[Built to last] The story of an entrepreneur who built a 9000 employee company in 3 countries in 25 years
We often see stories of tech startups that raised multi-million dollar funding. We read about their initial days of struggle until they hit upon that inflection point that led to their rapid scaling and then the funding in due course. But are these the only success stories in the startup landscape? Are there many other stories of survival and resilience that are worth celebrating? We at YourStory are starting a series called “Built to last” from today, where we look at some of the entrepreneurs who have built businesses that have been around for over 10 years now and in many cases not even raised external funding. This is our way of saluting these unsung heroes who have been quietly chipping away at obstacles and building large-scale businesses.
Prashant Ashar, after finishing off his Chartered Accountant course took the usual course of joining a run-of-the-mill Auditing and Taxation firm. But the desire to do something on his own had been burning bright from a very young age and he just could not continue to work at the CA Practice where he was working. Scouting for opportunities led the team to knock on many doors, until Citibank gave them an opportunity to do a few pilot projects. As demand for these small pilot projects grew, this turned out to be lucrative and the team decided to fully focus on growing these services itself, in a true “smell the money” fashion that smart entrepreneurs adopt. The key pattern seemed to be that most of the work was in Financial Analysis and Risk Mitigation services, building their capability there.
From these simple beginnings, in the intervening 25 years, PAMAC has grown to close to 1800 employees in the core businesses across six lines of business and another 7500 employees who provide resource support and processing for various banks. Not just the size of the organization, but also the enviable client list that is amazing – every single leading bank in the country is PAMAC’s customer. Lastly, the organization has grown to have an international presence in UAE and Malaysia, as they have followed and met their key clients’ needs. All of this, without any external funding while managing the normal working capital limits specified by banks!
The management team, led by Prashant shared their thoughts with YourStory on the growth of PAMAC and key points in their journey to their current success.
YS: What is the story behind acquiring the very first banking customer without any prior experience in the field?
Prashant: Citibank was looking out for Chartered Accountants who could assist them in updating their security papers received from clients against loans given by the bank. We not only updated all their security papers in a three month project but also suggested a process by which similar problems could be avoided. That process became a standard template with all the banks thereafter.
YS: Given that this was Prashant’s first entrepreneurial foray, did he have a mentor who he took advice and guidance from?
Prashant: I did not have any specific mentor throughout, but many people played a key role in shaping my beliefs and to assess every situation correctly to take right decisions.
- My father believed in keeping things simple and taking small corrective steps everyday instead of looking for grand solutions to complex problems
- One of my teachers in school taught me that trusting the right people makes them more responsible and they would put in extra efforts to justify the faith which you have reposed in them
- My principal for doing articleship, who was also the owner of the CA firm, made me realise that analysing and understand the problem accurately is equivalent to solving half the problem. One cannot find correct answers if no efforts are made to find out the main issues on hand
YS: Since BFSI clients bring in the major part of the business, does it mean that PAMAC has to operate ata higher degree of transparency in managing account books and other standards?
Prashant: A major concern which all Banks and Insurance Companies have is that of data confidentiality and compliance to various Laws of the Land. We have consciously ensured that all client data is always kept in a secured environment and access is available only to the approved users. We also ensure that all Legal compliances are adhered to and all payments of government dues are done on time. Clients who need proof of such Compliances are provided with necessary documents regularly and the recon statements too are submitted to them. Most of the clients have independent auditors who conduct regular reviews to ensure compliance on data security and IT environment.
Though these are all additional costs, we ensure that PAMAC maintains a high level of transparency in all these matters as a matter of policy.
YS: What lessons has the organisation learnt by working with almost all major BFSI clients in India?
Prashant: Professionalism is the key take away from dealing with banks and insurance companies over the years. It encompasses all parameters like deliverables, timeline and resource commitments, process documentation, review and audit mechanism, ownership of responsibilities and focus on outcomes. We are a part of the whole ecosystem which believes in providing best in class services through continuous innovation and commitment to excel.
YS: What were the major inflection points in the 25 year journey?
Prashant: There have been many inflection points during this journey which have tested our resilience and managerial skills. Every opportunity comes with hidden risks and challenges which test our ability to perform at the highest level. Also, all existing activities too evolve and change over time, which calls for tools to review, adapt and improve at every stage of growth.
The first challenge for us was to build infrastructure in multiple cities and organise teams to manage the execution from such distant locations. Between 1995 and 2003 we managed to open more than 30 branches across India and delivered solutions to clients by staying close to them at the local level.
Setting up our Dubai operations was another challenge and we struggled for almost 5 years to break even and establish ourselves in that market. The learning from that experience made us take a cautious approach when we decided to grow our business in the South East Asia Region through our hub in Kuala Lumpur.
The Economic downturn from 2008 to 2010 was a significant phase which tested our ability to survive in a very depressing financial market. During this period, we worked on reducing the costs and improving our efficiency, redefining our processes and diversifying our portfolio of services.
Parting ways with the other Promoter Director in 2012 was an equally tough phase, though shaping up the company thereafter has been a rewarding experience.
YS: What is the view of other senior leaders about this journey?
Says COO Pravin Shinde about the 30+ branch offices in far flung areas of India, “There is no question on the plethora of issues that arise due to the spread of operations across India but I would prefer to say that operational difficulty disappears once the customers appreciate our connect with them due to our presence near them. We surely do stand out from our competitors in the aspect of our reach across India in our wish to be close to our customers”
About how the HR policies have evolved to keep pace with the large organization and the breadth of operations, Head of HR Babar Mian says, “PAMAC is diverse in the truest sense - not only in terms of multiple skills across different LOBs but we are diverse when it comes to age groups, gender, language and cultures. Despite this I can vouch that we have been able to keep employees engaged and focused towards the PAMAC vision by implementing robust and consistent HR practices across locations and LOBs. Our HR vision is to ensure that every act helps us in being - persistent, agile, meritocratic, accessible and collaborative (PAMACian) in every way
YS: Where is PAMAC headed in the next 5 years?
Prashant: I expect PAMAC to consolidate its position as a premier process management partner for BFSI as well as other industries in India. The key to future growth will be our ability to adapt and implement new technology solutions and increase the range of our offerings to our clients.
Expanding our presence to cover larger Geographies including International Markets will be our prime focus. We are open to collaborate with strategic partners and domain experts to expand our reach and business
YS: Any parting word to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Prashant: Perseverance is the best ladder for long term success. Hard work and smart choices will prevail only when you have the courage and determination to move ahead in spite of severe challenges, unexpected losses and depressing failures. People are unsuccessful not because they did not try enough but because they did not try long enough