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The humongous fleet of miniature automobiles on display in his chic office gives away his obsession. “Well, of late, I have been facing a teeny-weeny competition from Vivaan, my two-year-old grandson. He takes away a car or two whenever he honours me with a visit, and I stealthily rescue them from his clutches and park them back,” complains Dr.Kumar Raja, breaking delightfully into a childlike laughter. If that speaks for his fascination for automobiles, his in-depth knowledge of it is reflected in his earning a doctorate degree and penning the book Indian Automobile Industry – Prospects and Retrospects. However, the founder and MD of K Kumar Raja Projects (P) Ltd., forayed into a field totally unrelated to his passion and made it to the top. His groundbreaking switch from an employee to entrepreneur is worth-emulating for ambivalent beginners. He speaks of the milestones he crossed till now and the road stretching ahead. Was it a cakewalk? Let us find out.

Crucial decision
Obtaining a degree in mechanical stream from AU, I joined BHPV (now BHEL) as a design engineer. But I resigned & floated my own company in 1986. It was certainly a (mis)adventure for a person who neither had prior knowledge nor background of the business. Yet, a desperate craving to be on my own made me go for this calculated risk.

The then booming LPG cylinder making unit looked like the right option. However, my overtures were spurned though I had all the required clearances. When one door closes the other opens and I got my first break with Military Engineer Services (MES) which gave me small orders in mechanical and electrical projects. My engineering and MBA degrees stood me in good stead. Within five years, I could break even, bagging bigger technology-oriented projects like setting up sub-stations, power transmission lines and special electrical works.

Projects and customers
Impressed by our performance, MES upgraded me in the enlistment line in quick succession and I reached the super special class. We got ISO 9001-2015 certificate and have served an impressive array of customers. We have executed several turnkey engineering projects for nearly 25 organisations like Defence, DRDO, Nuclear Power, Power Grid, Baba Atomic Research, Airport Authority of India, Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, ONGC, Steel Plant, Maharashtra Electricity Board, APSEB & Tamil Nadu Power Generation Corporation. We take up construction of civil and technical buildings too.

TAKE ON CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY With a market size of whopping Rs.2.50 lakh crores, it is the major contributor to the GDP and generates 32 million jobs. With 24% growth rate per year, the construction equipment market will reach the size of Rs.5 lakh crore by 2022.

It is a man power-oriented field; Banks and financial institutions hesitate to loan; Investment growth is hampered by cumbersome bureaucracy and poor regulatory and legal framework; Corruption and terrorism in some areas and unfinished economic reforms.

Abilities needed
One should identify his/her strengths and weaknesses, and learn to deal with failure. Should hire, train and manage effective staff. Focus on customers and convert given opportunities into advantages.

Getting into the field itself is a daunting task as nobody takes you seriously till you execute a project and to do so, you need to have a project. It is a catch22 situation. Your peers, fearing competition, don’t cooperate.

Bihar and UP
The projects in Bihar & UP, especially in the Poolan Devi constituency, Mirzapur, were intimidating. People used to move around with guns. Of course, we emerged unscathed.

Staff and stock
We have 200 technical staff on our rolls and hire contingent men as per requirement. We are often given the onus of post-project maintenance. Now, we have a contract with Airport Authority, Kolkata, which mandates maintenance for seven years.

Unforgettable experience
I had the rare honour of working with former President the late Dr.Kalam for a classified project when he was serving as the scientific advisor to the Defence Minister. I recently met President Mr.Ram Nath Kovind & Chiefs of defence wings in the capacity of the Life Member of Academic Senate, AU. I am involved in AU-Defence Joint Education and Research programme.

Demonetisation & GST
Demonetisation brought about only one change in our work. Earlier, we were paying our labour in cash and now we issue cheques. GST will end many ambiguities. Honest tradesmen need not fret over it. Government sops We should not sit at home and expect the government to come to our doorstep to help. Go to it with a good project and you are sure to get all the support. For instance, recently a boy from Hyderabad approached the state with a concept, seeking just Rs.8 lakh for his start up and returned home with a whopping Rs.2 crore funding.

Youth scenario
Construction industry is the 2nd largest in the country and 60% infrastructure budget goes for it. Hence, there is no dearth of opportunities for the determined youth. Our colleges produce 1.5 lakh engineers every year, but only 6000 are job-ready. I feel the students are not given proper guidance. Parents are partly to be blamed for it.

Gratifying project All defence projects. The latest trends Previously, our clients used to give us designed projects to be executed. Now we have to offer holistic solutions (design and build). Smart City tasks We are given the onus of building sub-stations to link the underground cable network. Present projects North Eastern states CSR activities Don’t want to publicise. Definition of discipline It is within you.

I paraphrase Ratan Tata, “Ethical management is the fundamental foundation for any sustainable business.” Your enjoying a sound sleep indicates it.
Giving one’s 100% to any task even when one is not under scrutiny.

“After studying MBA in the US and working for Accenture as a business analyst, I have come home with new concepts. I need to implement them without upsetting my father’s apple cart” says Shrikanth, who joined his father’s trade five years ago.

Voluntary move
No decision was ever forced on me. I got a placement in Dell, in a campus interview. But I went to the US and returned on my volition.

First project
My first project was with the steel plant which was facing some glitches. Luckily, I could resolve them to my father’s satisfaction. Now I handle the ground work while he negotiates with superiors.

I seem to be bridging a lot of gaps occurring at various places and levels. What we studied in institutions is a far cry from the reality and most of the time, it is not related. Again there is a huge gap between working from the desk and getting into the field. Last but not the least, is the difference between working in the US and in India. There the work gets done by shooting off an email, but for a similar job, we have to leg it out here.

Generation gap
Most of our employees came to my father when I was just a toddler and so there are slim chances of them taking me as a serious boss. They are used to a certain system but we need to modernise the existing systems and put new ones in place. I am building my own young team that understands my vision, and trying to bring it on board. It is still a work in progress.

Working with father?
No clashes. I accept his decisions as he is more experienced and he looks at my concepts with the enthusiasm of a colleague. We keep office away from home though both the units function in two layers of the same building.

Success mantra from father
Stay true to values and away from shortcuts- is what he tells me. I am yet to achieve his level of discipline. He took up doctoral studies at the age of 50 with great elan.

Future plans
Besides keeping this firm growing, we have a few plans to venture into other verticals. We have tied up with Best Western to run a hotel near the railway station.

My schooling was at Timpany and Vignan. I studied B.Tech (Electronics & Communica tion Engineering) from GITAM University. I obtained MBA degree, specializing in Management of Technology from New Jersey Institute of Technology. I cleared my pre-Ph.D examinations recently. So, I am following my father’s footsteps and going for doctorate.

Honours galore
• Eminent Engineer Award – 2015 from Institution of Engineers (India)
• MD of Nagalakshmi Agrofarms (P) Ltd
• Member of Board of Governors of Andhra University College of Engineering (A)
• Member, Board of Management, Centurion University
• Jt. Secretary of AU Alumini Association Vice-President
• AP Chambers of Commerce and Industry Federation
• AP Air Travellers Association Vice-Chairman
• Indian Plumbing Association, Vizag chapter
• Indian Accounting Association, Vizag chapter
• Age Care Foundation Past President
• Builders Association of India, Vizag Chapter
• Indian Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, Vizag chapter
Executive member
• Indian Green Building Council, Fire and Safety Association of India
• American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Airconditioning Engineers.

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