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the Message Continues ... 9/126



Newsletter for February 2012


Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12



In recent months, the papers have been buzzing with the news that Gharda Chemicals, the second-largest agro-chemical company in India (Rs. 950-crore turnover), is likely to be sold. Dr. Keki Gharda, Chairman and MD, a veteran chemical scientist, and his wife, Abaan, have planned a public trust to use sale proceeds for philanthropy and to promote industrial research. Here, Dr. Keki Gharda affords a profoundly personal glimpse into his life, times, mission and vision. in his own words.



An attitude Towards Life
Humility and Parsimony in prospeity
A unique interview with a unique individual that would inspire many!

I was born on September 25, 1929, of Kadmi Zoroastrian parents. My parents (father Hormusji Dinshawji Gharda and mother Ratanbai Gharda nee Madon) were both from Athornan families. I never became a navar, as I thought it a waste of important years of my life. I'm somewhat of an agnostic, but an honest man. Of course, one does not preclude the other!
My father was an MA in English - in fact, he was one of the early few to do their MA from the Bombay University back in 1901. My mother studied until the fourth standard. There was a prejudice in those days that menstruating girls had to be taken out of school. But she nursed a passion for learning and I found as a child that she was very well read. However, she was self-trained and the English classics were her favourites. Her father was a medical doctor and a very interesting man. He, too, was very well read and I remember borrowing books from him. He had a wonderful memory, even in his 90s. He would engage me in arguments over Shakespeare's plays, which I borrowed from him to read. If you mentioned a quote, he knew the Act and Scene it was from! He was also a humanist and a philanthropist. Not only would he not charge poor patients, but he'd give them money to buy better food. As I grew up, this stayed at the back of my mind.
From my father's side, my paternal grandfather was a practicing senior priest in one of the Atash Behrams - I cannot recall which one. We stayed in a joint family. Both my grandfathers lived long lives (paternal beyond 85 and maternal beyond 95) so I have longevity in my genes! My father was one of four sons and several daughters, and he never practised as a priest but as an interpreter at the Bombay High Court. I was barely five when my paternal grandpa died and our joint family broke up. Two of my uncles were a bit crooked and persuaded my grandfather to give them his property. This soured my father a great deal and he continued fretting about it. We had an acrimonious household and I felt this was a stupid way of living. I was a conventional religious person until that point. I still wear my 'sudreh' and 'kusti', even though I'm agnostic. I saw that despite being religious, my father was attached to money and made himself unnecessarily unhappy.
We lived in a rented place in Bandra on Hill Road , and I would tell him that it was alright as we were comfortable in most ways. I schooled at St. Stanislaus, where they did not teach any vernacular language so I have poor familiarity with Gujarati. I used to go to the Petit Library to borrow books, and my mother and I would read them. My mother often told me to study and not read so many books. I told her: I come first in class, I am doing my job; now you do yours and leave me alone! I was extraordinarily talented - there's no point beating about the bush. I went to the Elphinstone College , which drew bright students from all over, but I did well there too. My mother had, by then, started telling me often: It's your duty to make as much money as you can honestly throughout your life, but you should die poor. She told me her father did the same thing - giving away a lot in charity.
I had two sisters and was slightly pampered as the youngest male child. However, my parents only admitted me to primary school - thereafter I made it on my own merit. By the age of 15 I was functioning as the head of our household. My elder sisters were quarrelsome and had their own mind. I used to control them because my father could not!
Gharda Chemicals was thrust on me.
I believe you are what you are because of your genes (85 percent) and the remaining is shaped by your environment, which also you cannot always choose. I think we're creatures of chance floating around the cosmos and have no reason to be conceited. I am gifted with good brains and believe I have unusual talents to be used for the benefit of others. Most people search for happiness through the accumulation of material wealth. I also accumulate wealth - but for others. That gives me happiness and continues to motivate me. I'm a Parsi Zoroastrian, and in the Parsi culture there is a large emphasis on work ethic. That is why Parsis have been largely successful.
When I look back on how I started Gharda Chemicals, I must concede it was virtually thrust upon me. I had finished my PhD in the US with three scholarships from three leading chemical companies - incidentally I am now competing with them and making them uncomfortable! I did well, studying and later teaching (Chemical Engineering for a while at the University of Oklahoma ). I came back to India after six years to see my parents and found that my father was hospitalised. During my visit, he died. My mother was left all alone, and she didn't know much about money. She told me to stay back. I had a permanent job in the US and they said they could hold it for a year. I told them it was unlikely I would return. I worked as a Consultant for some time. I felt I was being underpaid. So I saved some money, and my sisters and mother all put together some and I started Gharda Chemicals with Rs. 2 lakh in 1964. We began operating in 1966. Gharda's first product was a dye called German Blue. This used to be made by a big multinational and I started out copying them. But in two to three years I improved it and made it a superior product at a lower price. From the start of my career I was making multinationals 'run'! My business was run on both idealism and pragmatism. My idealism was that if I could make something cheaper, it was wrong to sell it at a much higher price. My pragmatism was that this drove away competition!
When you start a business, for the first five years there is generally no profit and you don't pay the staff any bonus. But we started doing so almost immediately and over the years have had very little labor problems. We've had one or two strikes and I'd tell the workers I don't care for money, but you will lose your livelihood. They would come back to work, saying their wives sent them back!
We have grown with internal resources. We stared with Rs. 2 lakh and today have over Rs. 500 crore (capital plus reserves). And this is after paying all our taxed honestly. Our current valuation is between Rs. 1,000-1,200 crore. We sell our goods all over the world, with the exception of Japan . We started with just nine people. I used to work 16-hours-a-day, coming home after midnight.
The neighbours asked my wife, Abaan, if I had a mistress. She would say yes - Chemical Technology! I remember telling my wife one day - I have two loves, my work and you; but work will always come first.
Today, we have 1800 people across four factories. Our factories are world-class and we have met all the ISO standards for chemical manufacture and continue to have a strong emphasis on R&D.
No pressure to live fancily.
My wife, Aban is a graduate from St. Xavier's College and she did her PhD from the University of Mumbai . We live a simple life, and since both of us are PhD's I used to joke that she had the most educated driver and I had the most educated cook anybody could have! For years we kept no servants - a year ago we started employing a part-timer. Abaan still cooks. I used to wash my own clothes, not out of spirit of masochism but because I am not fortune's hostage. My wife, I must say, has never asked me for anything - not even jewellery. We run the house on about Rs.10,000 per month, and we have never been under any pressure to live a fancy lifestyle. If she sometimes falls short of cash, she adds a little out of her own savings!
I am now in the process of creating the Abaan and Keki Gharda Foundation, on the lines of the Belinda and Bill Gates Foundation (with a contribution of Rs. 600-700 crore). The new Foundation will comprise: 1.The Gharda Foundation, which is a social work organisation running two small hospitals in Dombivili and Lote (on the Mumbai-Goa road); 2. A research foundation, which will undertake research (my passion) and also generate funds through research for the Foundation.
Over the years, we have instituted various welfare projects. We have a mobile clinic that goes into the villages near our factories to offer health care advice. We have mobile libraries attached to each factory and they go from village to village. We have two hospitals, which I mentioned earlier, run to high standards. We have also started an Engineering College in the Konkan region, near Chiplun, called the Gharda Institute of Technology (GIT), and it offers Chemical/Electrical/Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. I have already spent Rs. 40 crore on it and will spend another 10. We have 60 students, all selected through the Common Entrance Test. If any Parsi students show an inclination for engineering and get through the Common Entrance Test, then I could help them with admissions through my management quota. But for me to reserve seats for Parsis may not be possible. Within the next five years I see the institute getting the top accreditations in the country. We are also exploring the option of students getting an MBA in the fifth year of their engineering degree, in association with the Wellingkar Institute.
As Parsis, we have a legacy of hard work and social service. There have been so many institutes built with Parsi money in our country. (In my case, Parsi money and parsimony could be an apt pun!). As Parsis we are barely 50,000 in India 's one billion population. Yet in all the professions, in whatever field, there is always at least one Parsi right at the top! In my own field, several accolades have come my way, but the one I cherish is the American Institute of Chemists Award - this is generally an award given to chemists (not chemical engineers) and three out of ten winners of this award go on to win the Nobel Prize. I was the first Asian to get it. Now, I am in the process of selling my company and focusing on my two passions: social work and research. I have some innovative ideas for research and, who knows, I may end up with the Nobel Prize!
Dr. Keki Gharda received the FICCI Award from former President, Dr. A.P.J. Kalam







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