It does not matter whether you have been gifted business as a legacy or are a first time entrepreneur, business is hard work and you have to prove yourself along every bit of the entrepreneurial journey with creativity, vision and perseverance. This is what Vishnu K Agarwal, Promoter and Managing Director of MAW Enterprises, believes as someone who had to prove himself every inch of the way.
The son of an entrepreneur who founded Nepal‘s first workshop and took on the dealership of Yamaha motorcycles, his father led the way in two-wheeler trading years ago. Agarwal was exposed to numbers, percentages, talk of profit and loss early in life, and encouraged to join the family business. But it was his passion for motorcycles that fuelled the entrepreneur in him.
Responsibility rested easy on his shoulders because he never took work for granted. He says, “If you are given a position you have to keep proving yourself in order to sustain and grow in that position. Even though it is a family business, you have to keep proving that you are worthy of the position not just to your parents, but also to the people who work with you, and the people who choose to buy your product.â€ This became Agarwal‘s formula of excellence.
The formula also has an over-arching implication on Agarwal‘s life and the way he does business. Initially he was driven to make money and grow the volume of transactions but it grew into something more which he says, “It eventually became more important to build the brand, ensure quality of the products you trade in, look after the well-being of the people who work for you, and hone the ability to create norms, systems and eventually an organisation of repute.â€
Agarwal ventured into business almost unprepared soon after higher secondary studies. His father – based in Biratnagar – had established a branch in Kathmandu for Escorts and Rajdoot brands of motorcycles. Vishnu Agarwal was deputed for the task. He took this as an opportunity to get involved in the business. “It was challenging in the beginning as I was doing my Bachelors studies and also handling the business, but I took on the challenge with a mindset to perform well, learn and excelâ€. He was soon looking after multiple components such as taking delivery of the motorbikes, managing showrooms, dealing with customers, taking care of the workshop and other logistics.
Vishnu Agarwal was also now getting ready to add value to his father‘s way of doing business. In 1995, three years after he joined business, he introduced three strategies for the first time in his business and in Nepal to overcome the inertia facing the auto industry – marketing of two wheelers, the concept of bank guarantee, and the concept of dealership. “I was not satisfied that customers were the ones to approach us to buy motorcycles, rather I felt the need to tell people about our product and attract them to buy it. Attraction alone was not enough; they would also need finance to buy bikes which led us to introduce financing facility.â€
According to Agarwal, he also initiated the dealership concept from the traditional branch concept, and this helped grow the business tremendously. “Previously, we would take care of all the branches. This demanded more manpower and resources and impaired us from thinking ahead,â€ he explains, adding, “The dealership concept rocked and by 1998, we were successful in opening a handful of dealerships which has now gone up to 60.â€
Some of the innovations he introduced were game-changers as they helped flourish his business, gave him increased credibility, and popularised the motorcycle culture in Nepal.
Also back in 1994, Nepal‘s first billionaire Binod Chaudhary had established United Finance Limited jointly with Escorts Finance Ltd, India. On his request, Vishnu Agarwal joined the finance company in 1996. The company however was not doing well. In 2002, Chaudhary entrusted him with the operations when the finance company only had a total loan portfolio of around Rs 16 crores out of which around Rs 7 crores was non-performing assets, and the company was running on operational loss. Agarwal turned around the company and by 2010 the company recorded a total loan portfolio of Rs 300 crores with less than one percent non-performing assets. How did he do it? Agarwal says that there are always two very important pillars of any organisation – people and processes or systems. “With the help of my friends in the banking sector, I was able to create a very transparent system within the finance company. The process was not only in paperwork but all were made obliged to follow the process. I also worked very hard in instilling accountability among the team. And this gave a complete different direction to United Finance. And that was the direction towards success,â€ he reminisces.
Agarwal credits Binod Chaudhary for helping him learn about corporate culture, ways of doing business, setting up of an organisation, dealing with people and more. Today he strongly believes the accountability is the soil on which strategy, scaling up, growth can be built.
Innovation is the name of the game
Agarwal is astonishingly not a strategist, big planner, risk-taker which are considered key characteristics of an entrepreneur. However, he is a person who has learnt to mould himself to the needs of the hour. He has remained true to his core business and undertaken new ventures after studying them and gaining first hand insight.
He set up an industrial equipment division in 1999 to supply critical equipment for industries. In 2003, infrastructure development was gaining momentum in the country but there were limited heavy-equipment available in the country. He took on the distributorship of JCB establishing a company called MAW Earth Movers. His company today has 75 percent market share in the heavy equipment segment, he states with pride. Agarwal also took on the agency of Yamaha generators and musical equipment, and the dealership of Fiat and Skoda cars, and MAN trucks. Catering to the segment who would like to purchase MAW vehicles but have difficulty in finding resource, he then founded MAW Investment which finances the products under its dealership leveraging purchasing power.
From making his mark on the roads of Nepal, he now also deals with aircrafts. With partners, he has started a company to import LET Aircrafts which is a Czech joint venture with 19-seater planes. “We have already sold two planes to Goma Air last year,â€ he says, adding that this latest venture has not only given him immense pride and gratification but also has made his company a complete solution for automotives and vehicles. “This is really great that we deal with motorbikes and planes and all in between,â€ he expresses.
Building on Trust
People are always at the heart of business for Agarwal. He says, “Development of my staff and their happiness has always been my primary focus, for when my employees are happy and they grow, my business will grow automaticallyâ€. He credits the success of his company to more than 600 people who currently work in his organisation.
‘Building Trust through Service‘ is his company tagline, and Agarwal has left no room to win customer trust and respect. He does not choose what to import and deal in based on the profit margins but on the basis of quality and popularity. “I want my customers to be happy and satisfied with the products they buy from us. Our customers are our biggest brand ambassadors,â€ he states. He also ensures timely after sales service and availability of spare parts, and does not hesitate to listen to the customers‘ grievances in person should the need arise.
Agarwal claims that MAW plays a very important role in Nepal‘s automobile and transportation sector. He reminisces how the business was started from a workshop in 1965 moved to ancillaries, petroleum lubricants, tyres, tractors to what it is now.
Introduction of the dealership concept, bank guarantee, initiation of reconditioned sales almost for the first time, establishment of finance company to finance bikes and motors exclusively, introduction of racing in motorcycles, and the use of Enterprise Resource Plannig (ERP), among other achievements are to be credited to Vishnu Agarwalâ€¦ things he takes pride in and which have also helped evolve the country‘s automotive landscape.
More than a businessman
Agarwal is also Vice President of Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI). In CNI, Agarwal is leading the infrastructure unit. His focus is to intensify the infrastructure development of Nepal. He states that infrastructure is the backbone of the economy and an inevitable factor for national growth. “We already have successful PPP (Private-Public Partnership) projects in Hydropower sector. Our dream is to build a highway project on the PPP model,â€ Agarwal says.
Agarwal has been promoted to Honorary Consul General of Czech Republic to Nepal from Honorary Consul for the same nation five years back. During this time, he has been able to promote mutual relationship between Nepal and the Czech Republic. As a result, Prague has an increased interest in investing in Nepal. The influx of Czech tourists has also grown considerably.