Feb 4, 2009
It was July 30, 1930 17-year-old teenager B Manjunath Pai had only Rs 30 cash as capital and a bicycle to boast. He however had oodles of dreams to strike it big. He rented out a small shop in front of the Venkatramana Temple in Karkala and rolled 30 bidis initially. He rolled beedis at night and sold them from house to house peddling his bicycle during the day. By his indomitable courage, single-minded devotion, dedication, hard work and armed with never-say-die spirit he laid a sturdy foundation for a business empire which has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 78 years. Today Bharath Bidi Works Private Limited that brings out "30 brand" bidis, rolls out about 60 million bidis a day, employs 50,000 people directly and an equal number indirectly and has an annual turnover of about Rs. 300 crore.
While Manjunath Pai established the business empire and saw it through the initial years it was his son B Ganapathi Pai who carried forward this legacy with the overwhelming verve and enthusiasm of his father. It was his vision, drive, dynamism, enthusiasm, energy and the urge to succeed, that firmly established Bharath Bidi Works Private Limited with a pan-India presence. At 73, having recovered from a massive stroke in 2001 he possesses the same vigour and exuberance to guide his young team in managing the business.
Being the eldest son, Ganapathi Pai joined his father in business in 1954. Manjunath Pai had six children including Ganapathi Pai who was the only son of his first wife. Ganapathi lost his mother when he was hardly 11 months old and was brought up under the love and care of his step-mother. "I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters and at no stage was I made to feel being a step-child. My step-mother however, showered me with the same love and affection as that of her children", he says fondly recalling his childhood days. Soon after him his brothers Damodar and Madhava Pai also joined the business to strengthen the hands of their father in business.
From a one-man-army Manjunath Pai was armed with the strength of 3 sons in business and the young and energetic minds contributed a great deal to help the company take firm roots not only in Mangalore but in different parts of Karnataka and India. Bidis were not known outside India until Bharath Bidi successfully spread its tentacles by introducing bidi to the outside world in the year 1975. The Company began to export the product to other countries and today the company has a stranglehold on exports capturing 95% export market share.
From 1976 to 1982 the family witnessed a series of tragedies starting with the death of his brothers in 1976 and 1979. But Ganapathi had his indomitable father beside him to cope with the twin tragedies, though it was a big blow for the family. But tragedy stuck again in 1982 when he lost his father Manjunath Pai, who was the pillar of the strength for the family. After that for 15 long years Ganapathi Pai was the one man army who carried on the mantle with an unflinching resolute. "My children were small and I had to work for long hours but never felt tired. It was the most difficult phase of my life. But my father's words echoed in my ears. He always used to say that I have to develop this institution and scale it to greater heights of glory. That gave me the strength to work with a single-minded devotion", he recalls.
Nevertheless, he is happy the way company has shaped up. He is thankful to all those who have had a hand in making Bharath Bidis what it is today- a gigantic institution, more than just a 30 brand. It has generated signification employment, initiated meaningful social welfare schemes for the underprivileged and earned valuable foreign exchange for the nation. He has no regrets in life. "My vision is that the young generation must work hard and kept the pennant of the company flying high", he opines.
The company exports its products to 16 countries including UAE, South Africa, France, USA, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Ganapathi Pai says "we are proud to export to country like Japan. When the whole world buys from Japan we are exporting our product to them".
Challenging Times ahead for Bidi Industry
Bidi has been a major industry in undivided Dakshina Kannada district for many decades together. With almost 90 percent of the employees being women, it has played a crucial role in providing livelihood to thousands of poor families, empowered women and prevented large scale migration of people. But the industry is in doldrums because of government inaction. His son Ananth Pai says "we feel that bidi industry should be spared from certain government Acts as it generates huge employment".
The problem afflicting the industry is the huge disparities in wages in the north and south. There is a huge North-South divide as far as wages are concerned. In South Kanara the wages are highest next only to Kerala. But in Kerala the bidi industry has collapsed unable to bear the burden of ever increasing wages.
The company has to fight directly with manufacturers of the north. As raw materials are based in the North and the finished product also has sizeable market in the north, South Kanara-based companies have to spend huge amount on transportation. As a result, price wise, the 30 brand bidi has not been able to compete with those of the north which has lower production cost. The fallout of this has been that the production has come down considerably and with that company's employees are not getting enough work.
Knowing that disparity in wages as a major threat to the industry, Ganapathi Pai has strived hard for a national wage policy for the bidi industry, but did not succeed. "If the government introduces a national wage policy there is good scope for the bidi industry. Or else it is nothing but a dooms day for the industry", Ganapathi Pai declares. The only option left for the company is to shift the industry to the north which will sound a death knell to thousands of families in this district.
Like a Phoenix
Though bidi remains the core business of the company in the last 5 years the company has diversified by entering into printing, transport, construction, automobiles and a host of other business interests. Ganapathi Pai says that though he wanted to diversify long back he could not do so single-handedly. Now there are six young men who are working zealously to keep the family business on a higher pedestal. "Do Ankhein Baara Haath", he says with a tinge of satisfaction. The group has given Mangalore its first Multiplex in the form of Bharath Mall.
The year 2000 has been particularly painful for the entire family. Ganapathi Pai suffered a stroke and was in the ventilator for 3 days. "Everybody had given up hopes and people were actually waiting to read my obituary in the paper. It was a battle for life and death and I won", says he with a grin that conveyed the difficult phase he went through. His son Ananth says "It was a very painful period for the entire family. Though he was in ICU on a ventilator I knew he would fight back and survive because he has been a fighter all his life".
He fully recovered within a year and was back to his regular routine of overseeing the business. He visits the different business establishments of the group and is available 24x7 for the generation next and the executives, to guide them from his vast school of experience of running the business for more than 50 years. His pass time includes watching news in different channels, reading newspapers and guiding the company as its Chairman and Managing Director.
His wife Geetha Pai has always been his pillar of strength standing by him through thick and thin. Both his sons Ananth and Anand have joined business. Daughters Roopa and Rekha are married and settled. It is a very close-knit family which stands by one another through good and bad times.
As part of its social commitment and to give something back to the society, Bharath group is running two educational institutions and a cultural centre in Karkala. The cultural centre organizes cultural activities during Navaratri for all the nine days every year, inviting artistes of repute from all over the country. "Bharath Mall is our gift to Mangalore as we felt Mangalore did not have much of a social life and needed a destination where the entire family could go and enjoy", Ananth declares.
Despite his advancing age Ganapathi Pai is active, spirited and has the same fire within him which enabled him to rise like a phoenix overcoming all odds. He predicts a bright future for our country. "India is going to be an economic super power within the next 10 years because our fundamentals are strong" he foretells.
One striking feature of this great fighter is his spirit of resilience which he exhibited time and again and that has seen him through tough times. His high-voltage energy and determination to succeed, is certain to take this institution to greater glory in the days to come.
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