49-year-old Arun Kharat once lived in a small chawl in Pune and operated an STD booth. Today, Arun lives in one of the most prestigious areas of the city, and runs Wings Travels, a car rental, radio cab and staff transport management company that employs 600 people and has an annual turnover of Rs 140 crore.
During his early days, Arun was never keen on studies and dreaded the books his brother, who is today a doctor, read. After finishing his Class 10 board examination, Arun started spending time in a small footwear shop run by his uncle. Fascinated by the idea of running his own business, Arun joined a Government Polytechnic College and finished his diploma in Mechanical Engineering.
After switching a few jobs over the next few years, Arun decided to start his own travel business. He started with an STD booth, and slowly evolved into a ticket agent for a private bus company. By 1993-94, he started renting out cars, and in 1996, he started buying cars of his own and building his own fleet.
Today, Wings Travels runs cabs in nine Indian cities - Mumbai, Pune, Gurgaon, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Baroda. He has also expanded into Thailand. “Now, our company-owned cabs number 475. There are more than 800 under the Malik Chalak scheme, and an attached contracted fleet of 5,500 cabs,” Arun told The Weekend Leader.
What makes Arun's Wings Travels a unique venture is their reliance on innovation. Earlier this year, Wings Travels trained three hundred members of Mumbai's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to drive private taxis in the city. The project, started in collaboration with the community organisation Humsafar Trust, aims to end the stigma associated with the LGBT community and provide them with better opportunities.
Similarly, in Bengaluru, Arun came up with an embedded SOS feature in his cabs that gets activated if a passenger panics or screams. “If it seems like the passenger is in trouble, the staff dispatches other cabs nearby to aid them,” Arun told The New Indian Express.