Asian LIte Columnist Riccha Grrover meets business tycoon/philanthropist Mr Narendra Raval and the author of his biography- Mr Kailash Mota, on their recent book aptly titled ‘Guru: An Autobiography A long journey to Success’
The journey of a young boy which begins in a little-known village called Mathak in Gujarat, India. It would culminate in the creation of East Africa’s biggest business groups to straddle the industrial world of steel, cement, infrastructure and aviation. Moral of the story: Dream Big. Fascinating to be in conversation with the author Mr Mota and the humble-natured tycoon himself Mr Raval on their new book which is the inspiring story of Mr Narendra Raval, endearingly known as ‘Guru’, who began from scratch to reach the zenith of his career achievements through sheer hard work, grit, an inherent business acumen and zeal.
His autobiography, in collaboration with his dear friend and colleague, Mr Kailash Mota, traces four decades in the life of Guru Bhai Narendra Raval- making of the astute businessman, who has successfully built a US$ 650 million industrial empire. Today, he runs his business empire with more than 4,500 employees spread across East Africa. He was also featured among the top 50 richest men in the Forbes Africa 2015 list.
A fascinating, awe-evoking biography is a masterclass on creating legacy. It’s a ready reckoner on Mr Raval’s pearls of wisdom and is like a guidance manual for young entrepreneurs aspiring to walk the path of success.
RICCHA GROVER: How did the book project come about and do you envisage it will become such an inspiring must have and must read book for all young hard working entrepreneurs who want to make their mark in the society ?
Narendra Raval: I had never dreamt of writing / publishing my biography, though, in the past many renowned authors and also by film makers approached me to publish my life’s journey or produce a movie on my life. It was only when Kailash Mota, approached and convinced me of the motto of getting my biography published, did I agree to do so.
I always wanted to help the less fortunate children, budding or established entrepreneurs, who faced challenges in their businesses by sharing my life’s journey from the beginning, when I had no resources at my disposal, what challenges I faced and how I resolved them, my story of failures and successes, so that they may learn from my journey and also succeed more in life. I am confident that by reading my Autobiography, most doubts or queries budding entrepreneurs have in their mind on various business challenges, how to overcome them and to succeed will hopefully be answered.
RG-What does success mean to you?
NR- Success to me is not in how much wealth one has amassed, it is measured in one’s caring attitude towards family, neighbours, town, nation and the society at large and your how much one is willing to extend their helping hand to support them too.
RG- Did you always have the focus to make it big in life or was it all just meant to be?
NR- Let me share some thoughts of my grandfather, who always dreamt of setting up his own business, when he was a school teacher, which was impossible at that time and he achieved it and shared his experiences with me. In his words, even when one has no resources at disposal, nothing should stop one from dreaming big; whether one succeeds or not is secondary. I always dreamt big.
In one of the chapters in my Autobiography, I have shared about my dream of riding in a helicopter, at a time, when I could not even afford to buy a pair of sandals. In early 1970’s, when I was hardly ten years of age, studying in Surendranagar, I happened to watch, India’s Prime Minister at that time, late Smt. Indira Gandhi, alight from a helicopter. I was so fascinated by the chopper, that I made up my mind, that one day in my life, I would ride in this “machine”. Forty three years later, only when I brought my own helicopter that I was able to ride it and fulfil my dream! What I am trying to drive home is that to achieve some big, one has to have a bigger vision and dream and not get deflated by current circumstances.
RG-Do you believe in luck and fate or do you think that hard-work can rewrite one’s destiny if they are passionate about their mission?
NR- Yes, I do believe in luck, but I perceive that success is 90% of hard work and 10% of luck or fortune. I do believe in luck, but luck plays its part only when one puts in relentless efforts, focuses on one’s goals and works tirelessly to achieve them. Recently, I shared my thoughts with some of my close relatives, wherein I advised them that if you want to succeed in life start you day as early as possible, begin your day when the rest of the world is still asleep and you are bound to have a head start in your work and will be able to fulfil your dreams.
RG- Tell us about your charitable projects that you support? As a business empire do you have any formal CSR initiatives that you have committed to? How important is giving back to society as a business tycoon according to you?
NR- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plays a vital role in my life. It is at my heart, because I have studied and grown up because of the help that I received from many good Samaritans. CSR is in my soul, because I can understand what poverty means, what it means to sleep on a hungry stomach, what it means to study and appear for exams when you don’t have books. I know the pain of walking without sandals in your feet. This has taught me so many humbling lessons and CSR forms a core part of our Business Empire as it’s most crucial to give back we believe . We take our Corporate Social Responsibility very seriously and contribute substantially to the Kenyan Economy. Firstly, our employees are a very big family and we support our employees and their families in their social, educational and medical needs.
Secondly, we have adopted and manage an “orphanage” near one of our plants in Athi-River in Kenya. Many years back, we managed to secure a disputed community-land and though we could not construct a permanent structure on it, we built a temporary structure and started an orphanage, to shelter the homeless children. At any given point in time, there are more than 70 children who reside here. It’s more than 20 years now that we are successfully managing this place. We take care of all the basic needs like food & nutrition, shelter, clothing, medical and education. We cater to books and also provide them with teachers so that they continue their education.
Many of the children staying here are HIV positive patients, but we take care of their needs as well. Thirdly, on the education front, we took our first initiative in the education sector by building “Devki Primary School”, at Ruiru, very close to our Corporate Headquarters. We fully operate the school, taking care of it right from constructing the structure to providing reading materials, books and the teaching staff. More than 300 students, including children of our employees take benefit of this education facility. In the vicinity of our Clinker plant, we adopted “Devki Mukuntan School”, a school situated very close to our plant and invested in construction of school buildings, incurring revenue costs including salary & medical facilities to the teachers and provide one free meal per day to the students. This school which had less than 50 students three years ago, when we took over, today proudly educates more than 200 students.
Fourthly, in certain villages in Central Kenya, there are many children suffer from Cerebral Palsy (CP). To support these children, we provide medical care and therapists. Fifthly, through ISKON foundation, where I am associated as a trustee, we feed hot meals every day afternoon to more than 3,000 children staying in various slums across the country. This has been ongoing for more than 20 years now. Sixthly, we sponsor the entire education costs of deserving needy students, right from their Primary education to their graduation. We have even sponsored students to study overseas. More than 700 students have benefitted from this initiative.
Seventhly, through my association as a Trustee of Loomba Foundation, we have supported more than 400 widows to run their livelihoods. Recently, I had an opportunity to visit the Government run Kenya National Hospital in Nairobi. We noticed that people suffering from Cancer are unable to complete their entire treatment due to lack of resources and the costs involved in it. I witnessed that people could not afford medicines, nutrition and accommodation as well. To overcome this, with an investment of more than US $ 4 Million and in conjunction with Kenya National Hospital, we have decided to construct a permanent Dormitory for the Cancer patients.
Patients who cannot afford the treatment, will be provided free food, medicines and accommodation for 4-6 weeks, while they undergo treatment in the hospital.I believe that the act of “GIVING” is a part of life and not a project. In a project, we are conscious that it will cease once its time or goal is achieved. But “Giving” is continuous and eternal, which I will continue throughout my life. I have inculcated this quality among my children as well, so this will continue even after me and this is my legacy. I also urge and encourage all the successful entrepreneurs, industrialists and all the rich & wealthy people of this World to be generous and adopt this act of “GIVING” in their lives and CSR initiatives.
RG- What keeps you inspired in your work and life?
NR- I hail from a religious background, hence I am inspired my religious beliefs. I read Mahabharat, Bhagvatgeeta, Srimvad Bhagwad and other holy scriptures regularly, which act as a source of inspiration to me. But above all, Mother Teresa has been my role model and inspiration in both my business and CSR activities. I was touched by her actions, being a white women, she spent most of her life in Kolkatta India, living and helping the poor and down trodden members of the society and changed their lives. I learnt a vital lesson from her, that all human beings are creations of God irrespective of our colour, caste, country and creed. This has been my real source of inspiration.
RG- what is your source of strength that keeps you focussed on your chosen career path?
NR- My family is my real source of strength which keeps me focused on my chosen career path. Right from the time we got married, my wife Neeta, has stood by me in thick and thin like a strong pillar and has been my strength. For more than 30 years now, every morning Neeta and I discuss each and every aspect of our business and CSR activities and she plays an equally important role in all my decisions. It is the strength of my family, their love and affection that keeps me focused on my career path.
RG-What words of inspiration would you like to offer young readers who have the dream to make it big in life? What’s your mantra of success that you wish to share as a legacy with young people?
NR-My advice is dream big, work hard in the right direction in pursuit of your dreams, never lose focus of what you want to achieve, being sincere, honest and truthful in your approach, never give up despite all the advertises that you might face in life, have the faith and success will be yours to keep. This is exactly my secret and formula of success.
In conversation with Mr Kailash Mota
Kailash Mota is a chartered accountant, who gave up his successful career after twenty-eight long years. Writing has been his passion, and this is his first attempt at penning a biography of close friend. It took the author nearly six months to convince Mr Narendra Raval to have his autobiography written. Kailash Mota has been associated with Mr Raval and his family over the past two years, ever since he began researching the latter’s inspiring journey through life. This is the author’s painstaking record of the immensely eventful and colourful life of Mr Narendra
Raval. Currently, Kailash Mota is a freelance career counsellor and international recruitment consultant based in Nairobi, Kenya.
RG- When and why did you think of writing this book?
KM-I always wanted to write and present to the World, inspiring stories about people, who came from humblest of the backgrounds, had limited education, had limited or no resources at their disposal, but scaled heights in their lives and achieved exceptional success in their chosen career path through sheer determination, persistent hard-work, never give up attitude, courage, boldness, fearlessness and importantly their attitude to stay humble and grounded despite touching their peaks in their lives. With regard to my professional assignment, I met Mr. Narendra Raval for the first time in 2015 and was highly impressed by his simplicity. Post the meeting, I did a lot of research on his life’s journey and my instinct told me that this was a story that the World needs to know, a story that can inspire people to dream and achieve big and that’s what made me think of writing the book.
RG- Tell us about your motivation and process? How long did it take to complete this book project?
NR- I was impressed by Gurubhai’s (Mr. Narendra Raval’s) journey from a little know village of Mathak, in Gujarat, India which culminated in creation of East Africa’s biggest business groups and his motivated by the fact that he began his life from the most humble beginnings to reach the zenith of his career through tireless hard-work, an inherent business acumen and sheer tenacity. In April 2016, I first requested Mr. Raval to allow me to pen down his Biography, to which he did not respond. For the next 3-4 months, I persisted with him. Eventually, when I convinced him that the purpose of presenting his life’s journey to the world was to inspire people to dream big, succeed and that his story would change lives, that he agreed to share his life’s story.
The entire process right from conceptualising to publishing took around 2 ½ years ( 2016-2018). During this period, I recorded his story, travelled extensively both in India and Kenya to places where he lived, met people who were / are part of his life and those who influenced him and then wrote his story. In 2017, after writing, we met quite a few leading publishing houses and Bloomsbury agreed to publish his Autobiography “ GURU”- A Long Walk to Success, which was launched on 17th August, 2018.
RG- What is your favourite part in this book which you enjoyed writing about most that you feel will serve as an inspiration particularly to budding entrepreneurs.
KM- Gurubhai’s entire journey has been eventful and inspirational that I have thoroughly enjoyed writing each and every phase of his life; It is difficult to single out a particular part as my favourite. However Part III and IV of the book, which contains Gurubhai’s transformation from a Saint to an Entrepreneur and his building of Devki Group’s empire will surely inspire budding entrepreneurs.
RG-Will the book be published in different languages so it can become more accessible to those seeking inspiration from Guru-Mr Raval’s career trajectory ambition and grit which comes to life in your book?
KM- Yes, this book will be published in Gujarati and Hindi in 2019. The Gujarati Edition is almost completed and we expect it to be launched soon. The publishers are also working on the Hindi Edition and it is also expected to be launched later in 2019. His story is so inspiring that we have received requests from People’s Republic of China, to translate the book in Mandarin also, a request that is under consideration.
RG- Why did you think of getting testimonials for this book and how did you choose who all should be approached for it and why?
KM- Mr Narendra Raval’s journey covers a very wide spectrum of life viz., Religion, Business, Charity & Philanthropy among others, that it was important to obtain testimonials for this book. From the various fields, we chose testimonials from leaders and influencers, who know Mr. Raval personally and the reason for choosing them was that they would be in a better position to share their experience with Mr. Raval.
RG- What are the other books you may have written and any other book projects you are working on for future that may be in pipeline?
KM- “Guru” was my maiden venture and my first published book. Currently, I am in advanced discussions for two projects, one of which is on “Controlling Diabetes” in the Indian scenario. This venture I will be doing together with a leading Diabetologist from Mumbai. The second one is a life journey of a spiritual leader, who represents Africa for a leading spiritual institution. The talks are in initial stages and the projects are expected to come out in 2020.
(This autobiography of one of East Africa’s richest industrialists (Top #50 richest men in Forbes Africa 2015 list) gives an enduring and moving account of creating and manifesting success. It’s filled with wise words for young entrepreneurs around the world who wish you walk on such footsteps)