“I had love for electronics but I was a marine engineer by profession”

Vijay Mansukhani, MD, Onida Group

Ever wondered if you would have the courage to stake everything you owned when the right opportunity came your way? Vijay Mansukhani, MD, Onida Group, in an exclusive interaction with Baishakhi Dutta of the EFY Group, talks about how his successful journey in the Indian consumer electronics industry began, after he made one of the boldest decisions of his life. Excerpts follow…

My childhood
Born in Mumbai (which was then called Bombay) in 1949, my childhood was mostly spent in boarding school at Mussoorie. This was primarily because my mother was unwell and my father had a travelling job. Your childhood changes drastically once you get exposed to the culture of a boarding school. It teaches you to be tough and think for yourself. For me, life at the boarding school was like living in a jungle. I felt so since the boys there were emotionless and therefore, very early in my childhood, I was taught the strategy of the survival of the fittest.

My father passed away quite early and subsequently my mother brought us up – I have one brother and a sister. My mother became a working professional. At that time, there was no safety net in terms of monetary support or the business that my father left behind. We had to strive through those difficult days and, together, we crossed quite a few hurdles. That phase taught us to do everything on our own—it made us strong and resilient.

After completing my schooling from Oak Grove School in Mussoorie, I joined the marine engineering college in Mumbai. Subsequently, I joined the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI). I saved all the money that I earned in the merchant navy and, later, put it to use in starting Onida. I did not belong to a rich family and, so, wherever I am today is because of the money that I carefully saved in the initial days of my career. Today, standing tall at the age of 70 after becoming a successful businessman, I look back and realise that I owe my success to that tough life at boarding school—for it made me what I am today.

My son Akshay is running a successful business called Malabar Investments and is totally on his own. My daughter is into investing in startups and is living life on her terms. I am a totally self-made man, and I have ensured my children get that ‘self-made’ taste while growing up.

How Onida happened
After working with the SCI, I soon left for Australia, as I was offered triple the salary that I was earning in India. Later, I left that too for a job in Iran, where I was paid double what I was getting in Australia.

So, at that time, I was earning six times the salary that Indians in the merchant navy were earning, and I saved all the money to start Onida. I and Gulu Mirchandani started the company when the Asian Games happened in Delhi, as the late PM Indira Gandhi had opened the floodgates of opportunities by launching national telecasts and colour television around that time. Since my engineering days, I had been looking for the right opportunity. During the Asian Games, we spotted that opportunity, recognised it for what it was, gave up my career as a marine engineer and took that leap of faith. That’s how Onida happened, in 1982.

“Start looking for a gap in the market, for the real opportunity lies there”

Grabbing the right opportunity
I had love for electronics for I was a marine engineer by profession. But during the Asian Games, we took every penny we had saved carefully and went to Hong Kong. From there, we brought TVs into India and earned around a 50 per cent profit. Strangely, I started earning more than what I had done as a marine engineer.

As we slowly expanded our business, we started getting credit from suppliers, which slowly got extended to 60 days. We started turning over that money twice or thrice, thus getting more cash flow by carrying on trading. And, that’s how we got into the trading business. This was when JVC, the renowned Japanese company, came to India to evaluate all the brands. And the firm chose to work with my business partner, Gulu Mirchandani, and me—JVC chose Onida!

Hence, one should recognise opportunities and just grab them. The problem nowadays is that most people do not recognise the right opportunity and if you don’t do that at the right time, it’s gone forever.

The turning point
In the initial days, we did not know too much about getting bank credit. Therefore, we had to get some private finance. Gradually, the IPO happened and turned out to be successful. The second big challenge for us was advertising. Nobody would take on our advertising since we did not have a budget. In fact, we didn’t even know the real game of budgeting back then. Finally, a new company called Advertising Avenues agreed to design the advertising campaign for Onida, without a budget.

It designed the brand’s logo, the iconic devil. Then came our tagline, ‘Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’. And the whole world just accepted that we were actually the neighbour’s envy and owner’s pride! The game changed and we started climbing the ladder of success, never looking back.

My major contribution to the industry
We believe that our major contribution was that my company gave customers a high quality, innovative product, because Onida had the best collaboration in the world with JVC, and that did make us stand out from the rest.

We focused on the best electrical quality and also the best mechanical quality in our products. That’s how it all worked and the whole world accepted us. Onida TVs are known to run for more than 25 years and, at times, more than that. We just dedicated ourselves to bringing out the best quality product, and that is how we changed the dynamics of the whole industry.

My success mantra
Innovation and quality are two areas where we never cut corners. Our tagline says ‘Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’; but when we say so, we always ask ourselves one question—why should anyone buy an Onida product, when they can buy brands like Samsung, LG and Sony? The answer is we continuously make an effort to ensure that our products are better than these brands in terms of innovation as well as quality.

At Onida, we can be judged as the best objectively and not subjectively. Objectively, we offer the best sound quality for TVs. Onida ACs are made up of copper and not aluminium. In the microwave segment, we are the only company that gives the weighing scale. Among washing machines, only Onida gives the brush to clean the collars and cuffs of shirts. In every segment, we give something that is not provided by other companies. So when we say we are better, we need to first say why we are better, objectively, since the real success strategy lies there.

My management style
At Onida, we have separated the ownership and management. The ownership might be with us, but the management is in the hands of professional experts. These professionals are exceptionally bright people from the industry. In fact, our CEO Mr. G Sundar has been with us for the last 32 years, and he is a chartered accountant, company secretary, and a cost accountant.

We focus a lot on soft issues like style, skills and staffing. The hard issues for us are the organisation’s structure, system and strategy. While selecting employees, we tend to examine the hard and soft issues very carefully and therefore those chosen are making a big difference in our company today.

Motivating the team is very important for the management and, therefore, we have adopted the policy of leading from the front. We keep on articulating the importance of integrity and organisational values, so our mission and vision statement sets the culture of the company. We sincerely believe that it is innovation, quality, integrity and respect for peers that sets the culture of an organisation.

My definition of luck
Starting Onida was the boldest decision of my life and it happened because we just recognised the right opportunity. Many call that luck, but what exactly is luck? The definition of luck for me is being prepared to grab the right opportunity. If you are prepared and you grab the opportunity that you spot, that is when people call you lucky. If you are not prepared when an opportunity arises, you lose your big chance to some other ‘lucky’ person. I strongly believe that if you are prepared, then hundreds of opportunities will come your way. So just be prepared and let opportunities knock on your door. Recognise the right one and you are set for a new beginning.

My message to entrepreneurs
To all the young brave hearts, my suggestion is, ‘Look into the future and take some bold steps, for it is survival of the fittest. Have the courage because only the brave hearts succeed. If you continue to do what you did in the past then you will remain stuck there for the rest of your life.’

My message to all entrepreneurs will be, ‘Ask yourself what you can do that nobody else can. If you can answer this question, then you are already a winner. Do something different. Start looking for a gap in the market, for the real opportunity lies there. Look at the demographics and try to identify where you can get lucky!’

The future looks promising
The world is changing really fast and therefore predicting the roadmap for the next few years is very difficult. Today, if you don’t build a global company, you cannot survive the race. And to be an international company you have to focus on strategy rather than only on operational excellence. Thinking about the days to come, we at Onida are completely focusing on strategy and that includes acquisitions, mergers and brand extension. In fact, all our goals are strategic in nature. But our end goal is to create value for our shareholders.