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Pumping it up: Amazing story of a trainee engineer-turned-entrepreneur

 Pic: S.L. and Girish Mangla are part of the extended Kirloskar pumps family 

By Sekhar Seshan

A six-decade-plus association with Kirloskar Brothers Ltd (KBL) has made S.L. Mangla practically a member of KBL chairman Sanjay Kirloskar’s extended family. So much so, that the very day his company, Mangla Engineering, got ISO-9000 certification, he excitedly called up Sanjay to tell him about it and invite him for the award function. After all, it was the first KBL vendor to get the coveted ISO approval. The young chairman immediately promised to attend – and did.

Mangla, who joined KBL in 1956 as a trainee engineer by sheer chance. Having completed his B.Sc in engineering from Dayalbagh Engineering college Agra, he applied to a government scheme which selected youngsters like him and sent them for on-the-hob training to various companies that were participating in the scheme. He happened to be sent to Kirloskarvadi in Sangli district of Maharashtra (in western India), where the Kirloskar Group was founded by Sanjay’s great-grandfather Lakshmanrao Kirloskar as a bicycle shop more than 130 years ago.

Nine years later, when Mangla was in his home village in Punjab on leave, he got a letter from the company, telling him to shift immediately to its Dewas plant in Madhya Pradesh. He did – and worked there for the next 25 years in various capacities from works manager to factory executive, as well as in marketing and sales.

One day, he remembers, he was in Pune, where the Kirloskar Group had set up its headquarters, for a meeting with the legendary S.L. Kirloskar. “I somehow plucked up my courage and suggested to SLK that the Dewas unit could grow its business if it began manufacturing and supplying pumps to other companies under their own brand names,” he says. “There was total silence when I said that! One colleague even advised me under his breath that I should pack up to leave.”

Challenge: But wonder of wonders, SLK asked Mangla to explain exactly what he meant. Then he told the young man, “I do not mind doing this, if the famer is going to get an energy-efficient pump.” But he made a condition: Mangla must handle this project alone, in addition to fulfilling his other existing responsibilities. “I took up the challenge, and brought in half a dozen companies for whom we began making pumps. When I reached a turnover of Rs3 crore, SLK told me only: ‘Well done!’ But coming from him, that was enough of a compliment for me.”

This success led to him to taking premature retirement in 1990 and start on his own. His son Girish had just finished his B.E & M Tech and the Manglas decided to stay on in Dewas, accepting Sanjay’s suggestion to set up their eponymous unit near the KBL plant. The parent company had got into mini pumps - which Mangla was asked to make for it on a job-work basis.

Having got into manufacture, he soon began to meet KBL’s total requirement, Mangla Engineering began to supply these to Usha International, too, so that the company could break even financially. “My first few years as an entrepreneur were the hardest of my life,” he says. Later, too, it went through tough times in 1996, when it got out of a tough situation through a strange stratagem suggested by a family friend. Business was terrible, and a shutdown was staring at us in the face,” he recalls. “This was because we had an image of a very small assembly unit in the unorganised sector. A friend, who was also our chartered accountant, suggested that we make it a ‘limited’ company to make the name look better.” They did - and it worked!

Over the almost three decades of its existence, Mangla Engineering has multiplied its turnover from Rs50 lakh to Rs120 crore. The father and son keep on pumping.