BHUJIA BARONS : The Untold Story Of How HALDIRAM Built a Rs 5000-Crore Empire - The India Saga



BHUJIA BARONS : The Untold Story Of How HALDIRAM Built a Rs 5000-Crore Empire

BHUJIA BARONS is the remarkable story of one family and how its patriarch Ganga Bishan Agarwal or Haldiram as his…

BHUJIA BARONS : The Untold Story Of How HALDIRAM Built a Rs 5000-Crore Empire

BHUJIA BARONS is the remarkable story of one family and how its patriarch Ganga Bishan Agarwal or Haldiram as his mother called him gained a reputation for making the best bhujia in Bikaner. Fast forward a century and the Agarwal empire has built a behemoth of snacks and sweets establishment integral to Indian culture. Quite literally the 1984 November riots following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gutted their establishment in Chandni Chowk in the national capital which went up in flames in front of their own eyes. One of the brothers Manohar saw everything that he had ever worked for, everything he had ever saved up, was right there, in those two small floors above the Sikh baker’s shop. His security and the future of his children was fast evaporating into a dark and sooty sky. 

Manohar felt a growing determination and would not give his father or grandfather the pleasure of saying “”you should have listened to me””. He silently vowed not to accept defeat but to rise again like a pheonix from the ashes. Generations of hard working members of this Agarwal family became the ‘Behemoths of Bikaner’ with revenues of more than Rs 5000 crores which is much greater than McDonald’s and Domino’s combined. 

Authored by Pavitra Kumar, an Army officer’s daughter married to Dr Aditya Raghunathan, living in Lakeville, Minnesota, vividly recalls the Agarwal family story in detail. It begins in dusty, benign Bikaner and traces the rise and rise of this home grown label, now one of the most recognised brands in the world. It all began way back in 1918 when patriarch Haldiram began making and selling a new snack — the bhujia with special ingredients that everyone knows and loves in Bikaner. This family revolutionised the snack food industry through original and ancient recipes coupled with innovative selling and marketing techniques. As with most family businesses, this too has seen its share of divisions over the years. It has in its ranks the odd black sheep as well.

Marwari families have stood strong for centuries on the bedrock of their established traditions, the most important being deference to elders. Seniority has always equalled wisdom for this community. Breaking this heirarchy is almost considered an unspoken form of heresy. If Haldiram gave an order, everyone in the household would hold their opinions, swallow hard and follow his edict. 

The brand name is used by three completely independent businesses run by Haldiram’s grandsons namely Haldiram’s Nagpur, Haldiram Bhujiawala, Haldiram’s Prabhuji and Haldiram in Kolkata; and the best known Haldiram in Delhi. 

The Haldiram Agarwal family are a bunch of very private men who hold their loved ones very close to their hearts, and their secrets closer still. These men run their business empires with benevolence, humility and originality, while tightly holding the reins of all operations. 

Visionaries, they share a common desire to learn from their mistakes and stay one step ahead of the future. In their fearlessness they have grasped ideas both good and bad, and taken a leap of faith in themselves and their abilities — to set in motion huge tidal waves of change. 

From their early start in the dusty lanes of Bikaner, their adventurous foray into Bengal, Nagpur and Delhi, to the firm launch pad of international expansion, their struggle continued as they fought to define their brand inside the gritty walls of courthouses. These are ordinary men who have achieved extraordinary feats. 

Most professionals within the Haldiram team admit that while they are developing processes within the company and enhancing existing norms, it has also been a remarkable learning experience for them to grow with the family. Haldiram’s is at the delicate cusp of emerging as a strong player at the national and global processed food industry. There are immense opportunities for professionals to be harbingers of this change and drive the company towards growth and success. 

Rarely can companies boast of multiple generations of the same family having worked for them. The Haldiram family have supported their community through the ages by inviting workers from their hometown to work with them when they have moved to other big cities. 

Haldiram’s grandsons currently at the helm of affairs realise succession planning is the key to their future success as also understanding the role of family members in the business. Ashish Agarwal recalls how he had struggled to play ‘boss’ right after passing out of management school. This business was built on the foundation of strong relationships. “”I came in the door eager to prove myself and ended up alienating several of our key contractors simply because I was too authoritative for them. Instead of seeking to first understand, I sought to change. That was the first lesson for the boss’s son.”” 

At a young age, the heirs are given the responsibility of thousands of crores of Rupees, yet there is no structure, documentation or process in place to help initiate them into the processes of business. Another grandson Pankaj Agarwal points out a lot depends on the people themselves. For instance if a fresher is brought in, trained in-house and then expected to make dosas for customers, it will be a huge challenge for him as he won’t know what temperature he has to keep the girdle plate on for the ‘perfect product’. 

Pankaj demonstrated a keen sensitivity to the challenges of the work force, driven by the desire to help facilitate them. The author found this a refreshing perspective to come across. Standardisation will help the organisation prepare itself for further expansion by setting up processes which can be easily replicated at newer outlets and factories. Delhi is the largest at approximately Rs 3000 crore annual revenue, with Nagpur approximately (Rs 2000 crore) and Bikaner (the Bikaji brand Rs 1500 crore). 

Family members wonder whether the Delhi Branch’s success is due to the ingenuity of their leaders or just luck of having bagged the capital as their territory. While each of the siblings loves the brand in similar ways, it is unfortunate that they continue to fight over their branding rights and territories. Even while being harassed by family strife, they try to make a better impact on the communities around them. They have built hospitals and schools and spent lakhs of Rupees on sustainable energy plants, indirectly helping the country become a better place. These youngsters of the Haldiram family maintain they are passionate about Haldiram every day that drives them.

Book:BHUJIA BARONS : The Untold Story Of How HALDIRAM Built a Rs 5000-Crore Empire
Author:Pavitra Kumar
Publisher:Penguin Random House India

(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.)