Friday, July 18, 2008

Evolution from a Seed Manufacturing Company to a Talent Development Function.

T Muralidharan, is one of the few who have floated with the ups and downs. Today, he runs a successful talent spotting business, but it was the failure of his attempt to sell seeds to farmers that made him a gritty entrepreneur.

Mr Muralidharan, chairman and managing director of TMI Group, believes in fate. “I believe in serendipity. I would have never been an entrepreneur had it not been there,” he says. It was this fatalism that protected him from succumbing to failure.

It all started over a beer. Mr Muralidharan was chatting with his friend and IIM-A batchmate Turab Lakdawala, when the latter declared that he wanted to quit his job and start a business and asked Mr Muralidharan to be his partner. Mr Lakdawala wanted to do business in seeds because of his agricultural background, while Mr Muralidharan had no clue about biology or agriculture. The only dubious qualification was that they had no money and seeds needed minimal investment. They started TM Inputs in 1987 with the hope that millions of farmers would buy seeds from them and grow bounteous crops. Little did Mr Muralidharan realise that it would be a different kind of seeding and inputs that he would really make his mark in.

Three years later, losses were mounting. Mr Muralidharan realised that he wasn’t contributing to the business, given his lack of knowledge. His partner, who understood seeds, nevertheless was no match to his competitors in marketing wits or risktaking ability. The two decided they’ll give the business 1,000 days and see how it goes.

Then, a friend, who freelanced as a recruitment agent, recommended the business to him. Finding jobs for people and people for jobs. The concept appealed to Mr Muralidharan so much that he converted his seed company into a recruitment agency. The additional benefit was that the name of the company had to undergo very little change. TM Inputs and Services. The new input was the potential employee. With this business, Mr Muralidharan realised he was a people-centric person and that’s the kind of business he should be doing. “My core competency is networking. And recruitment business is all about networking.” His IIT-IIM pedigree helped him get big companies in his clients’ list. It also helped him get access to IIT-IIM talent pool, as his friends from the premier institutes started joining him. Branches in metro cities were opened with these new partners.

The need for talent is a lot like hunger and the business is evergreen, not unlike the food business. Mr Muralidharan says when the economy grows, recruitment agencies get business because there are more jobs going around. When the economy slows, there is business again, because workers quit under pressure and companies need to refill positions. “It is like a perpetual vacancy cycle,” he says.

In 1997, his partner Mr Lakdawala started his own advertising firm. This left Mr Muralidharan free to explore his networking opportunity. He gradually grew the businesses into three divisions — TMI First, which caters to the requirement of freshers, TMI Network for lateral hiring and C&K Management helping companies build core competencies.

His alternating fortunes taught Mr Muralidharan what succeeds and what fails. “Budding entrepreneurs should never underestimate execution. It is very romantic to make a business plan with all its embellishments, but to get it done you need people and processes and most importantly your personal integrity in times of adversity,” says Mr Muralidharan.

In 2000, he received funds to start C&K Management and for creating a knowledge portal — Like most businesses, he also went through the pain of the dotcom bust. His online venture faced bankruptcy with huge expenses and little income. Failure loomed and again Mr Muralidharan survived. He says it was the sticking together of his team that saw the company through the bad times.

Now, business is growing steadily and bigger clients are walking in. “We create courses for top global IT companies in India. Every failure teaches you more, a lot more than your success,” says Mr Muralidharan.

Ironically, the biggest challenge Mr Muralidharan faces today is to retain his own people. His employees get trained and then are hired by, sometimes, his clients. “Then my employees become my customers,” he says with a chuckle. His company has 650 employees in six branches in India and one in Dubai. It has a turnover of Rs 35 crore and an annual profit of Rs 7 crore.

This management alumnus believes IIMs teach managerial capabilities, but not entrepreneurship. IIMs only teach a student the way to minimise risk and accumulate wealth. But entrepreneurship is all about putting one’s future on the line and risk everything to create something. It includes the willingness to go bankrupt. That’s why, Mr Muralidharan says he never regrets leaving a cushy job to start on his own. “I love to do what I am doing. I don’t think I would have been better off working for others, no matter what the pay was. Customers and wife are my bosses and they are manageable,” he says.

About The Manage Mentor:
As India's largest Career Advisory Group, they have far greater responsibility to their employees to be transparent and put all their cards on the table, while seeking talent. To provide lots of excitement and challenges when they come on board, and to assist them navigate to the best employers in the country - when they decide to move on after contributing to the company's growth.

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T. Muralidharan
Executive Chairman, TMI Network & MD, C&K Management Ltd.

Article Resources:
The Economic Times.
The Manage Mentor

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