Giving up on dreams was his start
He belonged to a land where people had a strong belief that it was okay to earn less but one should not leave their motherland. This culture in Saurashtra promoted a feeling of contentment in staying around the family. He wanted to go out, explore, and become a pilot but had to give up on his dreams because of the traditional mindset at his home.
He graduated at the age of 19 and took up the job of a science and math teacher in a high school in Morbi, Gujarat, a small dusty town where mostly people are engaged in ceramic work. Like how it happened a few decades back in most of Indian small towns, he was soon married and the responsibility of a family fell on to his shoulders.
Fight for survival
As time passed he became a father and it became difficult to manage the expenses of four sons and two daughters on his measly salary of Rs 55 per month. Food, clothing and education for all was becoming increasingly difficult for him. It was clear to his wife that her husband had to start doing something else for extra income.
One day, she said to him, “Why don’t you do some business in your spare time? If I were a man I would have done business with my brother and became famous all over the city.”
Her wife’s encouragement and the need to survive prompted him to open a cloth store in Morbi. After that he began supplying diesel engines to farmers on loan. These businesses did not have a high profit margin because of which he did not pursue them for very long.
Restarting at the age of 45
Unfazed by delayed success he kept looking for opportunities while continuing his teaching job. Finally, at the age of 45, he, along with a few others, built a praetorship firm with Rs 1 lakh as seed capital and named it Ajanta Transistor Clock Manufacturing. In those days, most of the north India was ruled by a clock company called Scientific. Choosing not to waste time on the difficult road, they began supplying clocks to South India.
They played it smart and chose road transportation to avoid unexpected delays caused by the railways. To maximize profit they eliminated middle men and supplied the wall clocks straight to retail shopkeepers.
In 1974, the market began to change as the world was progressing toward mechanical clocks by then. Odhavji Raghavji Patel, the teacher-turned-businessman from a small town did not shy away from travelling abroad to Taiwan and Japan for learning about the new quartz technology. When he returned he formed a team and introduced India to the new age of wall clocks.
In 1980, the firm launched an affordable range of clocks where they would manufacture a clock for Rs 45 and sell it for Rs 105. All the profit was invested back in the company that went by names like Ajanta, Orpat (coined from Odhavji and Patel) and Oreva. They make pendulum, wooden, ceramic, glass and metal wall clocks which are till date the most bought and popular brands in India and the world.
Making a world-topper firm
In 1985, much before the discussion on women empowerment began, Odhavji, man who is known as the father of wall clocks, started hiring women employees. He took up the task of convincing rigid and conservative parents to send their daughters and wives to work. Today, the company employs around 10,000 workers out of which more than 8,000 are females. They come by buses from more than 200 villages around Morbi.
He said, “Women are more efficient and productive as they are disciplined, dedicated and focused, unlike men who waste time at work. Besides, women’s nimble fingers are ideal for the precision work that clockmaking requires.”
The founder of the company died in 2012 and time stood still for a moment to bid him adieu. He was born in a small town and created world’s biggest clock manufacturing company on his home turf. Their clocks find buyers in 45 countries and the brand is now valued at Rs 1,000 crore. They boast an astounding capacity of producing 50,000 units of clocks every month. The group has more than 200 depos and over 50,000 retailers who sell clocks ranging from Rs 85 to Rs 18,000.
Apart from his flourishing business, Odhavji also established a charitable trust for women who live below the poverty line. The trust also manages schools in rural Gujarat and works to prevent water wastage and promote conservation.
The life of Odhavji teaches us to not shy from small starts even if it comes late in life, to trust in people and their abilities, and live a simple life.
He would prefer the title of a retired teacher over businessman and if anyone asked him to improve his dressing sense or expand his wardrobe he would say that he survives on a pension of Rs 1,200 and is a humble teacher.