'If you are determined, you find a way'

Written by Prachi Raturi Misra | Updated: Aug 28 2008, 07:32am hrs
He might not have gone to a management school, but his techniques sure speak volumes about his business acumen. How else do you explain the success of Kewal Krishan Kumar, chairman and managing director of Shakti Bhog Foods Ltd, which has a turnover of over Rs 1,400 crore.

The company has around 70% of market share in the branded wheat flour segment in North India and plans to make it big in South India now. In fact it launched in Bangalore and some neighbouring areas in June this year. And Kumar is only eyeing more customers. He plans to acquire two-three food product companies in India in this fiscal year and get into joint ventures in Australia and Dubai.

What is interesting is that Kumar didnt inherit it all. He has humble beginning. Before Partition, his grandfather had a little grinding unit in Anarkali Bazaar of Lahore and after Partition, his father started a grinding unit to produce besan (chick pea flour) in India.

Kumar is a boisterous man who might want things fast, yet doesnt believe in letting the quality suffer. Its little surprise then that Shakti Bhog Atta is today a household name in wheat consuming homes. Its the mass market that Kumar targets. He doesnt mince his words when he says, The richer you are, the lesser you tend to eat. The Kelloggs eating variety will probably have one chapatti, but for chapatti eating population, its our atta that forms the staple food.

What is interesting to note is that MNCs have come and gone, but Shakti Bhog has stood its ground with its peoples power. This is not exactly a great profit making business. A lot of people have come and gone. We bought over Nature Fresh two years back. Today even biggies are having problems in flour business. I created a name for my atta long before these people even dreamt of flour business.

And when the government banned export of wheat products last year, Kumar diversified into ready to eat products and now supplies to 47 countries.

Kumars entry into flour business was almost accidental. As a student of Sri Ram College of Commerce, Kumar took interest in his fathers business but probably just as a young boy curious about his family business. It was one incident, however, that changed his life. His mother had sent him to grind some flour. Those were the good old days when people took their own wheat to little grinding units.

Kumar, however, had a movie to catch with friends and couldnt afford to stand in the long queue. And thats when he thought of buying a packet of atta. He wasn't sure how his mother would react, but he quietly bought it and kept it at home. Later he asked his mother about the quality of the flour and she said it was nice. That is when I thought of starting a business of packaged atta. The year was 1980. The family didnt think there was a market in packaged flour, but Kumar was determined to make it. So, while he did take care of his fathers business, he also started working on his idea.

A believer in Goddess Durga, Kumar decided to call it Shakti Bhog. Also, since wheat is the staple diet of a large Indian population, Kumar thought the name was just appropriate. Kumar did his own research from individually taking packets of his factory ground flour in autos to understanding what people wanted. The first year saw him suffer a loss of about a lakh , but it wasnt enough to deter him. Something told me that Id make it. I didnt even tell my family about the loss.

In a year, Kumars determination bore fruit when Agmark approached him to certify his flour for quality. It was a great feeling, confesses he. Slowly the business started picking up. And if something that has kept his products going, Kumar says, its their quality. I dont believe in compromising on quality. You expect the best only when you give it your best. I give my products the best I can and I have been getting returns in the form of growing consumers.

Today, Kumar has 16 factories that run 24/7. Its little surprise that from 50 quintals a day, his factories now produce 50 lakh quintals of flour every month. What has also kept Kumar growing is the fact that he has constantly evolved with time. When MNCs entered, for example, he did a little repackaging.

Last year when the government banned exports of wheat, Kumar didnt fret about the fact that he would lose business in 47 countries. Instead, he started thinking of alternative business plans.

He says, When you are determined, you will surely find a way. Soon his research team came up with the idea of exporting rice, multi-grain porridge and ready to eat food.

Given the present rage for health foods and Indian foods internationally, Kumar had hit the bulls eye. By September this year, he plans to launch these products in India as well. The other plan is to focus on health foods. Right from diabetic atta to porridge with vegetables and obesity atta, there is a whole lot of products that Kumar is focusing on. Its another thing, that he likes to keep his cards close to his chest. There are many plans on the anvil in the health field, but I prefer to let my products talk. So, once they enter the market, consumers can decide for themselves. I dont believe in publicity.

Health, says Kumar, is a subject close to his heart. Thats why he forayed into television and started a health channel by the name of Shakti channel three years back. The initial idea was to launch a kidney hospital in his fathers name after he died of a kidney ailment. But his friends and family discouraged him against setting up a hospital. So, he decided to start a health channel. The underlying idea is the same. I want people to lead healthier lives. So, Im not looking at the channel as a profit-making venture. Instead, I want it to contribute to healthier lifestyles. So, even if one person benefits from it, Im satisfied.

Since health is high on Kumars agenda, he is sporty enough to acknowledge that he also needs to shed some weight. I have set up a gym at home and try to work-out. Sweets are my weakness and Im trying hard to curb the urge to dig into sweets, he smiles.

A normal day for Kumar begins at around 6 am. He practises yoga for about an hour from 7 am and begins his day by 9 am after hes had breakfast with his family. Meals are times when we try and catch up. Its the time when my wife, two sons , daughter and I get time to talk about all kinds of issues. Our is a close knit family.

If there is anything that makes him as happy as the company of his family, its his work. I feel incomplete if I dont go to the factory, inspect the products , attend meetings, and speak to my distributors.

Fact File

* K K Kumar is a commerce graduate from Sri Ram College of Commerce.

* His grandfather ran a small grinding unit in Lahore.

* Shakti Bhog Foods Ltd (SBFL) is a Rs 1,400 crore-group