H Vasanthakumar: 'CONFIDENCE, HARD WORK ESSENTIAL FOR SUCCESS’

H Vasanthakumar, the founder and proprietor of Vasanth & Co, a Chennai-based chain of consumer electronics and home appliances, is one of the most unassuming people you could encounter.
H Vasanthakumar
H Vasanthakumar

Chennai

At the helm of 64 profitable showrooms spread across Tamil Nadu and beyond, the entrepreneur is a man bursting with enthusiasm, big ideas and good humour. In an informal interview, he offers a glimpse into his extraordinary journey, from a small town youngster to a self-made business tycoon.
Tell us about your formative years.
I hail from the southernmost tip of India – Kanyakumari. I was born on April 14, 1950 and my birthday coincided with that of the architect of our Constitution BR Ambedkar. I grew up in Agastheeswaram taluk and studied in Panchayat schools. After completing my degree in Tamil from Vivekananda College, I came to Chennai in 1971. My brother, who was a political worker was conducting elections in Royapuram that year and I landed in this city to help him. My first attempt to become an MLA was a failure. And that failure prompted me to stick on to this city where I would make my fortune.
How did you start your career?
My brother introduced me to VG Panneerdas’ firm and I joined as a salesperson at a salary of Rs 70 per month. I remember during those times, companies would sell Murphy Radios which would cost about Rs 50 to 75 and people would buy them on EMIs of Rs 5 to 10. My first job involved collecting monthly payment of chits from customers. On a weekly basis, they would remit payments for chits worth Rs 5, totalling up to Rs 20 worth of chits a month per customer. Out of that Rs 5, I would take Re 1 as my lunch money. In my case, it was literally hunger for my daily bread that fuelled my need for hard work. In six months, I had moved up the ladder and I bagged myself a desk job in the office itself.
When did you decide to branch out on your own?
In about seven years, I got promoted as a manager and my salary went up to Rs 300. And when the firm began expanding its operations, I was asked to take up a post in Mumbai. I wasn’t willing to do that. That’s when I knew it was time to do something on my own. But my pockets were empty as I had no savings to speak of. From a cushy office job, I had decided to leap into entrepreneurship. One of my customers helped me set up my very first shop in South Usman Road in 1978. And that was how Vasanth & Co was born.
Armed with nothing more than a bicycle and the goodwill of customers who knew me from my VGP days, I went door to door seeking new clients – from T Nagar to Perungalathur. A flower-seller named Pattamal from Broadway and Sri Bhakthavatchalam were among the first people to help me get started. The very first product we sold at Vasanth & Co was foldable netted chairs costing Rs 25. I used to sell four chairs every day on hire purchase basis.
When did things start looking up for the company?
During the late 70s, the popularity of black and white televisions was in its nascent stages. Sellers used to manually lug television sets to the houses of major traders across the city and convince them to buy it, and of course, pay the instalment for the same. I decided I needed to cash in on this phenomenon. The turning point in my life came during 1985 when I turned my focus onto institutional sales and decided to team up with Shakti Finance and Ashok Leyland to take it forward. The Asian Games became a peg for most sellers to begin pushing their TVs into homes across India. I would travel every day from my home in T Nagar and reach the vendor’s (Ashok Leyland) office, Ennore in about two and a half hours. After six months of running around, I finally secured my very first big order for 960 colour television sets, a first in the history of not just Tamil Nadu, but the whole country as well. Today, my company logo bears my image. It’s only because I assure my customers a complete guarantee for the products I sell. Can any celebrity endorsing a brand stand by his or her product like I do?

What lies ahead for the future entrepreneurs?
Anyone getting into business needs to realise that only confidence, hard work and perseverance can get you through. One needs to learn to adopt a stance of detached attachment. Today we talk about concepts like foreign direct investment and offshoring. The pressing question is what is the government doing about local industry and small vendors? Today you need at least Rs 50 to 100 crore to set up a business in tip top shape. I strongly feel the government has to introduce confidence building measures among the entrepreneurial communities across all strata, especially the young generation, in order to ensure a healthy culture of business.
(Excerpts from an interview when H Vasanthakumar visited the DT Next office and interacted with the team)

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