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Born for Business: The Marwari People

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Rajasthan state is located in the northwestern part of India and the name means as the ‘land of the kings.’ It is one of the popular travelers’ destinations that fall under Delhi and Taj Mahal tourist circuit. Medieval oligarchs built spectacular palaces and lavish forts, now metamorphosed into luxury hotels and museums. The contemporary village life, beautiful handicrafts, decorated camels and fine arts are also amazing attractions.

Marwar region is in the central and western regions of Rajasthan and is famous throughout India for its residents who are spread across India – the Marwaris, most successful and wealthiest business community in India. This unique, tiny community dominates the country’s economy and has pan India presence like no other ethnic group and occupy a pre-eminent position in Indian business. For instance, the top 10 Marwari companies have 6 percent capitalization of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and constitute a quarter of the Forbes Indian billionaires list.

In Sanskrit, the word Marwar refers to Maruwat, the root maru implies desert. Another meaning for the word Marwar in English is “the region of death” to impute the harsh desert climate that characterizes Rajasthan state. Marwaris are named after Marwar region. Some historians attribute to these harsh desert conditions influencing Marwari migration and prosperity. D. K. Taknet himself a Marwari and who has written on their heritage has mentioned that they are genetically disposed to accumulate wealth despite the desert conditions – to make money out of nothing. Though anthropologists and historians might disagree with the theory of genetic or environmental causal factors, the meme exists in the folklore to illuminate exotic Orient.

Thomas Timberg, a Harvard graduate has studied extensively the Marwaris; in fact, his doctoral dissertation was on this community. According to Timberg, Marwaris ability to adapt to varied circumstances and places, and being flexible are traits that contribute to their extraordinary success. He said at a recent panel discussion “The answer also probably lies in the fact the commercial communities in general, and Marwaris in particular, have successfully implemented attitudes, skills and support systems.” He is of the view that some of the Indian business communities do inculcate ‘Protestant ethic’ of hard work, thrift and rationality.

Even before the word ‘network’ entered the business lexicon, the overwhelming Marwari community’s success is attributed to networking. There is a difference between network-affiliation and network-achievement. The former is defined as a need to associate with a group and have the alacrity to help others in that group. The latter refers to entrepreneurs starting new enterprises. The Marwaris who have migrated to the east and central parts of India and made fortunes had benefited from excellent support network.

Marwaris are orthodox and are mild-mannered, soft-spoken and peaceful. They prefer to live in a joint family; vegetarians who enjoy an assortment of home-cooked dishes; they take vegetarianism seriously. To a certain extent they resemble the Mediterranean and European Jewish trading communities.

Pan India Presence

Despite having poor, hot desert conditions, they are industrious who refused to give in to poverty. Rather, they formed cooperative groups of skilful traders who left their wives and children in their native villages and ventured out to distant places to seek fortune. Fortune does favor the brave; they succeeded and made fortunes.

From an early age, children learn business because they are surrounded by business persons and watch closely their kin and friends, and imbibe survival skills by making and selling products. The elders are supportive to an individual in starting an enterprise. It is said the Marwaris started making earthen or mud pots and bartered these with cereals or money outside of Marwar, Rajasthan, and from then on diversified and never looked back. For hundreds of years the same attitude pervades in them to take risk and strike it on own. Establishing a business earns more respect than an university degree and entrepreneurship is strongly encouraged. Capital is readily available to an honest youth

Until the 12th century, the community depended on agriculture and cattle breeding. The Muslim occupation during this period forced them to shift to trade. From the time of Mughal empire they have emigrated to other Indian regions. The Mughal period was between 16-19th centuries and during the reign of Akbar (1542-1605) they have been employed in eastern Bengal state by Emperor Akbar to oversee food, ammunition and arms supplies. The community has a large presence in Calcutta, the capital of Bengal and expanded their businesses. Since then the Marwari entrepreneurs have been moving out of their home state Rajasthan to various parts of India

By 18th century the British firmly established their presence in Bengal: first, as a company and later as an empire. Calcutta was the major trading post for the British and Marwaris with their business skills made fortunes by becoming agents and brokers to the British. Some of the leading industrial houses founders started small here in Calcutta with major English firms. Most of the young Marwaris stayed community-run basas, or hostels. By late 19th century Marwaris dominated cotton and jute trade. They made huge profits speculating in jute, cotton and hessian during the World War I, which laid the platform for them to enter the many industrial careers.

To sell finished British goods in India, the foreign companies needed agents and offered good brokerage. Marwaris are quick to chase opportunities and take risks-seized the colonial trade, and moved where the action is – into ports as brokers and accumulated fabulous wealth. As the British traders evinced an interest in tea, jute, silver, gold and opium, the migrant traders quickly developed strong insights in these commodities and became indispensible for foreign companies, in turn, making enormous profits for themselves.

Source: Google

Joint Family Values

Each member of the Marwari community supportive of others and the community bonds are very strong. For instance, a businessperson might take an initiative to look after the well-being of unemployed or a needy person in his native village. As such, as a close-knit community they tend to preserve rituals and traditional values in distant lands. They have less ego issues and trained to do business and not to behave like royals.

For Marwari men and women’s lives revolve around the family. The harsh desert climate and absence of opportunities compelled enterprising young men to journey to other parts of the country. When they left, there was solid support of their fathers, uncles, and brothers back at home. Even if one failed, the security of joint family would cushion compared if only an individual was involved on stand-alone basis. Community as a support system is more visible among Marwaris and the strong social support that propels them towards entrepreneurship.

While the joint family infrastructure laid good foundations for taking risks, the community as whole quickly adapted to new cities and villages. In general, a Marwari shop or enterprise will accommodate young men by their established friends and relatives in the region before they are ready to strike on their own. It is the strong family ties that enable these businesses that binds and gives the freedom to take risks. For Marwaris family in ‘family-based business’ is important and sacrosanct. This is evident by the reverence the elders receive. It is not uncommon for a powerful CEO or industrialist to touch an elder relative’s feet as a sign of respect, even in the midst of a board meeting.

When a Marwari travelled on business, his wife and children were cared for in a joint family at home. Wherever he went in search of trade, he found shelter and good Marwari food in a basa, a sort of collective hostel run on a co-operative basis or as philanthropy by local Marwari merchants. Most of them do business and lend money within themselves. In case a Marwari needed money, he takes loan from another Marwari trader on the premise that it is payable on demand, even at midnight. The latter too reciprocate with a loan if requested. They tally and settle the interest at the end of the year. Community banks insure the goods in transit and traders collect dues on goods arrival. Nephews and son intern with other traders, where they earn wages through profit sharing, learn valuable business skills, and accrue capital to start their own enterprises after gaining necessary experience. Another feature that is attributed to their success of their enterprises and keeping their social identity is being able to blend well with the host culture they migrate to.

According to David McCelland, a social theorist observed that, the conservative, traditional communities have pivoted the production of industrial entrepreneurs. The core argument for this belief is that values and institutions that have roots in the joint family systems encouraged rather being barriers to fulfill the aspirations of the family members, even those with limited vision. The strong foundations of traditional values ingrained in the Marwari joint family system helped them become successful entrepreneurs.

Marwaris prefer to marry within their community as they are conservative and being a business community there are several factors that deter inter-caste marriages. However, in recent years the community is open to inter-caste marriages and choosing partners from outside the community. Some of the factors that are against inter-caste marriages are that the Marwaris follow a number of rituals which differ from others and there are compatibility issues as their culture is very different from other groups and castes. Due to their entrepreneurial spirit and being wealthy, the lack of equation can bring in difficulties. Thus, they might mingle with other groups but when at marriage they look within the community.

Certainly a unique community that over generations due favorable political and social conditions have prospered – seems by birth they have magic touch to make wealth!

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About the Author

This article was written by Francis Eddu. contact.

Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor

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Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor.

What’s your story?
I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014.

What excites you most about your industry?
The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner.

Who inspires you?
A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Property is the foundation of every business.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Own instead of renting property for my business.

How do you unwind?
I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Sun Tzu, Art of war

Shameless plug for your business:
Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor

How can people connect with you?
Email me at [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@StoneAmperor

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Is There A Coworking Space Bubble?

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An annual growth rate of nearly 100%, almost five years in a row? More than 60 coworking spaces in a city like Berlin? Are these the characteristics of a bubble? Nope, these are characteristics of a lasting change in our world of work, which has been further catalyzed by the recent economic crises in many countries. But what makes this change different to a bubble? We’ve summarized some arguments of why the coworking movement is based on a sustainable change. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to open a good working coworking space.

Five reasons why the growth of coworking spaces is based on organic and sustainable growth: 

1. Coworking spaces invest their own money and create real wealth

Already, there is a convincing argument supporting why coworking spaces are not developing in a bubble: the fact that they create real wealth.

Whether referring to the dotcom bubble a decade ago or the real estate crisis in Spain or the United States, the crisis originated in a glut of cheap money, in an environment in which the sender and the recipient were unacquainted. From funds and banks, money flowed in steady streams to investments which offered little resistance and the most promising returns – which only a little while later turned into delusions and ruined investments.

Redistributed risks create illusions. Those people who distributed the money rarely wore the risk of investment decisions. The risk was mainly taken by small shareholders or people who bought parts of those investments. This was because either both parties’ (better) judgement was drowned out by the noise of the market, or because shareholders were unaware of the risk, and were at the mercy of banks and funds for reliable information.

Another fundamental condition for the creation of bubbles are the sheer amounts of money that flow from various locations globally and are concentrated, by comparison, in much fewer places.

Most coworking spaces, however, receive their funding from local or nearby sources and do not operate within this financial system. In fact, the founders mainly inject the bulk of the required investment, and turn to friends or relatives for additional support. They wear the full brunt of the risks that are involved in small-time investment.

They have access to much more information, because it is their own project, rather than a foreign one thousands of miles away. This also includes failures and mistakes that are encountered along the way, but the risk is less redistributed, thereby decreasing the probability of failures.

2. Labor market changes demand on certain office types lastingly

Most users of coworking spaces are self-employed. The proportion of employees is also on the rise, in many cases simply because they work for small companies that increasingly opt to conduct their business in coworking spaces rather than in traditional offices. The industry of almost all coworkers fall within the Internet-based creative industries.

With flexibilisation of work markets, new mobile technologies that are changing work patterns, and the increase of external services purchasing from large and medium-sized enterprises (outsourcing), the labor market has changed radically in many parts of the world.

The long-term financial and emotional security of becoming an employee no longer exists, especially for younger generations of workers. Bigger companies are quicker to fire than hire, and precarious short-term contracts are on the rise. Promising options on the labor market are more often recuded to freelancer careers and starting your own company.

And that’s possible with less money to invest. All you need is a laptop, a brain and a good network. For years, the number of independent workers and small businesses has been growing worldwide – particularly in internet-based creative industries. Anyone who has sufficient specialized skills and the willingness to take risks may adapt more quickly to market conditions if they own a small business or are self employed; more so than if they were to work in a dependent position in an equally volatile market.

Coworking spaces provide an environment in which to do this. Once they have joined a (suitable) coworking space, these factors become apparent to coworkers, who will remain in their space for years to come.

Furthermore, independent workers rarely fire themselves in crises, and even small companies are less likely to give their employees the boot – compared to their large counterparts. This combination enables more sustainable business models – and less business models à la Groupon.

3. Coworking spaces don’t live on crises

Global economic growth is waning while the number of coworking spaces is continually growing. Do coworking spaces thus benefit from this crisis?

The current crises accelerate the formation and growth of coworking spaces, because they offer solutions and space for the resulting problems. Coworking spaces are therefore not a result of a crisis, but the product of change that pre-dates their existence. A crisis is simply the most visible expression of change.

The first coworking spaces emerged in the late 1990s; the movement’s strong growth started six years ago – before the onset of economic downturns in many countries.

4. Coworking spaces depend on the needs of their members

Most coworking spaces are rarely full. Does this mean they are unsuccessful? On average, only half of all desks are occupied. But the average occupancy rate of 50% refers only to a specific date.

In fact, coworking spaces generally serve more members than they can seat at any given time, since members do not use the spaces simultaneously. Coworking spaces are places for independents who want to work on flexible terms. Smaller spaces rely more on permanent members. Larger spaces can respond more flexibilty to the working hours of its members, and, can rent desks several times over.

If a coworking space is always overcrowded or totally empty, the purpose of said space would be defeated. Firstly, it is rather impossible to work in an overcrowded room. Second, it’s impossible to cowork in an empty room. Given the nature of flexible memberships, a coworking space only can survive if they fit the needs of their members. Members would otherwise be quick to leave, and membership would be much more transient.

5. The coworking market is far from saturation

Less than 2% of all self-employed – and even fewer employees – currently work in coworking spaces. Reporting on coworking may increase, but inflated reporting on the coworking movement in the mainstream media is still far away.

Coverage of coworking space are most likely to be found in the career or local sections in larger publications – front cover coverage remains the dream of many space operators. This is because the whole coworking movement can’t be photographed in one picture. What appears to be a disadvantage, however, is actually a beneficial truth: niche coverage allows the industry to grow organically, and avoid over inflation.

Conclusion

Coworking spaces don’t operate in parallel universes – like the financial market. Demand and supply are almost exclusively organic and operate in the real world economy.

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that opening a coworking spaces will be automaticly successful. Anyone who fails to learn how to deal with potential customers in their market, or is unfamiliar with how coworking communities function, will have a difficult time of making one work. In the same way that business people in other industries will fail if they do not understand their market.

Those who simply tack on the word ‘coworking’ to their space’s facade will need to work harder. The structure of most coworking spaces is based on real work, calculated risk, and real-world supply and demand.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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