This Ludhiana-based entrepreneur built Rs 90-Cr business by embracing change and staying ahead of the curve
With a consistent focus on automation and R&D, Rajnish Industries is staying ahead of the curve and clocking a turnover of Rs 90 crore by exporting to more than 50 countries.
After completing his engineering, Ludhiana-based Rahul Ahuja joined his father’s business in 1993. But the second-generation entrepreneur says that from the beginning, he wanted to carve his own niche in the business.
Rahul’s father Rajnish Ahuja had started Rajnish Industries in 1968 with an investment of Rs 2,000 in Ludhiana, Punjab. The company manufactures components for the diesel injection system. Be it a diesel-run car, electric generator, tractor or trains, the diesel injection system is part of every diesel-run machinery. Rajnish Industries had two manufacturing units in Ludhiana, and Rahul was given an independent charge of one of the units.
“My father could not afford to buy machinery to make such parts. So, he resorted to hiring machines on rent and got the parts made strictly under his supervision,” says Rahul. Given the criticality of the injection system in the functioning of a diesel engine, Rahul says, “My father’s complete focus was on the quality. He even went door-to-door to sell his products, which he was assured were of supreme quality,” he adds.
After four years into the business, Rahul says the business became his life. He was so much involved in the business that he would always carry the product images with him.
Rahul says, while working at his father’s company, he came across an article stating, “Out of the many businesses, JRD Tata adored Air India the most. Because he had built it and not inherited it.”
“That statement inspired me to start something on my own too. Something which I could proudly call my prodigy,” says Rahul.
This laid the foundation for the new export wing of Rajnish Industries, called Rajnish International. While Rajnish industries had been catering only to the domestic automotive market, with the launch of Rajnish International, the company ventured into international markets by 1999.
The company now exports to more than 50 countries, clocks a turnover of Rs 90 crore and employs around 800 people.
Rahul claims, “Whatever machinery in India runs on diesel, Rajnish Industry will have some part deployed in at least 99 percent of them.”
Riding the elephant in the room
As any business sees a host of challenges, Rajnish International also faced issues in terms of competition. Sometime around 2002, Rahul recalls coming across an advanced automobile technology called Common Rail Direct Injection (CRDi) in Frankfurt, Germany, which he estimated to pose a grave threat to the company.
He says, “On encountering that technology, I sensed that whatever we were doing till then was inevitably going to become obsolete in a short term.”
Realising that he could not remain oblivious to the looming challenge, Rahul says, “That time, I talked to myself, and a voice from within said, ‘Don’t be scared of the elephant in the room. Instead, ride on it’.”
Rahul, therefore, collaborated with an Italian company and imported the machine. Simultaneously, he hired retired engineers from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to do reverse engineering so that the company could start manufacture by itself. Now, Rajnish Industries sells those machines in workshops across India. Rahul says,
“It is important to spend on automation and R&D on a consistent basis. We have separate spending targets for developing both. New product development and automation are keeping us ahead of the competition."
Shortage of skilled labour
According to Rahul, the industry in Punjab has been increasingly facing shortage of low-skilled labour as well as professionals.
Rahul attributes three reasons behind the problem. First, the young generation in Punjab look down upon the industry work and consider it unworthy and degrading their stature. Second, unlike earlier times, not many people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are migrating to Punjab as those regions are seeing development. Third, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), which guarantees 100 days of unskilled manual work to rural households in India, has further created the shortage as many opt for it instead of choosing the traditional industry employment.
Even though the company has been spending consistently to foster automation, but, in the end, professionals are needed to run those machines, says Rahul.
Rahul also considers the advent of electric vehicles as a threat to his business. In India, even though the project has not picked up speed like the US and China, in the coming 20-30 years, its nationwide expansion is inevitable, says Rahul.
To hedge such future risks, Rahul plans to venture into the hospitality industry. He says, “Punjab has a huge potential for tourism and the allied activities.” Gauging this, Rahul, in partnership with others, will be launching a hotel in Ludhiana.
Rahul has a piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs. He says, “One must control the cost. I have seen many businesses getting vanished because of over expenditure.”
Substantiating this, Rahul recalls the initial years of his export business when he scheduled his train journeys across Europe in such a way that he did not have to book a hotel during the entire trip. He would opt for waiting rooms at stations or would travel in the night and attend meetings during the day.
Apart from controlling costs, Rahul also considers building a team, training and investing in them crucial to the success of a business. He says, “Ultimately, your team has to run your business. If you care for them, they will care for you.”