He hails from a humble background. His parents had migrated from Pakistan to India (Udaipur, Rajasthan) during partition. His elder sister was born on a railway platform. He quit as vice president of one of the biggest companies on the face of the Earth to start a venture. Today, he has invested almost everything to become the first company in India to package semiconductors and ICs. This is Amrit Manwani’s story as told to Mukul Yudhveer Singh from EFY.
“I consider myself very lucky in terms of what I have been able to accomplish in my life. Nothing I have built would have been possible without the support of my parents, my school mates, my teachers, and the two jobs I had. I consider that every person I have met in my life has been instrumental in making me a man as I am today,” says Amrit Manwani, MD, Sahasra Group.
Not have among the haves
Born in Udaipur, Rajasthan, Amrit was born into a family which had recently moved from Pakistan to India. Amrit’s father, Narayan Das Manwani, as described by him, was the hardest working man he has seen in his entire life. The family had to leave back everything it owned in Pakistan and start a new life in India. Amrit’s father started a sweets shop in Udaipur. The first story that Amrit heard from his parents was probably that of how his elder sister came into being, a story that can send chills down anyone’s bones!
“My elder sister was born on a railway platform. This was the time when my parents were migrating to seek refuge in India from Pakistan. I still get goosebumps remembering that story. That incident, though I was not in the world till then, has left a big impact on my mind. I still can’t picture how my mom and dad managed to go through that, and still give each one of us brothers and sisters a good life,” he shares.
Amrit continues, “My father was visionary enough to put me in a missionary school despite all the difficulties we faced in Udaipur.” Amrit completed his primary schooling from St Mary’s and secondary from St Paul’s. These two schools were known to have students originating from financially strong backgrounds. Getting a chance to study with the elite of a city proved to be one of the biggest encouragements in the life of Amrit.
“I always felt like I was not a have among the haves. That formed my determination to do well in life. I wanted to become one of them as life progressed. My schoolmates made my determination strong to succeed in life,” he explains.
Amrit’s biggest inspiration is his father. He would spend hours preparing the finest of sweets to make sure that business was good, so he could afford good education for his children. The population of Udaipur, as Amrit shares, was only about 25,000 people back then. The competition between the sweet shops was cut-throat and anybody who compromised on quantity or quality immediately witnessed a dip in sales.
The financial condition of the family was so weak that Amrit’s elder brother had to leave education and help his father at the sweets shop. It was Amrit’s father who backed the decision of Amrit preparing for the IIT exams. Most of his other family members did not know about IIT and hence did not back him for taking the exam.
“He told me to prepare for the exams with complete focus and determination. He would tell me that even if I am not able to make it to IIT, I would always have a sweets shop to run and earn from,” Amrit recalls. There were only two students who made it to IIT from Udaipur at that time. How did Amrit learn that working hard is the key to success?
He answers, “I remember my father cycling 10 to 12 kilometres every day at 4am in the morning to get milk from a nearby village for our sweets shop. He would put milk containers on both sides of the bicycle. I took it from him to always work hard.”
Amrit was so encouraged by his father that he would come back from school and immediately finish homework and start reading for the next day. Amrit was found solving math more often than not. The amount of time that Amrit was spending on books can be gauged from the fact that his mother scolded him to stop studying as she believed that spending that amount of time would ruin his son’s eyesight.
“I used to study in the light of earthen lamps before electricity came to our house. My mother would always become anxious as she saw me continuing to do math for hours in the light of the earthen lamp. The attitude of doing hard work came from my father,” he says. Amrit was so good at studies his school principal gave him a double promotion and he was promoted to fourth standard straight from second standard.
First business lessons
Amrit, known to have a sharp brain when it comes to business, had his first business classes at his father’s sweets shop. These business lessons not only included selling to end consumers but also manufacturing products to be sold. He would also sit on the counter at times and manage the cash inflow. Amrit started helping his father at the shop when he was seven, and the first job his father gave him was that of sourcing ingredients used in preparing sweets. Any incident that he still remembers from those days?
“There was this time when I had lost money that my father had given to buy some ingredients. I was so scared that I didn’t go to my shop and my father started searching for me. When he finally found me, he hugged me and told me not to worry as he saw me crying. Those were the golden days of life,” recalls an emotional Manwani.
This incident, as he shares, was the one which taught him the opposite of what was taught in a lot of business schools. He got certain that day that people who are emotionally attached to their profession, and other people who work with them, are the ones that can accomplish anything.
“I was never fond of eating sweets. In fact, I also quit cooking a long time back. And I must tell you that I was a master at preparing sev namkeen at a very early age. I was also good at making rabdi, gulab jamuns, and kulfi. If my father were to listen to this statement today, he would twist my ear and tell me that I could have prepared sweets (at the shop),” he shares with a smile and eyes full of light. Amrit, who quit cooking a long time ago, never missed a chance to cook rabadi or prepare kulfi for his father. He also often cooked for his children when they were young.
Amrit found his slot when time came to select subjects for the ninth class and start focusing on them. “I was a good student but I also used to feel a little bit inferior in front of the other kids. There was a time when I was sitting in the same class as the son of the district magistrate and other influential people. That was the time which was a big challenge for me. Studies, no matter how tough they were, were never a challenge for me,” he recalls talking about the challenges he faced in his childhood.
How did he overcome the challenges?
“My goal was to study hard enough to be the best not only in the class but the whole country. I never minded anyone who saw me as inferior and I made friends with kids who were humble. I wanted to study and that was the only thing that mattered to me,” he answers. Then there was a time when fellow students were lining up to learn mathematics from Manwani.
Amrit adds, “There came a time when all my fellow students started saying that if anybody would make it to an IIT from their school, it would be Amrit.” His rank in the IIT entrance exam was 345 PAN India. IITs were only taking 2,000 students in its five colleges at that time, and the better the rank meant not only bettering the chances of getting into an IIT but also a chance to choose the stream of one’s choice.
“The exposure to IIT, the exposure to people coming to study with you from all over the country, is extremely brilliant. Being exposed to the absolute freedom that you get at the college and hostel, and nobody to look after you is one of the biggest challenges. This is a challenge that can teach you the best of time management lessons with on-job experience,” he shares.
Amrit, who refers to himself as an average IIT student, was clear from the beginning about not leaving his parents in India in pursuit of a job offer or further studies outside the country. IIT Kanpur was also affiliated to the United States situated universities such as MIT, and it was easy for students to pursue a higher degree in such universities. Amrit, who passed IIT with 7.6 CGI, got a campus placement job offer from Larsen and Toubro. Today, he also holds an MBA degree from Delhi University, which he had completed while working with GE.
“More than 50% of the students were hell bent on going overseas for higher studies and then a job offer. I didn’t have that kind of a dream or a desire. I wanted to be around my parents as much as I could. My father wanted me to start a business while I always wanted to work in the corporate world,” he shares.