I was visiting Chennai and made a visit to the market with my elder brother. The signs of material success and consumerism were everywhere to see. The current generation was guilt free when it came to fuel a debt led lifestyle.
I came across a shop selling modern furniture – the best that money could buy. I noticed the owner who was supervising some work and realized that he was the same old wily trader who made his fortune selling Consumer Durables on easy finance. Well that nearly 15 years ago and I was a young and inexperienced Sales Manager with a leading MNC company offering consumer finance. It brought back many memories from the past …
It was a sheer luck that I happened to join the dynamic retail finance business. I had just completed my MBA and riding on my B.Sc.(Chem) degree, I had joined an Indian Conglomerate that was trading in industrial chemicals. It was a rather staid job but did provide an outlet to utilize what I had learnt in college.
And suddenly I got an opportunity to switch gears through an internal referral. Consumer Finance was a nascent but rising business and we all rode the retail way. Being young it was thrilling and part of the ‘work hard and party hard’ culture. I was referred for the job by Ravi whose brother had a DSA arrangement with my company. Ravi too took a DSA to sell finance on consumer durables. Eventually our paths crossed again and I got an oversight on his business.
It was never quite profitable for Ravi for there was too much fluctuation in his volumes and costs. To his cost Ravi realized after a year that the experiment had not really worked and it would be better for him to cut his losses. Indeed even we realized that without adequate scale this model didn’t quite work in the said segment.
But the year I spent with Ravi was interesting. He was very enthusiastic and would be in office early in the morning. He had a sales team of about 3 sales executives and a back-end coördinator. Post adding the office overheads the breakeven was quite tough to achieve. Ravi was also not very good at man-management and he never handled his team in a professional manner. Invariably he would become far too familiar with them and lose the job focus required. And the team was never a steady ship and people kept changing all the time.
I remembered Ravi because in particular he was very interested in the business run by the trader whom I had just spotted. Ravi felt that there was a great potential in the set-up and went out of his way to offer incentive schemes to him. Unfortunately it was never an even relationship and Ravi was easily taken for a ride. What I found galling was that though Ravi always got the thin edge of the wedge, he still felt that it was his fault. The ‘trader’ had unerringly identified his victim and easily maneuvered him to his advantage. Retail Finance was an unforgiving business and there really was no space for dreamers like Ravi. Eventually things became too hot for Ravi to manage as his wife took umbrage about the state of affairs and they moved to a new life in Dubai. I still remember the torn look on Ravi’s face as he didn’t relish the change and moving away from his easy and familiar surroundings.
Suddenly I noticed that the Trader was staring at me and there was a brief twinkle in his eye. I was not sure on whether he had recognized me and I didn’t want to renew our acquaintance. He was an old hand and seemed to have made a habit of running his ventures profitably. But I was not comfortable with him and did hold a childish grievance against him for the manner in which he had exploited my old friend who was not at all well-versed with the ways of the world. I decided to simply step out and breath the pleasant breeze that is a trademark of the Margazhi month.