All About Baniya Chromosome

What defines a community that has given India its biggest entrepreneurs? Rokda finds out.
Ashish Aggarwal        Print Edition: March 15, 2015

Rokda: How Baniyas do Business
By Nikhil Inamdar
PAGES: 256
PRICE: Rs 199
Random House

Don't let the title Rokda screaming in shiny gold distract you. Nikhil Inamdar's first book brings alive the entrepreneurial journey of five baniyas and how they built businesses as diverse as Meru Cabs, Emami, Snapdeal, Hindware and Bansal Classes.

Having grown up on business nuggets of Richard Branson and Jack Welch, my curiousity was aroused just by the catch-line - How Baniyas Do Business.

Inamdar gives you a 10,000-feet view and then also glides down to make sure you get the ground feel as you move from the journey of Neeraj Gupta of Meru Cabs, who began in 1998, to the Radheshyam duo who started 30 years earlier and are now aiming to grow Emami's market cap to Rs 30,000 crore, quite a step up from Rs 20,000 in 1968.

Inamdar's account of Rohit Bansal's business journey from 2007, with its share of tumbles, eventually taking the shape of Snapdeal.com is inspiring. The boy from Malout, Punjab, quit his job to work for himself. Well, Rohit is not the only baniya in the e-commerce limelight today and that highlights the evolution of the entrepreneurial zeal in the community.

The book is candid, unpretentious and shorn of jargon. Easy to read, it captures the failures, key events and decisions that shaped these entrepreneurs.

Inamdar takes us to 1950s where a young R.K. Somany began creating a sanitary ware business, which would blend with the social commitment of a young India. From a 24-year-old learning shop floor work in England's industrial dump at Twyfords plant in Stoke-on-Trent to a sprightly 77-year-old clocking an 18-hour day, Somany's journey to build Hindware as India's largest sanitary ware company is equally insightful. Baniya, as Inamdar explains, is a loose term which refers to the corner shopkeeper, the calculating moneylender or the Marwari businessman next door. The connotation is often negative, but it simply means trader or merchant.

The book has no sermons on how baniyas do business. What comes through is the gut for risk, high-trust culture in joint families, friends and community support, their amazing ability to adapt and their penchant for keeping a close tab on costs - stereotypes that one easily associates with baniyas. However, the episode of V.K. Bansal, who overcame physical challenges and went on to set up Bansal Classes, is perhaps an exception to that. Grab a copy of the book.

(The reviewer co-founded Micro Pension to encourage low-income workers to save for their old age. He is still discovering his baniya genes)

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