AK Gandhi is one of the biggest brands in white goods retails today in Vidarbha. Sitting in his office in Nagpur, which he refers to as the ‘City of Newspapers’, over a cup of coffee, the man behind the brand – AK Gandhi himself in an interview with Nation Next talks about Ratan Tata, the iconic Nano, his brand name, and more…
Ratan Tata visited your showroom in the recent past. What was the reason behind that visit?
Ratan Tata was here to appreciate the number of sales of Nano. He only visited two dealers in Nagpur, and he wasn’t even ready to meet reporters as such. Nano is his baby, and he wanted to know as to what exactly was the reason for Nano to not meet the projected sales records. He sat here for two hours, directly communicating with customers about the good and the bad factors of the car. He was here with his entire team, and everybody in the team was taking notes about every minuscule thing.
But Nano is no longer that ‘one lac’ car, as it was initially showcased as. Don’t you think that has affected the sales?
Nano has come a long way from where it had started. The ‘one lac’, ‘cheap’ car does not exist anymore. We don’t want it to. It started off as a car for the common man, but now it is a smart city car. You cannot call it a replacement for the Maruti 800 or the Maruti Alto, because with the power steering and the automatic transmission, the name Nano has become sort of a brand of its own. Ratan Tata specifically brought about these new changes in the design after visiting Nagpur and going through at all the feedbacks. Today, Nano has reached a level where it can be compared to the high range minis and hatchbacks. The idea of Nano was ahead of its time, and now we’re accordingly changing with the times.
The brand AK Gandhi, which is built in your name, has become a reputed, trusted household brand to reckon with. How and when did it come into being?
I never really formulated this whole idea of my name as a brand going mainstream. I’m a mechanical engineer, and when I was three years old in my profession at an industry, the government of India came up with a new enterprise – Vijay Scooters for unemployed engineers. I was selected through some written exams and interviews, and was given the position of a Retail Outlet Manager (in 1975). Dealership at that time was a very prestigious thing. The scheme failed in the long run, but the dealership was on my name by default. This is how the brand name ‘AK Gandhi’ came into being. Once the name started became a trusted name, I decided to name my new ventures after the same name.
How has your personal life helped in bringing your brand to where it is today?
I was always a part of Students Council in my school. I was a good sportsman, and displayed quite a few leadership qualities. I’ve always been a born salesman, and all that has certainly helped me reach where I am today.
In this economy, how do you manage to keep up? With everything being bought online today, isn’t this whole concept of brick-and-mortar concerning business doomed to be obsolete?
The whole new online craze is like a balloon. It’ll continue to grow in size until it bursts one day. I hear a lot of people complaining about how they received rocks in mobile phone boxes, which are bought online, or something similar. There is no trust involved. And at the end of the day, the only thing constant in this world is change. Of course every mode of retail and distribution is going to change but this is where I have to keep my head straight. I have to adapt myself with every new thing that is born in the world of business. Plus, this is India, and everything here has a personal touch. Local grocery stores are thriving even after this relatively new concept of malls and supermarkets, because people prefer to shop at a familiar place rather than at some commercial giant.
Do you ever get touchy about the fact that you’re catching the flak off people when they complain about your brand, and this way they abuse you in turn?
You need to understand that I’m not AK Gandhi. Every person I employ, every product I sell, every service I provides, makes AK Gandhi. For every time somebody complains, there are ten times when people place their trust in the products, in the services and in AK Gandhi. Right now, I’m at a level where I consider myself above all criticism.
What are your plans on retirement?
I don’t have any plans on retirement. I don’t know how to. I can’t really retire. Being a leader of sorts ever since school times, I’ve always been interested in politics and social service. Right now, I consider it’s too late for me to join politics, but I’ve been an active social worker for long now. I still believe that more revenue is better than more profits, because that way I’m reaching out to a larger audience. You’re so much more than you brand name and how much money you make.
Your success story is an inspiration for many people. Can you identify what worked in your favor on your way to success? Were they some personal traits of yours as a businessman, or the time when you initiated the business worked for you?
I believe that time should never be a deciding factor for a business to prosper. Any time is a good time to make everything around you work in your favor. Also, character, sincerity, and integrity play an important part in developing you, not just as a businessman, but also as a human being. I’ve worked for the government; I’ve served in the army; I have an engineering degree; I worked as a Rallies Wolf service engineer repairing tools. Everything I did in school played its own part in everything I’ve achieved. And one of the principle things was that I had nothing. I knew the value of money. And when you have nothing, the only way to go is up.
Do you ever get disappointed that the new generation does not realize the value of money?
No, not at all. As I said, change is constant. We have to be ready for it when it comes. The new generation has its own principles about money, and the next generation will definitely come up with something different. I have seen this happening, everywhere, and we just have to go ahead with it.
What changes are you bringing in your business approach?
We should have a personal platform. Today, we have networking tools for connecting people, so I expect to connect our 5 lacs customers and provide them with reliable one to one service.
Succession is definitely one of the most important parts of businesses. Have you started planning about it? Is partition of business still a taboo in your way of thinking?
Succession is a natural process. Interests and capability play an integral role in deciding the division of a family business. It’s not spontaneous; it’s a process, which has already begun. I did not inherit this business, but I’m going to leave behind a legacy. I think a man must know his limitations. Getting emotionally attached to a business is a liability.
Do you have any unfulfilled wishes?
I always wanted to get into politics. I would always be the President or the Secretary in school, but now it’s too late to get into all that. Right now, I’m focusing on social service. I’m the President of Nagpur Shikshak Mandal, Mohta Science, for the last six years. So I’m doing my part.