Book Review: Two Wise Men – Stories for Children

Two Wise Men-Stories for Children inspired from the Wit & Wisdom of Warren Buffet & Charlie Munger is written by Safal Niveshak Blogger Vishal Khandelwal and S.B. Vallari

The book ¬†contains eleven short stories – each of which tries to convey a lesson or a message based on Buffett/Munger’s sayings.

It is written in a very simple style which a child can easily read on her own and understand.

I feel the book would be appropriate for kids aged 8-14 .

What I didn’t like about the book was the moral at the end of each story which tended to be long & preachy-could be off putting to the rebellious kids of today !

The best part is that the book is FREE and kudos to the authors for keeping it so.

Do get this book and give it to your kids as a summer reading.

Book Review: Rokda-How Baniyas do Business

The book Rokda-How Baniyas do business by Nikhil Inamdar covers the stories of five Marwari entrepreneurs:

  1. Neeraj Gupta – Meru Cabs
  2. Radheshyam Goenka & Radheshyam Agarwal – Emami
  3. Rohit Bansal
  4. R K Somany – Hindware
  5. V.K. Bansal – Bansal Classes

Each entrepreneur operates in a different sector and hence the book makes for an interesting read.

However, there is nothing in common in each story which one can point to and say “This is the Baniya Way of doing business”

I found the story of V K Bansal of Bansal Classes very inspiring.He was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and doctors at AIIMS,New Delhi told him he will not survive beyond the age of 40.

He took to teaching as a way of supporting his family and his dedication and intensity to his craft resulted in not only his eponymous classes flourish but also established Kota as India’s Coaching Center Capital.

The story also offers plenty of insights into the cut-throat world of coaching.

One line about this industry is memorable “This is a business which earns first and then spends”

Being a Mumbaikar, I also liked reading about Neeraj Gupta and his struggle to get Meru Cabs going.Underworld threats (Dawood demanded 2 Crores from him) , political hooliganism, strikes , misconduct by drivers etc were some of the challenges he had to face to make his business a success.

The Book is a light and a breezy read.What irritated me was the author’s tendency in going overboard in praising the entrepreneurs and not asking any tough questions.

Do buy this book if interested in Indian entrepreneurs.


Book Review: Bringing the Rainbow-The Hindware Story

The title of this book is a misnomer, it should have actually been named as Bringing the Rainbow-The R K Somany story as this book is autobiographical in nature.

The Somany family controls over 55% of India’s sanitary market and the circumstances which led to this makes for fascinating reading.

R K Somany describes his Marwari roots and how the  family migrated from Rajasthan to Calcutta.There the family made its fortunes in trading jute and the stock markets.

Subsequently,like other prominent Marwari families, they moved to manufacturing and through sheer hard work made their enterprises a roaring success.

R K Somany writes very honestly about his childhood,personal life and family tussles which is not only unexpected but very illuminating.

The book is full of anecdotes and brings to life the changes that occurred in India’s landscape from Independence.

One anecdote which stands out is during the infamous Calcutta riots of 1946, Amiya Nath Bose,nephew of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, came to their home and collected 2000 rounds of ammunition.

“You look after the Marwaris,I’ll look after the Bengalis”, he told the Somanys

Another interesting aspect of the book is Mr.Somany’s thoughts on succession planning in family enterprises.While the older generation would dearly want their legatees to take over operational control, they seem to have accepted the idea of having professionals at the helm of affairs.

One big takeaway personally for me from this book:

“In the tradition of all the great Marwari businessmen I admire, I believe that cash is king,Every transaction, every move, every decision we take has to be cash positive”

Do buy this book if interested in Indian family run businesses

Book Review: The Man Behind The Wheel


The Man Behind the Wheel by Tim Bouquet is a remarkable book-it traces the journey of the tyre company Apollo Tyres from the lens of three generations.

In narrating the story of Apollo Tyres, the author not only manages to tell the story of the Company but also about India and what it took to succeed in different generations.

The first generation belonged to Raunaq Singh. Raunaq was the rags to riches entrepreneur. He stared his career as a salesman for a steel pipe merchant in Lahore at just 8 rupees a month. His natural entrepeneurship and hustling skills saw him succeed and in a few years he would start his own steel pipe business.

Partition saw the family come to India with the proverbial “only the shirt on their backs”.

Raunaq Singh sold his wife’s jewellery to get into business and did so well that he eventually set up Bharat Steel Tubes Ltd which rode the Green Revoltion Wave and became a money gusher.

Raunaq was a great networker and became the head of all the business associations of that time-an unique feat not accomplished by any other person after that.

His aim was to become like the Tatas and the Birlas-enter various businesses,completely unrelated to each other, using bank funds for financing and political connections to get the license.

Since India was a shortage economy,anything you started did well

He used his political connections to get the license for Apollo Tyres for its first factory in Kerala

He asked his eldest son, Onkar Singh, to run it.

While Raunaq Singh was the “Know Who” generation, Onkar Singh was the “Know How” generation.

A technocrat and a professional,Onkar worked hard to make the business a success and despite union problems, political interference, poor technology etc was able to do a great job.

Eventually, as in most Indian business families, the “Aurangzeb Syndrome” happened.

Both father and son had a falling out- with each wanting to oust the other from the Company.

Things reached to a level that the father suspected that the son will try to drown him while the son suspected the father of wanting to poison his food !

Onkar prevailed and took sole charge of the company before handing over the baton to his son Neeraj Kanwar

Neeraj, the third generation to run the family business, belonged to the “Every Where” generation for whom the world is their playground.

He took Apollo global with international acquisitions etc and is known primarily for his failed bid to acquire Cooper International

That acquisition failed because the Chinese subsidiary in no event wanted to be owned by Indians.

I found the Kanwar family’s experience with Chairman Che, the CEO of the Chinese subsidiary quite instructive:

First Meeting:

Chairman Che: “I have been a good son and the father is good.Now the father is divorcing me and the step father is coming in”

Second Meeting:

Chairman Che: “I don’t care who the step father is; someone needs to tell me who is looking after me”

Third Meeting:

Chairman Che: “I don’t like the step father”

Fourth Meeting:

Chairman Che: “I want to you to buy me out for $550 Million”

As I write this, there are newspaper reports that Apollo continues its global journey (without the Chinese !) by building a greenfield tyre factory in Hungary.

If I have one complaint about this book, it is that the Harshad Mehta involvement in Apollo Tyres is glossed over.

Do read this book to understand Indian family businesses better.

Book Review: Dream Big

The Book-Dream Big by Cristiane Correa- is about the richest man in Brazil Jorge Paulo Lemann and his remarkable story of entrepreneurship.

Jorge Paulo Lemann started an investment bank called Banco Garantia.He ran it very successfully based on 3 principles-Learn from the best worldwide,meritocracy and incentives.

He harnessed the “super power of incentives” to create the biggest investment bank in Brazil and later sold it to Credit Suissee for $675 Million.

As an investment banker, he started taking over companies and formed a receipe for success which works something like this:

  • Buy a bloated company with a world famous brand
  • Get your own people in there-incentivise them heavily with v high bonuses/equity for meeting targets
  • Cut costs ruthlessly…get rid of 20-30% of the existing workforce
  • Laugh your way to the Bank

His 3G Capital used this approach to create the largest brewer in the world-InBrev.Some of his other famous acquisitions are Heinz, Burger King etc

The book is full of characters,anecdotes,events etc from the Brazilian business world which may sound arcane to us Indians.

But some of the lessons I learnt (or relearnt)in this book are :

  1. Networking counts. Jorge was an aggressive networker who used his education in Havard to build relationships. He would go out of his way to cultivate contacts. Sports- tennis/fishing etc – is a good way to network
  2. Look at the sector, not just the Company. I found it very amusing how Jorge decided to get into the brewery business: “I was looking at Latin America and who was the richest guy in Venezuela?A brewer (The Mendoza family who owns Polar).The richest guy in Colombia? A brewer (the Santo Domingo group,the owner of Bavaria). The richest in Argentina?A brewer (the Bembergs,owners of Quilmes). These guys can’t all be geniuses…it’s the business that must be good.”
  3. Look for companies that have frugality in-built in their DNA and focussed on business and market share…these companies are the ones who will decimate the competition
  4. Look at how the senior management is incentivised….that will tell you how they will behave
  5. Be non-flashy in your own personal behavior. Once Jorge was at a petrol pump when it got robbed.The robbers let Jorge go away, not knowing he’s Brazil’s richest man, as he was driving a 10 year old Passat !

Three examples from the Indian context came to my mind, while reading this book:

  • The owners of the Paint Companies in India are all Billionaires….maybe it has less to do with them and more to do with the business !
  • Laxmi Narayan Mittal used a similar approach to build his steel empire-used to takeover steel plants,fire the expensive expat managers there and get Indian technocrats from SAIL to run the show
  • R K Damani of DMart is using the 3G approach-run a lean frugal operation, incentivize your top managers heavily (most of them are Crorepatis now) and aggressively take market share

Do buy this book to get an international perspective of a great business mind