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My first million: Sanjay Jain

March 06, 2004

When Sanjay Jain started his company Bharat Export Corporation -- for trading in herbs and essential oils -- in 1993, he had a staff of two people and one room to work out of.

Today his SVIL Group is the country's largest manufacturer of sandalwood oil, with a turnover of Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) and a growth of over 50 per cent projected for the coming year.

Jain's future plans for his company include growing sandalwood trees on its own land and providing consumers education on the benefits of the oil.

"My father was a financial consultant, an avowedly self-made man. As a youngster, he was kicked out of the house by my grandfather because he wanted to pursue further studies rather than join the family trade; my grandfather's job was delivering ghee from house to house on his cycle, but my father had greater ambitions for himself. His attitude has served as an inspiration for me too.

"Anyway, my father completed his graduation in cost accountancy, did his MBA from Delhi University, and then got married and settled down here. My two brothers and I were born in Delhi.

"Growing up, my early interests were playing billiards and cricket but I had to think in more practical terms. I did mechanical engineering at the University of Rourkee (later IIT Rourkee), where I stood third (my brother came first). And in 1987 I did my MBA from IIM Ahmedabad.

"After some months spent working with the Bureau of Industrial Costs and Practices (BICP), I got into the business of herbs. We would procure herbs from Himachal Pradesh and Nepal, and sell them here in Delhi.

"In 1993 I started my first company, Bharat Export Corporation -- a trading company for herbs and essential oils -- with Rs 7.5 lakh (Rs 750,000) borrowed from my father.

"I earned my "first million" a few months later, when I got an order for 100 tonnes of chiraita -- a blood purifier -- from Zandu Pharmaceuticals. We procured it from Nepal at Rs 60 per kg and sold it at Rs 100 per kg. The result was my first profit of Rs 10 lakh-plus!

"Soon after this, I floated a manufacturing unit to make perfumery compounds. And in 1997 SVIL (Surya Vinakar India Ltd) came into being -- this was India's first sandalwood oil manufacturing unit in the organised sector.

"Our main aim was to supply high-quality sandalwood oil and we were among the first to set up a laboratory -- in Wazirpur Industrial Area -- to test sandalwood oil. Our products are now exported to all major countries in Europe and the Asia Pacific.

"We manufacture perfumery compounds and essences but our main product is sandalwood oil. I think people need to be educated about the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of this oil.

"To this end, I am planning to open a training school which will provide necessary information on the benefits of using sandalwood.

"This May, we will start growing our own sandalwood trees on 20 acres of land we have kept for the purpose in Sampla, Haryana. The aim is to eventually be self-dependant, so we do not have to procure sandalwood from other sources.

"It will take some time because oil can be obtained from the trees only 15 years after they are planted, but this is still a big step forward for us.

"We have also initiated numerous community development programmes aimed at the betterment of society. I am the president of the Shankaracharya Trust and have opened a charitable hospital in association with them, in Rudraprayag. We also have a surgical camp in Alwar and a polio camp in Mehrauli. The money comes from SVIL's profits.

"I started in 1993 with just a courier boy and a steno-typist, who worked in the same room as I did, on the first floor of my residence.

"Today we have a staff strength of around 300, five manufacturing facilities and a turnover of Rs 300 crore, which should cross Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) next year. I think I can pride myself on being a self-made man, like my father."

-- As told to Jai Arjun Singh.

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