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Book Review: The Ambuja Story

The Book ‘ The Ambuja Story’ is written by Narotam Sekhsaria, the founder/promoter of Gujarat Ambuja and currently the Chairman of Ambuja Cements Ltd & ACC Ltd

The Ambuja story is actually the story of the author who is one of the most extra-ordinary entrepreneurs our country has produced.

The author begins the book by explaining his family background, upbringing , education etc.For those unfamiliar with Marwari traditions, its a great peep into their cultures & norms.

The author went to UDCT and after graduating, he joined his family’s cotton trading business .The legendary Prof MM Sharma of UDCT chastised him for “wasting a seat” for not joining the chemical industry !

The author then narrates his rise as the top cotton trader of India.I found this chapter to be simply marvelous.Lots of lessons here for entrepreneurs just starting out.

Like successful Marwari business families, the author wanted to move from trading to manufacturing.He explained his rationale as follows: “I had been a successful cotton trader for over a decade.By the early 1980s, I had made more money than I had ever imagined. But something was missing in my life, a void that I felt quite often. I wanted the recognition and respect that was accorded to industrialists in our community, but denied to traders like me.”

Unlike today’s IPOs which are mostly OFS, IPOs in the 1980s were for growth capital. In 1985,Guj Ambuja got listed to an enthusiastic response.The author’s speech in Ahmedabad at the road show there played a key role in getting investor interest.I loved the ending of the speech where the author declared: “You may be putting in a small amount of money as your investment, but I have put my reputation and a large personal fortune on the line.If this company is not successful, then I have no future.”

The author then narrates how he went out building Gujarat Ambuja.There are many anecdotes related to the bureaucracy, politicians, bankers, stock market brokers, employees, financing, competition , brand building, land acquisition, truck mafia,coal mafia etc which bring to stark relief the multi-faceted challenges of doing business in India.

Guj Ambuja was the first company to have private ports both in Gujarat and Maharashtra and that gave it an unbeatable logistics advantage.The story of how they set up these ports is super interesting.

The author doesn’t pull any punches and narrates the unethical dealings of some of the biggest business groups in India.He mentions how his cement competitiors esp India Cements blocked him in different markets, how the Murugappa Group reneged on their committment, how the Tata Group manipulated the share price of ACC etc

In the course of his career, he acquired 2 companies-Modi Cements & DLF Cements.

Regarding Modi Cements, he had this to say: “Our team examined the books and found rampant corruption across the company.The atmosphere at Modi Cement, we discovered, was tailor-made for corruption from top to bottom”

His comments on DLF Cements, he was equally scathing: “There were no systems,productivity was low and pollution-control measures were weak.A bigger shock was the fact the employees, including the CEO, were paid in cash every month”

The Book covers in detail how the author bought the shares of ACC, the subsequent controversies and finally the sale to Holcim.

One of the main reasons why the author had to sell out was his battle with mouth cancer.He had undergone multiple surgeries and sold when his body couldn’t handle the stress anymore.The cancer was caused by his two decade long habit of chewing tobacco in the form of pan masala and zarda.I found the author’s account of his battle with cancer very frank and instructive.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Indian business.

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