Business Today
Bull run for Baer

Deepak Puri's Moser Baer has grown into the world's second largest producer of blank compact discs

Deepak Puri always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Though hailing from a family of landlords, he was neither interested in farming, nor in joining government service as many of his relatives had done. "I was the odd one out, always inclined towards business," he says. Though he worked briefly as a junior executive, first with the oil company ESSO - which he joined in Kolkata, then still called Calcutta, in 1962 - and later with Shalimar Paints, it was only to garner business experience - management techniques and marketing tricks - before venturing out on his own.

Moser Baer India
Founder: Deepak Puri, 70
Wife: Nita Puri heads the Administrative wing
Son: Ratul Puri, Executive Director, Moser Baer India
Why I did it: "I was the odd one out in my family, always inclined towards business."
Total turnover: Rs 5,500 crore in 2010/11 (annualised)
Main companies: Moser Baer India

Puri got into business soon enough, but spectacular success was to come to him only decades later, when his company Moser Baer India became the market leader in the manufacture of blank floppy disks and compact discs in the country, displacing the multinational giants which had dominated the market till then. Anticipating the huge demand and scaling up in record time, Moser Baer, at the height of its production in 2003/04, manufactured 2.5 billion compact discs or CDs, making it the world's second largest manufacturer. (The largest is the Taiwan-based RITEK Corporation.) But before that many years were spent in near-obscurity. In 1964, Puri floated his first company, Metal Industries in Calcutta, trading in aluminum wires and furniture. Two years later he moved into manufacturing as well.

The business did well and Puri might have carried on but for the militant labour movement in the city. Frequent strikes and a deteriorating industrial environment made continuing in Calcutta increasingly difficult. Still, it was not until 1983 that Puri joined the flight of capital from West Bengal, migrating to Delhi.

It was in Delhi that he started Moser Baer India, at first as a 51:49 joint venture with a Switzerland-based company called Moser Baer, which manufactured 'time-keeping machines'. But he soon bought out Moser Baer's stake, making his an entirely Indian company. Great technological changes had just begun then, which in a few years would see the death of both the cassette and the video cassette to be replaced by CDs, and digital versatile discs, or DVDs. The senior Puri quickly realised the enormous potential market in floppy disks, CDs and DVDs.

He plunged full scale into what the trade calls the optical media business, starting with the manufacture of eight-inch floppy discs, moving on to CDs and later DVDs and Blu-ray discs. In 2000/01, when it first forayed into CDs, Moser Baer India's revenues were only Rs 138.5 crore. In three years, by 2003/04, it had catapulted to Rs 1,585.6 crore, with net profits of Rs 352.9 crore.

But the march of technology is relentless, and by the mid 2000s, the demand for CDs and DVDs too stopped rising. Consumers were downloading their music and movies off the Net, reducing purchases from the store. Well in time, Moser Baer diversified into manufacturing of solar panels. The solar business - Moser Baer Solar, a fully owned subsidiary of Moser Baer India - earned revenues of Rs 1,000 crore in 2009/10.

Now 70, Puri has handed over the daily running of the business to his son Ratul. Both father and son are now betting big on the solar business. "Optical media still has growth drivers like flash storage, but the big revenue growth will be in solar," says Ratul, 39.

Moser Baer is an Indian business family in every sense - Deepak Puri's wife Nita is a director of the company, heading administration and human resources. "After handling labour issues for so many years in Kolkata, I have no patience with those anymore," he explains. Even Ratul's 13-year-old son is already showing interest in the family business.

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