He gave away his life’s savings and took off into enterprise, all on an impulse. Today, ‘packer and mover’, Ramesh Agarwal is making the kind of crores his grocer father would never have dreamt of. Shailaja Mukherjee traces his milestones
When he was still a small-town boy, completing his education in the nondescript village of Nalwa in Haryana, the only dream Ramesh Agarwal harboured was that of touching the skies. He achieved this, quite literally, when he joined the Indian Air Force. Figuratively, he touched the skies all over again when he set up his own enterprise, in the packing and moving segment, and led it to become a multi-crore empire. The latter is the reason we’re speaking to him today.
Ramesh Agarwal owns and helms Agarwal Packers & Movers Ltd, a part of the 600-crore rupees Agarwal Group. When you look at the spread and reach of his business today, it sounds impossible that all this came about on a measly initial loan of Rs 4,000.
How the seeds were sown
“I was born and raised in Nalwa, a small village in Hissar,” begins Mr Agarwal. He says his father was a simple grocer who took pride in the principles of honesty and righteousness. “He was always telling me that no matter what, I should never cheat anyone. His values became my greatest inheritance, and his belief system formed the basis for my success,” he says.
Mr Agarwal, like most other children from this 300-household hamlet, went to the village government school. “It was a good school, but without any frills. Hindi was the only medium of instruction. We had no computers or fancy labs,” he recounts. He graduated from Kurukshetra University, and set about achieving his dream of making it to the Indian defence sector.
Of dreams and struggles
“I had always wanted to be a man in uniform, and pictured myself standing tall and proud, next to a mammoth aircraft. It made me apply for a Diploma at the MTI in Chennai. I was surprised when I got through,” Mr Agarwal remembers. However, getting into the system was just the beginning of a long struggle for acceptance and acknowledgement. “I was always nervous, owing mainly to my discomfort with English. I feared asking questions. Clad in a kurta-pyjama and slippers, I felt like a gross misfit there,” he says.
Ramesh made the transition from student to professional in the year 1980, as an airman with the Indian Air Force (IAF). A back-bencher due to his low self-confidence, he suffered in class despite being proficient in mathematics and ease with grasping new concepts. “The first three months, my batchmates didn’t even know I existed. They were all from reputed private schools and I wasn’t half as fluent in English as them. I would just sit and quietly listen to them speak. Often, they spoke so fast I could barely keep up,” he goes back in time. Mr Agarwal’s worries were compounded by the fact that his flying officer, Solomon, was a South Indian who spoke little Hindi. “My limited knowledge of English meant that I was unable to frame my queries well enough. Teachers took that as a sign of inadequacy and often dismissed me off hand.” However, even as he struggled on in an environment that could have been seriously detrimental to his self-esteem, he never quit trying.
The efforts bore fruit. Recognition followed, as did awards. The title of “Best Airman” was conferred on Mr Agarwal in 1980, outdoing a whopping 542 cadets, most of whom had had a more privileged education.
Swerving into the fast lane
However, while he served the forces for another six years, he felt his destiny telling him this wasn’t his real playground. He gave up what had been the culmination of a lifelong dream, to set up something of his own. And while most people in his place would save every penny before uncertainty, Mr Agarwal gave away every saved rupee to war widows! “Yes, I donated a sum of Rs 43,000, my entire life’s savings. It was just a small gesture signifying my respect for the forces.”
With not a dime in his pockets, Mr Agarwal borrowed a sum of Rs 4,000 from a friend’s mother to start his own venture. His first consignment, aimed at helping a family relocate, fetched him Rs 6,000 i.e. a modest profit of Rs 2,000. But by now, he had sensed the vacuum in this sector and smelt opportunity. Things only got better. “I began from scratch,” reminsces Mr Agarwal. “But I had foresight and dedication on my side. I could see how India was going to grow with the Industrial Revolution. I bought my first truck within two-and-a-half years of beginning, and today my fleet has crossed 1,000 vehicles. It has been a rewarding journey,” he smiles.
Rewards and recognition
Recognition has been constant too. Agarwal Packers & Movers Ltd has been felicitated with the “Business Sphere Award 2005” for exemplary services in the industry. In 2008, Ramesh Agarwal was awarded with the “Innovative of Logistics Industry” award by AITWA and most recently, he won the “Transport & Logistics Business of the Year Award 2010”, handed out by Small Business Awards. For a man who believes that your altitude in life depends almost entirely on your attitude, it seems only natural that Ramesh Agarwal has made it so big in life.