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Lunch with BS: Pawan Kumar Ruia

Temple's new priest

Pradeep Gooptu  |  New Delhi 

Pawan Kumar Ruia
Dunlop's new boss believes factories are like temples and he's the head priest

Pawan Kumar Ruia is still a man in a daze. It was a starry-eyed Ruia who met Business Standard for a "Lunch with BS" on the day of his return to Kolkata after the successful acquisition of Dunlop India Ltd (DIL) and a whirlwind tour of DIL's plants, writes Business Standard.

"I am overwhelmed by the love and warmth of the workers, the quality of the plants, the ... " he gurgles with his trademark shrug of the shoulders. Ruia has been spending the days after December 3, 2005, when the deal was announced, visiting the Dunlop plants at in Bengal, Ambattur in Tamil Nadu, and the Mysore plant of Falcon Tyres, plus a meeting with bankers in Mumbai. He took night flights, travelled by road every day and is happy he did it. The pain of travelling over bad roads has been wiped out by the traditional welcome ("sandalwood garland in Mysore," he beams) and the way the workers and he bonded in open, factory-gate meetings.

The top management team, he admits, are tense. They should be, more so as Ruia intends to empower the mid-level managers to improve ties with workers, and manage a reward-based system to reduce tyre manufacturing costs after the plants reopen.

Ruia is also an impatient man. may be a running company but its Rs 240 crore sales are inadequate. Ruia told the workers that he wants sales and production doubled and they have agreed, he says, as he drinks his tomato shorba and I tuck into my Chinese soup at the Chambers of the Taj Bengal.

Ruia is strictly vegetarian and stays away from even onion and garlic, but the Chambers proves up to the task of satisfying both him and a strict non-vegetarian like me. Ruia knows what he wants "" oriental-style vegetables with baby corn, corn with palak, a dal, a basket of Indian breads and no paneer.

We get down to talking how different the three tyre factories of his new business, at Sahagunj, Mysore and Ambattur, are. Ruia's Sunday visit was an unplanned one, and the welcome he got was also unplanned "" hundreds of children mobbed him, and it was only later that their parents, that is, the Dunlop workers, got to talk to him.

He forced the BIFR-appointed security guards to open the factory gates and held his first, heady gate meeting with workers, he confessed, after which his team cleaned up the local sweet shops and distributed the misthi among workers.

The other two factories got to hear of this and organised formal welcomes, and naturally got their sweets. Because had a large township, the crowd was mostly family groups, while at the others it was only the workers.

Ruia says he understands workers because they see a factory as a temple and him as the pujari "" a belief he shares. Like him, they want the plants to start producing tyres, and told him at his gate meetings that they saw reviving and raising production as the main challenge.

His executives did not want him to visit the factories just now, but Ruia says he did it because he was mentally ready to find the road blocked, be abused and sent back.

If the workers had done so, his response would have been different, but the affectionate welcome now means a different approach.

The lunch is almost forgotten as he narrates how he sees Jessop as his first child and Dunlop as his second, with his other ventures like his garment factory in Bengal featuring somewhere in between.

For a man who emerged from virtually nowhere to pick up Jessop and Dunlop, Ruia makes no effort to conceal that he has faced multiple investigations under every law relating to monetary and foreign exchange dealings, and there are cases against him in every corner of the country. Jessop alone has 102 cases, his personal tally is around 20 to 30 or even more, and now Dunlop will mean many more, he shrugs. "I have survived just because of the judiciary", he announces suddenly, startling the Taj team serving us, and adds grandly, "The judiciary alone protects the ordinary citizen (presumably meaning himself) from politics and the bureaucracy".

Other than the factories and workers, the only thing that tempered his flow during the lunch were the discussions relating to his family. He had taken his wife, children and frail mother to Sahagunj, and his children have suddenly been catapulted into the limelight. His daughters "" 19-year-old Sakshi, 15-year-old Pallavi and 11-year old Radhika "" have been less in the limelight than his 11-year old son Raghav, who has suddenly popped up in various local newspapers. But his children are clearly shielded from the hustle and bustle of his business.

Ruia swears he is guided by the principles of vaastu and will not make a move without its guidance. Beyond this, he has a strangely detached approach towards the challenges of managing and running Dunlop and Jessop, facing up to all the litigation and paying for the acquisitions. Ruia does not bat an eyelid when told that he may lose all if Dunlop fails. At worst, he says, the assets will be seized, and his buyer's guarantee of Rs 125 crore may go as well. His plan is to work hard and he believes that vaastu is on his side "" so any money he loses was not destined to be his anyway. The Dunlop and Jessop assets are relatively debt-free and he sees this as a crucial factor for their survival.

As we order dessert and coffee and his officers start fussing about his next meeting with West Bengal's Industry Minister ("He is fantastic and stood by me"), Ruia goes on about the harassment he faced from other industrialists who competed with him for his acquisitions and used dirty tricks to get him down.

Like his workers, he says, as we get up to leave, he will produce more and more at his plants, and not be distracted by the stockmarkets or speculation in markets. He insists that old-fashioned manufacturing is still the only way to create wealth. Ruia finally has the assets he needs to put this article of faith to the test.

First Published: Tue, December 20 2005. 00:00 IST