The port to entrepreneurship*

August 30th, 2009

By Anna Marie Periquet, Go Negosyo mentor

My post as chairman of the Young Entrepreneurs Group of Asia Pacific (YEGAP) gives me the distinct opportunity of meeting very inspiring entrepreneurs from the region. In the following interview, Mr. Wilson Jacob of India shares his ideas, experiences, and advice on entrepreneurship, who his mentors and sources of inspirations are, and what lessons he has learned from his initial ventures, among others. The 45-year-old Wilson is the Chairman and Managing Director of Kottayam Port and Container Terminal Pvt. Ltd., an export promotion infrastructure development project with 49% equity from the government of India located at Kottayam, Kerala.  He is also the recipient of the 2nd Young Entrepreneur Award of Asia Pacific.


What was your first “business venture” and what was the biggest lesson you learned from it?

An animal feed factory. It closed down in the 3rd year. I then learned how to do a business.

Who is your business mentor, or who had the greatest influence in your business life?

My father. He was not a business man. He was an engineer in government services, but he has had lots of business visions while he was working.

What advice would you give someone starting out a business today?

Do not copy a business, try to find out and do a different business from others, and do it differently.

What principle of entrepreneurship do you wish you knew when you were first starting out?

When I put up my first business, I only knew how to start it. I didn’t know any principles. I’ve learned them from my personal experience.

What has been the most satisfying decision you have made as a businessman?

Making a decision to start a business/industry and while running the business itself is very challenging. I’ve started four businesses. I cannot distinguish which ones among my decisions are satisfying and which ones are not. But I think all of them are good.

What was the toughest decision you had to make? How do you go about making tough decisions?

I think I am too good at making decisions at very crucial time and very fast, too. I think it’s the grace of the God that makes me make the right decisions at the right time. The toughest decision was to start an ICD and Minor Port utilizing inland water way at my home town Kottayam in India.

Would you recommend to someone starting out a business to attend a business school, or skip the degree and learn along the way?

I believe the degrees and education have nothing to do with the business and entrepreneurship. One has to be an evergreen student in the business field. But a good education is always helpful for communication, marketing and other planning. But this expertise you can always hire or buy, but you cannot buy or hire entrepreneurship.

Is there any difference between India and the rest of the world in the nature of your industry?

Yes, very much. I believe India is the best country to start the business or an industry because of the availability of human resources and consumerism. Also, the business management theory of the US or other countries will not work in India. India has got its own business theories and principles especially in labor issues.

What changes have you seen as a result of your business venture?

My recent venture of setting up a minor port and an Inland container depot (customs notified area for exports and imports) in my home town Kottayam has changed the region itself a lot. Two export promotion industrial parks are being set up by the government. Some of the social benefits resulting from my business venture include the generation of employment for nearly 5000 people;

Increase in the export and import activity of the neighboring four districts; diversion of nearly 7,200 containers from road to water transport from the first year itself; promotion of smart waterways; lower maintenance for roads and vehicles, fuel economy; earning of carbon credit; minimizing the road congestion; development of tourism; earning of foreign currency, and the development of an export promotion industrial park connected to this port is underway. Precisely this project has been instrumental for this development, which is beneficial to the entire central Kerala.

What were the challenges you faced in setting up your business and how did you manage them?

The challenges were many. Some of them are: Breaking the mindset of the people –  it was a big challenge for us to break the mindset of the people for undertaking such a project and galvanizing their support. Raising the fund – the people believed me because of my style of performance. After seeing my passion for the project, various agencies and individuals came forward to invest in this project. Preparation of detailed Project report – there was no previous standard set for this kind of project. Hence we had to start from scratch. We ourselves prepared the project report by collecting data from layman to experts. It is said that 50 % of the project is over if you make a good project report. And finally we did it successfully. 

Other challenges we faced included:

Development of waterway – Even though we had an existing waterway, it had to be developed and maintained for a vessel movement.

Development of road to the Port – The existing road to the facility was not sufficient for the container movement; hence we had to acquire the adjacent land belonging to the Education and Industries Department of Kerala for the widening of the road. 

Land development – The land was water logged areas which had to be converted into a useful land. That was also a big challenge. Virtually we were constructing the building and business over water. 

Construction of Barge was a big challenge – We had to use our ingenuity to design and construct a fully hydraulic propulsion container barge with 37 meter length, 7 meter width with 1.25 meter draft which can contain 10Nos of 20 feet containers and which would pass through this bund. This challenge also we took up.

Introduction of RO-RO (Roll on– Roll Off) to avoid two handlings –The question arose from the exporters, importers and Custom House Clearing agents whether the two crane handling was feasible. So in order to avoid two crane operations at port of origin and transit port, it was necessary to implement the Ro-Ro concept. Hence we had to design and construct the low bedded container trolleys with 25 tons capacity. The trolley mounted containers would be loaded and rolled on to the barge and rolled out for unloading. The handling made easy.

What do you think are the most important attributes of a good and successful businessman?

When you are planning to start business/ industry, try to learn as much as possible about the business. Of course you can hire highly technical manpower to run the business. But one should try to know anything and everything about that particular business. Ultimately, you are the leader and you are the one to make the decisions at a crucial time, to make the right decisions at the right time.

Are entrepreneurs born or made?

I think majority are born entrepreneurs, but some become entrepreneurs by circumstances.

*Article reposted from The Manila Times with the author’s permission