DSK De-coded: Self-made billionaire pays the price for not knowing where to stop
Almost everyone who’s met DSK has a memorable story about him.pune Updated: Nov 07, 2017 15:46 IST
A rags-to-riches businessman and an iconic self-made Maharashtrian, construction magnate Deepak Sakharam Kulkarni has inspired many with the story of his success. Today, his image stands tarnished as he faces a probe by the Economic Offences Wing of Pune Police over allegations of duping investors by the hundreds. Anjali Shetty profiles the man at the centre of the DSK saga as the period of interim anticipatory bail ends today
Almost everyone who’s met DSK has a memorable story about him. Once during an extended lunch session with a journalist, DSK explained how he thought donkeys were smarter than men. The story was about a few donkeys carrying construction rubble in the narrow alleys of Pune’s peth area. “There were these donkeys at one end of the narrow road and a car that came in from the other end. Both stood their ground causing a traffic jam, till the donkeys, on their own, moved to the side, letting the car pass by. Had there been two vehicles facing each another, the drivers would have got into an argument. I find donkeys to be smarter than men,” said DSK, mocking at fellow humans.
With a reputation of always being accessible to his customers, there was this other occasion when DSK received a call about poor service at the DSK Toyota Service Centre. Convinced that his staff was at fault, he immediately dialled the workshop manager and gave him an earful. He threatened that he would come down to the service centre, complete the task himself and sack the manager.
Born to a police constable and a municipal school teacher, Deepak Sakharam Kulkarni, popularly known as DSK, had an entrepreneurial spirit right from the age of seven. Brought up in the by-lanes of Kasba peth in old Pune, he learnt the ropes of running a petty business by helping friends and neighbours sell berries, peanuts, vegetables, lottery tickets, rose saplings and distributing newspapers.
His first introduction to the ‘construction line’ came from doing odd jobs and minor household repairs for his customers. From those humble beginnings, he rose – and rose – to become the chairman and managing director of the DSK Group of companies, valued at over ₹1,500 crore.
His former and serving employees speak of his multi-tasking ability, his capacity to take risks, and his fiery temper when approached with problems that he expected them to solve. They attribute his present downturn – one does not know whether it is a downfall as yet - to his super-sized ambition. “He was over-ambitous and didn’t know where to stop,” said civic activist Vivek Velankar who has known Kulkarni for over a decade now.
“As an individual he has come up the real hard way and done whatever was in his capacity, and more, to build this huge group. He knows the value of dignity of labour and definitely has the vision. But he became over ambitious after a point and started losing the plot. He ventured into different businesses which is amazing. However, his vision and entrepreneurial spirit had a few drawbacks too. He did not know where to stop.”
At 68, Kulkarni today is facing the biggest blot on his reputation, being booked by Pune Police, along with his second wife Hemanti (president and CFO of DSKDL), Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 34 (common intention) and Sections 3 and 4 of Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (MPID) Act.
The case was taken up by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Pune police after which the police received over 599 complaint applications) acquaintances, well-wishers and ex-colleagues consider him a multitasker and risk-taker, who did not know where to stop.
Manoj Adkar, a marketing and media professional worked with the DSK Group between 2008 and 2012. Having worked with the husband-wife duo, Adkar saw their professional and personal lives very closely.
“I was the DGM (deputy general manager), media and marketing and would report to Sir and Hemanti ma’am,” said Adkar. Although DSK today lives in a palatial bungalow with a swimming pool, and has a fleet of luxury cars, Adkar found him to have an essentially simple lifestyle. “He never splurged or stayed at fancy hotels. Even when it came to eating out, he was satisfied with Hotel Shreyas; such was his simplicity.”
Adkar spoke of Kulkarni’s routine: “He would be ready at 7am and be all geared up to get work done. He still works 19 hours a day. Even after an international business trip he would be up at 7am the next day. He never gave reasons such as jet lag. He is a strict boss and would get angry easily if asked irrelevant or unnecessary questions. He hated when people who anyone for granted.”
As a boss, Kulkarni would yell at people who did not take work seriously, thus earning the reputation of being difficult to work with.
On occasion, said Adkar, Kulkarni came to work in a half sweater, even though he was unwell.
“When I asked him why he wasn’t resting at home, Kulkarni replied, ‘If I am not at work, people will not invest in DSK shares, or hold their FDs or book a property with us. I have to live up to people’s expectations and not let their trust fade.”
This former company executive described DSK as a simple man at heart. He felt it was “wrong of people to fling mud on his personal life because of what has happened at a professional level.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity an ex-employee said, “He would scream and abuse if the work was not done right. He hated it when trivial matters were taken to him.”
An innovative marketer, Kulkarni was the brain behind many of his company’s campaigns. A man with a witty sense of humour, he is known to have a sharp memory.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Anant Laxman Deshmukh, national awardee teacher and former principal of Laxmanrao Apte Prashala praised the business tycoon for his knack to handle the most sensitive of situations with ease and grace.
“He has come up from a scratch and is very ambitious. He entered into many businesses and while doing so he gained the trust of the Marathi manoos. However, he couldn’t gauge the gravity of the situation when he ventured out with the Dream City project. This is where he got stuck. I am sure he will get out of this mess. But, he needs to walk carefully on the line between ambition and over-ambition.”
For many middle-class Maharashtrians, Kulkarni and Hemanti became idols to be emulated with their entrepreneurial journey that began from selling phone aroma products branded “Tele-smell’ to owning a business empire spanning construction, education, travel and automobile sectors. They encouraged the Maharashtrian youth to take the entrepreneurial plunge.
One of his immensely popular initiatives to connect with the city was DSK Gappa, an interactive Marathi cultural forum wherein popular television, film, theatre and cultural personalities were interviewed publicly and interacted with the audience.
Almost everyone who has seen DSK closely said that he was driven by over-powering ambition, which was his undoing.