मागच्या महिन्याच्या ५ तारखेला मी "वॉशिंग्टन पोस्टवर - अस्सल मराठी माणुस" ह्या शिर्षकाखाली मी श्री. अशोक खाडे यांच्या बद्दल त्या वृतपत्रातुन आलेली बातमी माझ्या वाचकांसाठी दिली. त्या नंतर काही ईमेल्स आले आणि काहींनी फोन करुन श्री खाडेंची माहिती मी माझ्या ब्लॉग वरुन सविस्तर पणे द्यावी अशी विनंती देखिल केली. आज Economic Times उघडला आणि त्यांच्या बद्दल एक पानभर सविस्तर माहिती आलेली बघुन त्यांचे अभिनंदन केलं. Economic Timesवर आलेला मजकुर खाली देत आहे.
Udyog Ratna - Ashok Khade!
For a businessman, Udyog Ratna awardee Ashok Khade has an incredible repertoire of childhood stories to tell. His story is compelling: from extreme poverty to heading one of the most sought-after offshore fabrication companies in Mumbai: DAS Offshore Engineering.
DAS is the biggest employer among xxx-owned companies - with 4,500 employees - and is credited with building Mumbai's first skywalk at Bandra. The company specialises in doing fabrication work on offshore platforms for energy and infrastructure companies.
Khade's beginnings in his native village Ped in Sangli district were humble. He was a bright student despite limitations like lack of electricity and inadequate nutrition. Teachers, he says, particularly admired his neat handwriting, proudly displaying the fine strokes on the yellowing paper of notebooks he has carefully preserved.
Hunger was an everyday reality for Khade and his five siblings. He asks if we know what it is to sleep on a hungry stomach. "Once, I went to get flour from the mill during the rains, but dropped it in the water. When I got home, my mother said there was nothing else to eat. I can never forget that incident." There are many other remembered snatches: how, for instance, the siblings would sleep in an embrace for warmth on winter nights.
Khade may be an overachiever, but he has his quirks too. He has been twirling a green fountain pen, which is now revealed to be the same pen with which he wrote his SSC exam 40 years ago. "Babloo", as he has affectionately nicknamed the instrument, cost him a precious Rs 3.50. "And yet," he opens a drawer, "only Babloo would make the cover of my autobiography," and casually scatters on the desk half a dozen Mont Blanc pens collectively worth .`5 lakh.
THE BUSINESS DOCKS
Khade's circumstances however were far from being amusing or romantic. He recalls how his background was a stumbling block in his education. The Brahmin boys in his class had an edge over him in Sanskrit because of the rituals they followed at home, while his struggling family had no time for poojas. He eventually topped his class 10 Sanskrit exam.
He also met some good samaritans along the way. During the famine of 1972, he was "adopted" by a man who gave him food, and one of his teachers bought him a new set of clothes after he showed up for an exam in torn trousers.
After finishing high school, Khade came to Mumbai to live with his uncle. He ended up working at Mazagon Dock when financial constraints cut short his desire to pursue medicine. "I went crying to the docks," says the future ship designer. He worked at Mazagon from 1975 to 1992, building a career as well as an enviable network of contacts and well-wishers, along with brothers Datta and Suresh.
The stint would bring new experiences into Khade's life. He was sent to West Germany in 1984 for an assignment related to submarine quality control, and married shortly after returning home. He also managed to complete a part-time diploma in mechanical engineering alongside his job. In 1992, Khade's uncle died leaving behind four unmarried daughters. This sudden tug on the family's pockets was the trigger that activated Khade's entrepreneurial ambitions. DAS Offshore - named after the initials of the three brothers - was established in 1995 without an ounce of external capital, according to Khade.
Their first project came from Mazagon Dock, their former employer. A contractor had abandoned a project halfway and bids were invited. Captain PV Nair, a retired Indian Navy officer and former chairman of Mazagon Dock, recommended DAS for finishing the job, and so they were awarded the contract worth Rs 1.82 crore. "I got all my supplies on credit from people I had worked with," says Khade. Nair, who now acts as advisor for DAS, says that Khade is "determined, hardworking, and will take the work to its logical conclusion."
Having battled against both financial and social odds, one might expect a dalit entrepreneur to favour positive discrimination towards his ilk. Khade, however, is a staunch believer in merit, and rejects the idea of giving more weightage to aspiring employees or vendors from his caste. Less than 1% of his employees are dalits. "I believe in quality control," says the man who once refused a job to an underqualified nephew.
Dalit vendors, he says, are given a chance to match the competition's price. As far as encouraging talent goes, DAS's capacity-building programmes have trained over 1,000 employees so far. Das posted a turnover of Rs 130-140 crore in 2010-11 and has an order book of Rs 550 crore. Khade says DAS does not have any investors and did not take bank loans to start. Most of the funds, he says, came from acquaintances and relatives because of the brothers' high performance ratings. This is partly explained by Khade's
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
DAS Offshore's clients notably include ONGC, Leighton Australia, Essar, Hyundai and British Gas Exploration & Production India. DAS has developed a strong relationship with ONGC. NV Subramanium, executive director of ONGC, who has known Khade for seven to eight years, says DAS has a good reputation.
DAS is currently handling a sub-contract for ONGC's ongoing Jeevan Heera reconstruction project, for which Essar is the main contractor. Subramanium says that although there was a round of bidding for the sub-contract, DAS was "indirectly suggested" by the main contractor because of its track record. When asked if there is any caste preference, Subramanium is as clear as Khade. "Caste is not even a consideration when awarding contracts." The Khade brothers have their respective strengths.
Khade says that he looks after quality control because of his experience and skill in design drawing. Younger brother Suresh handles labour issues, while elder brother Datta oversees goal management. In a business like this, it is survival of the fittest. Khade admits he has an advantage over the competition because of Suresh, a BJP MLA. "Competitors try to strike just before a contract is awarded. It is a cat and mouse game. Sometimes I am the cat and sometimes I am the rat," he laughs, while admitting that he is extremely competitive. Turning serious, he adds that honesty, hard work and love for one's country are indispensable ethics for business. Prakash Malvankar, CEO & vicepresident (projects) of Dolphin Offshore Enterprises , a rival, concurs. "I have met Ashok Khade at conferences and we have regard for each other. The DAS Offshore leadership is technically sound and follows fair business practices."
Last year, DAS deployed 1,760 workers at Bombay High and finished the work without LTI (loss of time or injury). The company has also completed the skywalks at Sion and Ghatkopar, in Mumbai, and is currently building two more in the city, at Airoli and Kurla.
With a Rs 3,000 crore project for ONGC recently wrapped up, DAS has big plans. Its Sharjah office is nearly up and running. Khade plans to launch the company's initial public offering (IPO) in 2012. In addition, Khade has purchased 140 acres of land near Murud-Janjira, where DAS is building its own jetty fabrication yard, India's first private yard, projected to be operational by the end of the year.
The yard will employ 2,500 workers at peak hour. Khade also intends to build a school, hospital and engineering college there. He has also bought 100 acres of fields in his native village, where his mother used to work as a farm labourer. When asked whether it was a business decision or a personal one, he merely calls it a "cycle of nature" and denies that any sentiment was involved. While Khade does not give a preference to dalits in his work, his family gives back to their community in different ways. One of his brothers arranges for the wedding trousseau of each new bride in their village, regardless of caste.
Khade has also renovated a temple in his village that used to stop dalits at the gate - a promise he had made to his mother. He is a devout man who visits Alandi and Pandharpur every month, and sports a black thread from Tirupati around his wrist. A temple door covered in 55 kg of silver bearing his mother's picture has been installed at Alandi - another tribute from her son.
Although he does not like to quantify, Khade estimates he has given about Rs 50 lakh to his community. Reclining in his BMW 530, Khade indulges in two minutes of nostalgic soul-searching. "You know, I once met Mother Teresa at an international airport. I kept in touch with her, and she called me Ashok. I was there at her bedside after she passed away..." With that, Khade drives away, full of memories from his meteoric journey.