From nickel to gold, carving a niche

N. Ramakrishnan | Updated on March 10, 2018

- D. Chandrasekharof Thejus

Thejus offers figurines from Rs 75 to Rs 1 lakh

The next time you step into a store and buy a gold-plated memento with intricate work, and see the name Thejus embossed at the back, think of 64-year-old D. Chandrasekhar.

Thejus is the latest of Chandrasekhar’s ventures and one that was an offshoot of an industrial plating business that he started. Thejus does gold-plating for temple towers and offers customers figurines and other objects plated with gold, with prices ranging from Rs 75 to Rs 1 lakh.

An alumnus of IIT-Madras in Metallurgy, Chandrasekhar went to Germany and worked in an aluminium processing company in North Rhine-Westphalia for a couple of years before being forced to come back home as his work permit was not extended.

Back home

In a way this forced return home was a blessing in disguise for Chandrasekhar, as it set him on the path of entrepreneurship. After a brief stint in a small-scale unit in Tiruchi, he returned to Chennai and started doing fabrication work for the public sector BHEL.

This was in the early 1970s and the Tamil Nadu Government was looking to encourage entrepreneurs with technical education. Chandrasekhar started off in a small shed in an industrial estate in Chennai doing structures and then ductings for BHEL. He remembers approaching a nationalised bank for margin-free working capital. Even as the bank went about its tortuous pace, he started off with the Rs 15,000 in his pocket, with which he got his workplace ready.

He was in business by August 1974 and since then has continuously looked for fresh opportunities and entered new businesses as dictated by the market. “Being BHEL, they had to be careful with their prices. It is not something you can live with your whole life,” he says. He then branched off into making sub-assemblies for other machinery manufacturers, specialised in repairing mixing machines and, thanks to reverse engineering, became an expert in making mixing machines for the brake lining industry.

Chandrasekhar’s big breaks came in the early 1980s, when Rane, a Chennai-based automobile component manufacturer for which he had done work earlier, gave him a completely new project. Another order was for making mixing machines for the iodised salt programme, with Unicef being a major customer. “For 15 years, I was the single supplier of this machine to Unicef,” he recalls. His metallurgy background helped him when India Pistons, an auto component maker, had an issue with recovery of metals at its plant.

“I also realised that it would be safer for me to take the same route of winding up activities in eight to nine years, not run them life long. Competition sets in, bad practices come in, it would become difficult,” says Chandrasekhar, on his strategy.

Then came an opportunity to get into a joint venture with a Norwegian powder coatings manufacturer. This didn’t take off as originally envisaged, as the government changed the rules on foreign investment in the sector. With succession being an issue, Chandrasekhar did not want to find himself in a situation where he would have to manage all the businesses by himself.

Still, when he learnt that there was a business possibility in doing industrial plating without electrolysis, Chandrasekhar went after it. He acquired the technology from England. “Initially,our customer (an L&T venture) told us not to rely too much on them. But they ended up giving us the maximum business, starting in 1996-97.”

From industrial plating, Chandrasekhar diversified into gold plating in early 2000. In the mid-1990s he had started another business, to make kits for Unicef to test common salt for iodine content.

The industrial plating activity, Chandrasekhar says, he will look after as long as he is able to. His daughter-in-law looks after Thejus. “Electroless nickel plating is also coming down. It is no longer a fancy job. A niche operator should exit once the niche conditions are over,” says Chandrasekhar.

Two activities

The soft-spoken Chandrasekhar says he is looking to expand only two activities – test kits and Thejus.

Chandrasekhar says he learnt business and managing ventures on the job. You don’t have to be a financial wizard, he says. You can be a conventional and conservative guy with money, he adds. “You have many people’s money in your hand – customer’s advance, supplier’s credit, your own unpaid bills. If you confuse all that and take it and spend it, then you have had it.”

For an entrepreneur, he says, business is not all about financial issues. It is a question of “managing the present at all times.” There are hundreds of routine things to be taken care of and if that is done, there will be plenty of time to do other things.

His mantra: Create a “to do” list and stick to it. “You don’t require a reminder. A lot of entrepreneurs are doing just that (sending reminders for routine things),” says Chandrasekhar.

Published on June 16, 2013

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