’Yeh dosti, hum nahin todenge
Todenge dum magar, tera saath na chhodenge
Meri jeet teri jeet, teri haar meri haar
Sun aye mere yaar
Tera gham mera gham, meri jaan teri jaan
Aisa apna pyaar…’’
‘’We will never break this friendship
We may give up breathing, but will not leave each other’s company
My victory is your victory, your defeat is my defeat
Listen to me my friend
Your sorrow is my sorrow, my life is your life
Such is our camaraderie…’’
This is a still-hummed song from the 1975 blockbuster, Sholay, filmed on two characters who played inseparable friends, Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra.
Do these filmy fantasies of reel life materialize in real life, especially in the business arena? Do class-chums turn into long-term business buddies? Do friends bond together to become successful business barons? And stay happily together thereafter?
Can Best Friends Forever (BFFs) become Business Friends Forever? In an age where the Brothers-for-Forever ideal has not worked in family businesses, is the success of Friends in Business sustainable? Can BFFs take up the challenge and prove to the world that they can also become Friends in Business Forever. Or more precisely, can the BFF spirit ignited in the early carefree years of youth, retain the excitement while going through the tumultuous stages of life?
Most are aware of the story of William Hewlett and David Packard who graduated from Stanford. When they decided to start a company they tossed a coin to decide whether the company they founded would be called Hewlett-Packard (HP) or Packard-Hewlett (PH). Hewlett Packard was incorporated in 1947, and went public in 1957. The glorious history of HP needs no elaboration—in fact, Hewlett and Packard were considered as the founding fathers of Silicon Valley. In 1977, Packard stepped down as Chairman of the Board. The following year, Hewlett relinquished the title of President and CEO.
Likewise, two Danish engineers who took refuge in India, co-founded India’s most respected engineering and construction conglomerate. The two Danes who arrived on Indian shores in 1934 were Henning Holck-Larsen, a chemical engineer, and the other was Soren Kristian Toubro, a civil engineer. In 1938, they set up a partnership firm in a tiny room in Mumbai. And the company they created was Larsen & Toubro (L&T). After building the company for three decades in India, Soren Toubro retired and returned to Denmark, while continuing to be on the L&T Board till 1981. In 1978, at the age of 71, Larsen retired as L&T’s Chairman after leading the Company for four decades.
Another Indian super success story of buddy-colleagues is Murthy and friends. It was in 1981 that a young Narayana Murthy started Infosys with a capital of Rs.10,000 borrowed from his wife. The co-founders of Infosys were N.R. Narayana Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, S.Gopalakrishnan, S.D.Shibulal, K.Dinesh, N.S.Raghavan and Ashok Arora—all operating from a home-cum-office. All the co-founders remained together and went on to become Infosys CEOs by rotation (except the two who left mid-stream). They transformed Infosys into India’s marquee companies, showcased among the best in the world today.
There are numerous such chummy tales which have been splashed across the media—Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google)…
But there are also many unsung, unknown heroes, who have quietly toiled for decades as friends and buddies and founded companies away from the limelight. True, they never could grow to the scale and fame of the companies mentioned earlier—but they were a testimony to the fact that in an environment where a self-centered and ego-driven nature was the norm for success, it was possible to run a business and stay afloat together for decades with contrary business traits.
One such virtually anonymous classmate-duo came out of college in the late 80s, and decided to become entrepreneurs, during a period where bright young engineers were looking for safe well-paying corporate jobs or safe public sector tenures. But these two friends decided to dirty their hands and get into a business which was literally down to earth.
Unlike many of their peers chasing fame and fortune, these two didn’t get ensnared by the ‘COA Syndrome’: which is an addiction to be the Centre of Attention, Centre of Admiration, Centre of Applause, Centre of Authority…Action, Affluence, Accolades. They led low-profile lives, and didn’t have magnificent ambitions to build a vast business empire, by hook or crook. Moreover they had entered a business arena, where the public perception of the sector was greatly distorted, viz. builders, realtors, property dealers, real estate developers…
Cut to the present. Over the past 30 years, despite designing and building compact & price-sensitive apartments, villas, independent houses for thousands, as also constructing super-premium apartments at upscale locations costing upwards of Rs. 2 crores, both the co-founder- friends still operate their firm from an office where their spartan cabins are still not air-conditioned.
Customer Voice rather than Campaign Noise has been their business strength. The goodwill of existing customers has been their main USP. Despite their moderate success, a prospective customer or an existing home owner can still walk in to have a reassuring chat with both of them, to discuss even minor matters.
In spite of being in the business for so long, skeptics might ask as to why they could not grow exponentially? One of the reasons was that they were not solely into real estate biz—they simultaneously took on contract projects, built independent homes on customer land, and so on. More importantly, the strategy was to take few projects at a time, without leveraging extensively on debt financing. But the main goal was to target “customer intimacy & customer value creation”, and not primarily “stakeholder wealth multiplication”.
Moreover, they took active interest in professionalizing the realty business by taking on leadership roles in the Local Chapters of trade bodies —with one of them becoming the President of The Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) and the other the Chairman of the Builders Association of India (BAI).
At times, you can still see the duo whispering something to each other and laughing away at some practical joke, the way they did when they were in college. Anyway the two friends, who are now in their mid-50s, have another decade to hang up their boots, and hope to continue humming the song, “Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge…”
The names of the two co-founders-cum-BFFs: VS Jayachandran and R Rajesh, both civil engineers from the reputed College of Engineering, Trivandrum (CET). And the company they started: Mansions.