of thinking how to make the new product succeed, and what should be our plan for growth, we get into negative turf: worrying about how to salvage a situation -- a very poor business and marketing strategy.

5. RJC is quite affected by Gandhiji’s ideas and concepts and constantly refers to Gandhian theories to make a point. Gandhian theories are paramount when discussing any major issue, he thinks.

6. Tagore fascinates him. He is also impressed by the reference in Gitanjali to man becoming ‘a prisoner of his own wealth’. ‘Go not to the temple to bow down your head in prayer, first learn to bow in humility before your fellowmen. Go not to the temple to pray on bended knees, first bend down to lift someone who is downtrodden.’

7. On success, RJC believes in destiny more than God. You must be ready to respond when destiny offers you the opportunity. You will win when you are passionate about what you do. A single-minded approach is of essence. There is no such thing as competition: it is merely your ability to overcome your own incompetence that will make or break you.

8. RJC is a believer in the unconventional, one of his quotes that reflects this mind set is. “Profit is reward for good management. It is not a right for the investment made. A good organization will make an ordinary person extraordinary!”



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