We had kicked this series off with an interview of my Mom. The more we move ahead with these video interviews, the more I realize I did not do justice to her and perhaps will do a proper video interview soon!
The great thing about interviewing someone really close to us is that we learn something new about them despite having spent many years in close proximity. There’s always more to learn from the ones we love the most.
Today’s interview is with Mr.Balasubramanian K, Dhanya’s dad. Dhanya has been an indispensible part of the Real Leader team since January. He shares his story from humble beginnings equipped only with his engineering degree, all the way till until his construction company, Dhanya Shree Constructions. He is motivated by the product of his work – his buildings and is proud of being his own man.
Dhanya: What drives or inspires you?
Bala: Right from my college days i.e. during my undergraduate years, I wanted to become my own man. I got jobs during my under-graduation and post-graduation but I never took up those jobs. If you ask me why, I am not sure where I got the idea. It was always in my mind. I wanted to build good buildings. Making money was not the motivation behind this desire. I always wanted to make buildings that stand out.
That’s how I got into this business. After my postgraduate degree I went abroad for a couple of years. I worked with an engineering consultancy there. I came back to Chennai, India and started this company. I am in this field for the past 25 years and I have been doing reasonably well. Some of my buildings are quite old by now, but I can still walk into any of these buildings and talk to my clients. That’s the kind of reputation I believe in. Quality is my most important goal. My buildings speak for themselves. That keeps me going. That inspires me!
Dhanya: What are some of the most defining moments of your life?
Bala: Well, it started with the time I got my engineering seat. It is one of those defining moments. I got my postgraduate degree a few years after that. I got a job immediately after graduation in a gulf country. That was another thing I will remember. Then I got married. I guess that is anybody’s defining moment! I got two lovely children after that. Life went on! In the recent years I have been proud, when my daughter got her engineering place in NUS. A year after that my son got very good grades in his tenth. These are some very memorable milestones.
All the credit goes to my wife, I should say. In the early days, I never looked after my kids. I was mostly running after business. I never had time to even enjoy them growing up. My wife tells me how much I missed the naughty things kids do. Of course, everything has its own ups and downs. You have to pay something to get something else.
Now I am looking for my children to settle down. My son must get into a good college soon!
Dhanya: How has the journey been with respect to your business?
Bala: After my return from the gulf countries I took up government jobs here in Chennai. I was working for an American consultants company back in Oman, so I was trained in a very quality conscious way. I tried to apply that here in our country. Well, it did not work well financially. The buildings are all however standing as testimonials of my quality – even the government buildings.
I tell my clients. If you want a taste of my quality look at the government buildings rather than private ones. Because they speak for the 25 years they have stood. I had a big problem financially though after this experiment. I lost heavily, in the early years. One of my friends Chandran, he linked me up to a big project. That turned around my business career. To be honest, that is one of the most defining moments of my career so far. It helped me wipe out all the losses I had incurred.
From there, it started becoming pluses. I picked up the company and formed this private partnership in 1999. I have nothing to regret about! If I look at the past, I have built nearly 100 buildings in and around Chennai. I have built a couple of engineering colleges and a campus for an Italian consulting firm. These are some of the moments that stand out.
Dhanya: What advice can you give for future leaders?
Bala: I come from a middle-class family. My father was working as a bank manager. Business was not in my blood. Neither was I trained in such an environment. There was no one to tell me about running a business or about the nuances. All that I did learn, I learnt the hard way. For future leaders I would say that they have to take their people along with them. Whoever they are, whatever they are doing. The entire team should share responsibility. They should be respected in their own company. Whatever you earn, share it with your people. They have to be well paid.
When you lead your company you have to be patient with your people. You have to understand that it is also a people problem. You cannot always think about your own agenda. That may not give a sustained growth. People will not be with you for long. You also cant run a business without the support of a good team. You have to understand their psychology. Yes, you can’t do a hundred percent to satisfy them, but you can try.
You should have followers. This will put you on a higher plane. That is one of the most important things. In my early days I used to fire people whenever they made mistakes. Anybody is bound to make mistakes. We have to be a little patient with them and teach them. We have to make them understand how difficult it is to keep a client. We have to make them understand that unless the company grows you cant grow. As a leader, ensuring this will be your role. Take people along with you and that will give you a rich support system.
Thank you Bala uncle for your interesting views! It was a pleasure listening to you.