His first brush with limelight was when he rejected a big pay packet in 2006 as an IIM (Ahmedabad) alumnus, expressing his preference to be at the giving end of jobs. The press gobbled up the story of this techie from a Chennai slum who recognized his man-management skills as a BITS Pilani student organizer of a youth event and belled the CAT to study MBA.
He has remained in news ever since, for the right reasons. In 2008, he hit the headlines as the MTV Youth Icon 2008, a position previously held by names like Anil Ambani, Rahul Dravid, Shah Rukh Khan and M S Dhoni. The young techie-manager’s never-say-die attitude and his achievement of having made a difference to the lives of so many people, won him hearts and votes. In 2009, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from South Chennai as an independent candidate. He didn’t win the seat, but did gain the confidence of the thinking voter.
Sarath Babu’s story is filmy stuff, except that he hasn’t mentioned any villains and he hasn’t stopped the reels rolling. Sarath is still working and growing taller, not just ‘corporately’ but mentally too. The guy who currently employs 200 people has set a target of providing jobs to 50,000 people in the next five years. He has also recently launched a trust focused on education, remembering his student days. Rs.2000/ was all that he had in his pocket in 2006, plus his dreams and the IIM (A) brand image. He looked for a loan to finance his dream. His initial endeavours weren’t overnight successes either. But Sarath had a rare gene in him, his mom’s resilience. This stood the acid-test of enterprise and now Sarath’s Foodking, a catering company, has its vibrant presence in at least five cities with approximately 7 crores turnover and raring to do more. They do Event catering, Industrial catering and Institutional catering and also have retail outlets.
Sarath also undertakes lectures all over the country, he speaks to the young and the thinking people about his vision and entrepreneurship and how his simple but industrious methods have made him get to where he currently is. His business model which has proved successful is very practical and very Indian; and he is all of just 29 years old. And he still lives in his old home with his mom, where he began his humble life.
Techgoss spoke to Sarath Babu and here is an extract from the interview.
Techgoss (TG): Your early days at the unglamorous corners of Chennai and the financial struggle to get through your student days have been much-reported after your refusing a high-paying job offer after IIM (A). So also the effort put in by your mother to get you where you are now. Tell us about your techie days.
Sarath Babu (SB): Yes, in spite of the tough days in my young days, I was a good student, and with a lot of effort, I could do my graduation in chemical engineering from BITS Pilani. I depended upon loans and scholarships and my mother’s brave efforts to get through the years. I was recruited to the MNC Polaris in a software job after my engineering education and worked with the company for 3 years. I enjoyed my work and learned a lot.
TG: So what happened to change all that?
SB: Life was slowly getting better for me, money trickling in, loans getting cleared slowly and I could at last look forward to getting a better life for my family and me as days passed. But I wasn’t really a computer guy; I was just another person who was good at this job. I knew for sure that my best skills lay in working with people. My vision has been that if I do a job, my family benefits, but if I do business lots of families will benefit from that. To achieve this, I had my eye on an MBA from IIM and wanted to take the CAT. Later on I wanted to start my own company. But it wasn’t a decision I could take all by myself, because of the risks my family had taken for me, especially my mother. I thought let me convince my mom, which I did. I took the CAT; I was accepted at all six IIMs at my third attempt. Later, after completing MBA, when I was offered a plum job with a huge salary, I stuck to my decision of being entrepreneur. It was easier taking the job again, but I wanted to start my own business now.
TG: You have had plenty of press coverage since the last two years after you started this catering company. How has this affected your endeavour, anything you remember about this?
SB: I have received very encouraging words with all this publicity. In fact, the media focus has helped the financial side of my entrepreneurship, smoothing the way for loans etc. Here is an incident I remember. When I started this endeavour with a friend, I invited Narayana Murthy Sir to the inaugural function. He was the one who lit the traditional lamp to inaugurate the enterprise. There, I thought my mother has been the strength behind my days, so let me get some appreciation for her too, it’s her hard work that has born fruit after all. Everyone clapped when she was invited to the stage.
TG: You contested in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections from south Chennai. How did you fare in the elections? How was your experience? What sort of campaigning did you use?
SB: I was ranked first among the independents having gathered 15890 votes in all which is 2.5 to 3.5 percentages of the total votes polled. I campaigned for 2 full months and took off work now and then, but not fully. I was in touch with the workplace constantly. I used the social media a lot to reach out for support, especially Orkut and twitter, so also the accepted usual methods of personal interaction. I enjoyed the interaction with the people and think I will probably repeat my candidature again. You can read my manifesto and other details on my site. I am also the candidate who traveled most to meet the voters.
TG: You were the MTV youth icon in 2008. How do you identify with that honor?
SB: I feel great about that honor. In a country where 1.8% of the population holds 80% of the wealth of the land, it is upto the youth to work wonders and take the country forward. It feels great to be recognized by the youth of the country in this manner.
TG: You take in a lot of talking tours, what is the most exciting moment you remember here?
SB: I love talking to people and sharing my vision and real experiences. The best part of my talking tours is the stage I shared with none other than Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. That was in Pune in January this year. I cherish the moment.
TG: Tell us about this new Trust for education you have made.
SB: It is basically a trust focused on education and in its initial stages. I believe that if a person is educated, he becomes enlightened. This trust is a place where people can come to for help regarding their education. There is a 24/7 call center attached to facilitate help around the clock.
Sarath Babu certainly has ‘miles to go before he sleeps’, but he is a determined fighter who never lets down his pace, so let’s hope his miles will be smooth and soon covered. Visit his site to know more about him. http://sarathbabu.co.in/in/