Inspiring Stories

Kalpana Saroj: India’s Original Slumdog Millionaire

Caste discrimination, a slum dweller, poverty stricken life, marital abuse, enduring social stigma and failed suicide attempt. Life had been more than cruel for Kalpana Saroj to drive her completely crazy. But today if anything is driving her crazy then it is her passion to drive her company, Kamani Tubes, to greater success.

Once on the verge of liquidation, Kalpana single handedly steered the company towards profitability and eventually transformed the company into worth $112 Mn Empire. Kalpana was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri award in recognition of her success.

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Her gritty journey from a slum dweller to running a million dollar company has earned her the title ‘India’s original slumdog millionaire.’ Not someone who went to kaun banega crorepati show and became a millionare overnight. But someone who somehow managed to remain steadfast in the face of overwhelming adversities and eventually became a millionare.

We have brought several anecdotes from the life of this inspiring woman with the hope it will serve huge inspiration for all the budding and young entrepreneurs out there.

Child marriage and marital abuse

Kalpana Saroj’s parents got her married at minor age of 12, when she should be really basking in her innocence. Since her childhood Kalpana had been hearing endless stories about life getting tough after marriage. But even in her worst nightmare she could have never imagined that marriage would make her life so awfully abusive and torturous.

Kalpana’s husband and in-laws kept physically abusing her. She claimed that her in laws would use silly excuses – too much salt in the food, house not scrubbed clean enough and so on – to hound her.

Kalpana’s abusive marital life came to an end after her father came to visit her and was left shocked after looking at her daughter’s physical condition.

Social stigma and failed suicide attempt   

Kalpana came out of her abusive married life only to deal with more social abuses. Kalpana hailed from a small village from Maharashtra, where a girl is always held responsible for failed marriage. People in the village kept abusing and taunting her for bringing shame to their community.

Kalpana decided to overcome this social stigma by trying to search for a decent paying job. She hoped that job would not only help in offering financial support to her parents, but also keeping her positive. But the social stigma that she was carrying along with her was so strong that no one in the village was ready to give her a job.

One day adversities got better off her and she decided to end her life by taking poison. However, she was rushed to the hospital in time and managed to defy death.

Kalpana shifts to Mumbai for second chance at life        

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After her failed suicide attempt, Kalpana was convinced that the only way she could resurrect her life was by shifting to a big city like Mumbai. By shifting to city of dreams, she was not only hoping to free herself from social stigma but also find a job for herself.

Hence this young improvised girl with a broken heart landed in Mumbai to get a second shot at her life. But her attempt to revive her hopeless life got a huge setback when her younger sister got terribly ill. Those were the times when Kalpana and her sibling were living in a shanty house and could barely meet their ends.

Worse, her father had recently lost her police constable job as well. Although Kalpana had started doing tailoring job, but this was too low paying job to pay her sister’s treatment and family needs.

Tragedy eventually made her an entrepreneur    

Seeing her sister and family suffer incessantly owing to lack of money, Kalpana was determined to change the financial fortunes of her entire clan. The hardship in a city like Mumbai made her realize the sheer importance of money for living a respectable life.

This realization propelled her to start searching for government loan schemes to help her out in starting a small business. She did enroll for one such scheme and her application was luckily accepted.

This loan helped her to start a small furniture shop that sold cheap versions of high end furniture products. This shop slowly gave this small village girl hands down knowledge about entrepreneurship – sourcing raw materials, the art of negotiating and identifying market trends.

As the time went by, Kalpana’s furniture business started booming and eventually became a money minting business. With change in financial fortunes, Kalpana became a name to reckon with in the Dalit community and local areas. She also started enjoying considerable clout among local influential people.

Now she was no more a women who bore social stigma. But a woman whom everyone was looking up to for seeking inspiration. However, little did Kalpana know that this was merely a beginning of many more good things that were waiting to embrace her life.

 

Curious case of Kamani Tubes      

Kalpana Saroj awarded prestigious Padma Shri award in 2013.

Kalpana was nowhere associated with Kamani Tubes or their owners. It was sheer twist of destiny that Kalpana became the owner and chairperson of Kamani Tubes. This gritty woman’s tryst with Kamani Tubes once again vindicates that fortune always favors the brave.

So what was the curious base of Kamani Tubes all about?

Kamani Tubes –  a copper alloy manufacturing company – was founded by Ramjibhai Kamani, one of the successful entrepreneurs of 1970s and 80s. The company was doing well until Mr. Ramjibhai’s death in 1980s, leading to ownership dispute between their two sons. The ownership dispute soon paved way for trade union embargo, leaving the company in complete mess.

The company got stuck in endless court cases and pile of huge debt. The insane mess pushed the company towards verge of liquidation, which would have jeopardized lives of thousands of workers.

It was in these desperate times that Kamani Tubes workers approached Kalpana, whose stories of entrepreneurial success had now become part of the local folklore. Having endured poverty and hardship all her life, she felt immensely sympathetic for poor workers and took a decision that was going to change her life forever.

Kalpana becomes president of Kamani Tubes

In 2000, Kalpana Saroj became president of Kamani Tubes after receiving consent of bankers and company’s board of directors. A woman who had never stepped inside a college, let alone secure MBA degree, was now at the helm of a huge company.

But Kalpana’s task was clearly cut out. She had to steer this loss making and debt ridden company towards profit and thereby save jobs of thousands of workers. For overcoming this humongous challenge, she had to fight simultaneous battle at many fronts. From battling litigation cases in courts, dealing with creditors & banker to rebuilding company’s reputation in the market.

Kalpana depended on her perseverant attitude and never-say-die spirit to overcome these seemingly impossible challenges. Of course, all the entrepreneurial skills that she had acquired through sheer hard work were equally put in great use to rescue the fledging company.

One of the important decisions that she undertook was replacing the old machines with new ones, which eventually helped in reviving company’s manufacturing business.

Slowly and steadily, Kalpana’s hard work started paying off as Kamani Tubes started reclaiming its glory days. By 2006, the company not only cleared off all its debt and but also became 100% profitable.

Today looking back at Kamani Tubes miraculous turnaround, it is difficult to imagine that fortunes of this company were turnaround by a woman who was once considered as a stigma by the entire society.

 

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