Friday, August 24, 2012

K Pandia Rajan (84) aims to carve a niche in the HR services segment with MaFoi Strategic Consultants

From The Economic Times

There is something indefatigable about K Pandia Rajan. The former head of the staffing and consultancy company Ma Foi Randstad has recently seen his life's work, a Rs 1,000-crore company, merge with its international partner to become Randstad India.

After more than two decades on the job, he's had to start over with a fledgling organisation, Ma Foi Strategic Consultants, and faces the prospect of striking out in the crowded and competitive field of recruitment and HR services. Yet, Pandia Rajan—staffing pioneer, entrepreneurship developer and legislator—is raring to go. "It took me 20 years to build a Rs 1,000-crore company," he says. "My plan is to do it again, but in half the time."

Clearly, Pandia Rajan, 53, likes challenges. With Ma Foi Strategic Consultants, he plans to go in a completely new direction: education, market research and strategy. The flagship of his new enterprise will be management schools across the country, but for entrepreneurs.

The first is a 15-month executive education programme to be run from Chennai, where he is based. The second, more ambitious, plan is to set up a 10-acre campus in Madurai by June 2013 to offer a two-year post-graduate programme in management.

"This will be the first B-school in the country entirely devoted to entrepreneurs," says Pandia Rajan. "VCs and PEs will be involved, right from the selection of candidates based on their ideas, to funding of startups."

So while other B-schools place students with companies, the Ma Foi Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship will connect budding entrepreneurs with investors. Pandia Rajan, a founder-member of the investors' group Chennai Angels, plans to rope in the Delhi and Mumbai chapters—a total of about 100 investors. "It will be a unique blend of entrepreneurship, consulting and research," he adds.

The Investor

This is familiar territory for Pandia Rajan. Besides playing a critical role in the Chennai Angels, and running various entrepreneurship development programmes via Ma Foi, he has also been a foundermember of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) and is associated with organisations like the Bharatiya Yuva Shakthi Trust (BYST), which helps foster enterprises among youngsters from marginalised groups.

"I have invested in 14 ventures myself, and none has failed," says Pandia Rajan, with a smile, to seal his credentials. "He is passionate about entrepreneurship, though he doesn't have much time for mentoring now," says Apsara Madhubal, coordinator for the Chennai Angels. "As a trustee, he also brings a governance perspective to the work of our organisation."

Pandia Rajan's 14 investments range from bakeries to e-learning companies. "I go by my gut," he says. "I don't have a lot of empirical evidence, but I always look to my entrepreneurial side." S Shivkumar, MD of the e-learning solutions company Axis V Creatives, one of those investments, reiterates this. "KPR's strength is his people ability," he says. "He is able to move with the same kind of ease with the finance minister and the watchman of the building."

According to wife Latha, Pandia Rajan has "very good ability to connect the dots. If someone is talking about a particular policy, he can see its impact on industry." Usually, before the policy comes into force.

"He reads voraciously, can see the backward and forward integration of things, and has tremendous energy, especially when it comes to meeting people," she says.

The Entrepreneur

Ma Foi's consulting business was born out of a 'connecting of dots'. In 1991, when Pandia Rajan was employed with BOC, a fire broke out in the Ravva oil fields in Andhra Pradesh and an Australian company was brought in to put out the blaze.

It sourced professionals from all over the world, including 31 non-resident Indians. "They brought in Indians to work for Indians on Indian soil," says Pandia Rajan. "I realised then that if you are able to access people around the world, and can move them to the right place at the right time, using the right model, it can be very lucrative."

The following year, he and Latha, with seed capital of Rs 60,000 borrowed mostly from friends and family, set up Ma Foi Management Consultants. While Pandia Rajan has the eye, his wife has the execution skills. "We are both firstgeneration entrepreneurs, and we've been able to work together for 23 years because we defined our boundaries," says Latha.

"While I took care of the finance, legal and people aspect of Ma Foi, Pandia Rajan took care of marketing and operations. These boundaries really helped us." As well as the business: by 2000, Ma Foi Consultants had grown from a Rs 10-crore company to a Rs 100-crore one, helped by VC funds, and by 2004, it had touched the Rs 500-crore mark.

The Politician

Besides their "passion for people", the couple also shares the philosophy of wanting to give back. That's what set Pandia Rajan on the path to politics in 2000, when he joined the BJP. Last year, he became an MLA for the DMDK from Virudhnagar, the district he grew up in.

Every weekend, Pandia Rajan trades in his suit for a veshti, and flies 400 km to his constituency from Chennai. He is a hands-on legislator, walking around his constituency and meeting the electorate; trying to cover each panchayat at least once in three months and making sure his Rs 2 crore local area development funds are properly deployed. Some of this has gone towards setting up engineering colleges in a district that is still 60% rural, an IT park and a 'knowledge city'.

While his position in the corporate world is undisputed, Pandia Rajan has to peddle doubly hard to impress his party. A DMDK colleague, who declined to be named, says: "He has not made any significant contribution to the party or his constituency.

However, he is one of the [most] knowledgeable and enterprising MLAs in the party. Since he has a management background, he understands the state finances well." During the tabling of the state budget, for instance, Pandia Rajan was seen taking copious notes, and later brought up some contentious issues with chief minister J Jayalalitha in the assembly.

A senior politico adds that while Pandia Rajan has come up with some good ideas for his constituency, nothing has been significant enough to catch the high command's eye. "[The ability to participate in] politics don't happen overnight. It takes time," he says, a tad sympathetically. Perhaps Pandia Rajan's new ventures will be just the thing to shut up the naysayers.

Talking Heads

Latha Rajan, Wife and business partner

We are both first-generation entrepreneurs, and we've been able to work together for 23 years because we defined our boundaries.

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