Even in this day and age of mobile phones and smartwatches, there is something oddly comforting about the good old wall clock. Most of us would also recall waking up to the chimes of an alarm clock in the not-so-distant past.
In 1971, an unsuspecting Odhavji Raghavji Patel, a resident of Morbi in Gujarat, was drafted as one of the partners in a company to make wall clocks. Odhavji was a Science teacher drawing a salary of Rs 55 a month when Ajanta Transistor Clock Manufacturing Co. was set up with an initial investment of Rs 1 lakh.
With no prior business experience, Odhavji found himself in the company only because the three other partners wanted someone with a science background. Today, his grandson, Nevil Patel, runs the Rs 1,250 crore turnover Ajanta Group, which has expanded to 450 distributors and exports to 45 countries.
The Better India caught up with Nevil, Director Ajanta Orpat Group, who helps us understand how the business has grown over the years.
Baptism by fire
One could argue that Odhavji’s lack of business background is the reason why the company exists today. For the first three years, the company only saw losses and while this prompted the initial group of three partners to exit the business, Odhavji decided to stay on and make it work.
In 1975, he inducted his 19-year-old son, Pravin Patel, into the business. Until then, the company was focussed on making manual wall clocks.
In a move that changed the fortunes of the business, Odhavji and Pravin travelled to Japan and Taiwan and brought the quartz technology to India, thus forming the business to Ajanta Quartz. The Quartz clocks use an electric oscillator regulated by a quartz crystal to keep time. With this technology, clocks no longer had to be winded. This became a game changer for the company.
Growing from strength to strength
A decade later, in 1985, the company started using their own in-house quartz technology and that is perhaps when the founders realised that they can do a lot more.
Between 1991 and 1996, Ajanta introduced another subsidiary called Orpat and launched calculators and telephones. It’s no surprise then that in a short span of time, the company also became India’s largest calculator manufacturer as well. Soon enough, Orpat, which was derived from Odhavji’s full name, began manufacturing different consumer electronics and home appliances such as room heaters, mixer grinders, choppers, hand blenders, fans and even switch boards.
Nevil credits his father with the company’s foray into such a wide category of products. Speaking about his father, Nevil says, “Even today when you meet my father the first thing that will strike you is how non-entrepreneur like he is. His pride comes in making India proud, building something that will last the test of time. He is not one to care much for the numbers and impact that the company makes.” Bagging the title of the World’s Largest Wall Clock Manufacturer was one such moment in Pravin’s entrepreneurial journey.
However, there is more to Orpat’s story than just the products they make or the revenues they generate. It is a company that lives and breathes women empowerment.
Women – front and centre
Out of an overall strength of 5,600 employees, 5,000 are women, which is close to 96 per cent. Nevil says, “My mother (Vanitaben) was the company’s first female employee. She decided to walk the talk and used to handle a lot of our operational work when she started out.”
In 1985-86, Pravin and his wife would go door-to-door in their hometown of Morbi trying to convince women to join the company.
Today, Nevil says that having such a large majority of women as part of the workforce has been a huge source of strength for the company as the women have stood by the company through the thick and thin.
Nevil says that they conduct regular medical check-ups for their employees, a dedicated class where employees can learn English and monthly ration to all. These are practices that have been there for over four decades now, and Nevil says, the endeavor is to keep bettering them.
Just like Nevil is a third-generation owner, there are third generation employees as well within the organisation. Rahul Sharma, a distributor in Gurugram says, “When people walk into the store to buy a wall clock, they ask specifically for Ajanta Orpat and that speaks volumes for the brand. The quality and durability of the product are excellent and that is what keeps the brand going.”
Taking customer feedback seriously
Nevil says that even today the complaints and accolades that are sent in on the company portal are looked at by Pravin at least once a week. “He needs to be able to get a sense of what the customers are looking for. It is very important to him,” he adds. For example, the way a person from North India uses a mixer grinder will be very different from someone from the South. These small differences are what makes or breaks a product. The motto of the company, since its inception in 1971, has always been to ensure that the products are affordable, and at the same time, of the highest quality.
Nevil himself leads the charge as he goes into the field regularly to understand consumer behaviour and they also engage an army of mystery shoppers to keep a pulse on the markets.
With unbranded, imported goods flooding the markets, seeing an Indian brand do well is indeed heartening.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)