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Manu Chandaria

The chief of the privately owned diversified conglomerate Comcraft Group lives in Kenya and feels that Indians, wherever they are, should regard themselves as Indians.
PTI | By Sumeet Chatterjee (IANS), New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 06, 2004 10:14 PM IST

Manu Chandaria doesn't like to be labelled as a non-resident Indian.

True, the chief of the privately owned diversified conglomerate Comcraft Group lives in Kenya. But he says those hailing from India, wherever they are, should regard themselves simply as Indians always thinking of ways to help India.

"You don't know how happy I feel when I am in India...with my own people," the soft-spoken Chandaria told IANS in an interview during his visit here for the diaspora convention.

"We (the people of Indian origin) always try to link our stories and network skills and performances for beneficial growth."

Chandaria, 71, isn't just purveyor of everything Indian, he is passionate about them. And yet when it comes to doing business in India, the man - who has been hailed as the king of the African business jungle - doesn't hide his anguish over the way overseas investors are treated in the country.

"There are so many dead rules and regulations in the country. The environment where investors have freedom to operate is not there. Nobody seems to bother why investors are not coming.

"Investment environment in the globalized world has to be very competitive. Investors will go to places where business is easily done and solutions are found instantaneously," he said.

"In India investors face so many hurdles. For every single business proposal, they have to fill up 20 to 30 forms. After filling up 10 forms, the potential investor will say 'thank you very much' and go to some other country."

As head of a family business group with presence in 40 countries and interest in a wide spectrum of sectors including aluminium, computer hardware, plastics, software and steel, Chandaria should know what perfect business environment means.

When one first meets Chandaria, it is difficult to believe his age. The sheer dynamism and energy of the Comcraft Group is something one would expect from a 50-plus rather than a 71-year-old with half-a-century of business experience in Kenya.

The business tycoon, hailed as one of the most respected chief executive officers in East Africa for two consecutive years, believes there is no end to achieving success in business.

Born Manilal Premchand Chandaria in Nairobi to farming parents who migrated from Gujarat in 1916, he concedes that while he was not "born with a silver spoon in his mouth, there were at least spoons in the house".

He was brought up in Nairobi's Ngara area in a cramped home his parents shared with three other families.

His father went into business only six months after coming to the country, setting up a provision store in Ngara that catered principally for Asians. It later expanded into Mombasa to serve a European and African clientele.

"My father could only read and write Gujarati but he made sure that I received the best education available," said Chandaria.

Chandaria was sent to India for further studies and later to the U.S., where he earned a post-graduate degree in engineering.

After his studies, it was time for him to return to Kenya and get involved in the flourishing family business.

The Chandarias slowly started acquiring properties, which helped them to step into the manufacturing industry. In 1950, the family undertook manufacture in steel and aluminium.

This was also the time when Comcraft established its presence in the neighbouring countries of East Africa. In the 1960's Comcraft spread to Zambia, Ethiopia, Congo, Nigeria, India and elsewhere.

However, the bulk of their operations remained in Mombasa, where they produced a vast array of domestic implements, kitchen utensils and enamel products.

Chandaria was himself sent to Uganda and later to Congo to oversee the marketing of their Kenyan and Tanzanian products.

The end of the decade was marked by entries in other continents like Australia and South America and India, making the company an international business enterprise.

Globally, the group now employs over 50,000 people, up from over 800 when Chandaria took over the mantle. In Kenya, it owns 14 companies that employ 5,000 workers.

Inspired by the 16-hour days that his father put into his fledgling businesses, Chandaria strongly believes in the virtue of hard work and perseverance.

"Our edge over our business rivals was the ability to draw upon advancements in one market and use them to gain competitive advantage in another," said Chandaria.

"We firmly believe in the fact that what you can do successfully in one market, you can replicate it elsewhere also."

After his studies, it was time for him to return to Kenya and get involved in the flourishing family business.

The Chandarias slowly started acquiring properties, which helped them to step into the manufacturing industry. In 1950, the family undertook manufacture in steel and aluminium.

This was also the time when Comcraft established its presence in the neighbouring countries of East Africa. In the 1960's Comcraft spread to Zambia, Ethiopia, Congo, Nigeria, India and elsewhere.

However, the bulk of their operations remained in Mombasa, where they produced a vast array of domestic implements, kitchen utensils and enamel products.

Chandaria was himself sent to Uganda and later to Congo to oversee the marketing of their Kenyan and Tanzanian products.

The end of the decade was marked by entries in other continents like Australia and South America and India, making the company an international business enterprise.

Globally, the group now employs over 50,000 people, up from over 800 when Chandaria took over the mantle. In Kenya, it owns 14 companies that employ 5,000 workers.

Inspired by the 16-hour days that his father put into his fledgling businesses, Chandaria strongly believes in the virtue of hard work and perseverance.

"Our edge over our business rivals was the ability to draw upon advancements in one market and use them to gain competitive advantage in another," said Chandaria.

"We firmly believe in the fact that what you can do successfully in one market, you can replicate it elsewhere also."

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