Churu's Marwari, Nand Kishore Chaudhary's Jaipur Rugs a matter of discourse at Harvard!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Posted: Jan 1 2012
If there was anybody to give traditional carpet weaving in India a fresh lease of life, it has to be Nand Kishore Chaudhary. A Marwari from Churu district of Rajasthan, Chaud hary saw carpet-making in India being run by middlemen. As a result, artisans who belonged to the poorest of poor, were being shortchanged. Not only did he alter the situation by setting up Jaipur Rugs, his supply chain today is a matter of discourse at Harvard.
What drew you toward social enterprise ?
I like to interact with people. About 33 years ago, when I started with two looms at home, I realized most of the weaving work was being done by the so-called 'untouchables' . That was my epiphany. There was no doubt I had to empower them.
Your brainwave... I've had an English friend, Aila Cooper, for 35 years. He suggested to me once that tribals and the untouchables were actually fiercely loyal and committed people. He told me that the downtrodden only need love, empathy and affection . I pondered over what he said and applied it in the tribal region of Valsad in Gujarat . I was soon training about 15,000 of such people and got started with my operations.
Did you consider any alternate career? My father owned a shoe shop in Rajasthan. I was a shopkeeper and also got a cashier's job in a bank, which I didn't take up. But I decided to start something of my own so that I could enjoy doing what I do-meeting people.
Does a social CEO work differently from a pure profit company CEO? It's very different because you need to think about people. About 97% of the people I work with are illiterates. It's very different working with them, particularly when it comes to harnessing talent and capabilities.
What is the difference you seek to make? Uneducated people who are considered downtrodden have the wisdom and capabilities. I think it is a great opportunity for all businesses . My purpose is to involve such people in businesses.
How are you qualified to make that change? I'm still learning (laughs). University of Michigan has done a case study on Jaipur Rugs and Harvard University has tied up with us to study our supply chain and give suggestions for improvement, if need be. I was with NR Narayanamurthy last week at a conference on rural development. I learnt two things from him. First, if you have big dreams, you should excel at execution. Two, you should also excel at the speed of such execution.
Biggest crisis to date... It has to be finding the right people in top management as they don't want to work with illiterates . So I have to personally go to institutions such as IRMA, IIMs and ISB to tap talent. Today, we have [people from IRMA and IIMLucknow working with us. This year, we have eight interns from the IIMs.
Going by the numbers... Over the next seven years, the Rs. 75 crore Jaipur Rugs will be a Rs. 500 crore company, with an additional investment of Rs. 300 crore pumped into it and a profit of at least Rs. 25 crore.
Your big idea for hitting bull's eye... From merely rug-making , I want to get into accessories-furniture , curtains. I want to offer complete interior decor solutions to the consumer.
What are your personal career goals? I want to get top talent, which we call in-house as 'A players' . We work in a highly unorganized sector. I want to organize it and bring about a process orientation. I also want to go in for major product innovation at the grassroots level.
Your toughest call to date... I was not very comfortable with my extended family and friends in my business. So I included only like-minded people in it. And that was a tough call. I want to keep it as professional as possible.
Your moment of pride... In 2008, CK Prahalad (late management guru) called me up and asked if I knew who he was. My jaw dropped. Of course, I knew who he was. So I asked him why he was calling me. He said he wanted to do a case study on Jaipur Rugs since we were connecting the rural poor with some of the richest people on earth. He called me to the University of Michigan to deliver a lecture the same year.
Explain your job in one line It is to see happiness on the face of my people.
Any homegrown philosophy? Finding yourself by losing yourself. The more I lose myself, the more I find myself.
A question you've always wanted to ask someone... I always want to figure out an individual's natural skills.
What can you teach the corporate world? The biggest universal truth is death. So how can we leave behind a legacy we don't have? Bottomline, be happy with what you have and be useful to everybody.