Ahmedabad: Time stood still at Ajanta group—the world’s biggest wall clock manufacturer—on Thursday as its founder Odhavji Raghavji Patel died at the age of 87 in Morbi. He was suffering from respiratory problems and was on ventilator support for the past two months at his residence in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region.
The group’s brands—Ajanta, Orpat and Oreva—are sold in 45 countries. The company sells diverse products such as—switches, snacks, electric bikes, tubelights, telephones, calculators and watches, to name a few, besides wall clocks. The group has been planning to venture into cement and car manufacturing as well.
Dubbed the father of wall clocks, Patel preferred to be referred to as a teacher than an entrepreneur.
After graduation, he taught science and mathematics at V. C. High School in Morbi for a salary of about Rs.55 a month. The town was then emerging as the ceramic and clock manufacturing capital of India.
Patel found it hard to raise his four sons and two daughters with his limited resources and decided to start a business.
And so his journey as an entrepreneur began in 1971 with the setting up of a small partnership firm known as Ajanta Transistor Clock Manufacturing Co. He ran the business from a rented premise, manufacturing magnetic clocks with coil.
In 1974, newer models of clocks were being introduced globally. In mid-1980s, Patel moved to quartz technology realizing it would replace mechanical clocks as it allowed for more reliable and affordable clocks. Thus, Ajanta Quartz came into being.
These clocks were simple and provided an accuracy that was earlier available only on large, expensive pendulum clocks. They did not require much maintenance and were smaller in size.
The quartz clocks were an instant success and encouraged the group to significantly increase its product range to pendulum, wooden, ceramic, glass and metal clocks.
“We travelled abroad and this helped us understand which way the world is moving,” Patel said in an interview to Mint in October 2007.
“This kept us ahead of our competitors in Morbi. Using this new technology, we could manufacture a clock at, say, something like Rs.45 per wall clock, but sold the same piece at Rs.105 per piece. So, profit margins were high, but the only difference is that we pumped all the money earned back into business,” Patel had said.
Diversification has been a time-tested formula for the clock maker.
In 2006, Ajanta Quartz diversified into consumer goods and vitrified tiles as the demand for clocks dwindled to by 15-20% annually. Ajanta also claims about 60% share of India’s compact fluorescent lamps market, competing with companies like Philips and Osram. The company focused on volumes to get economies of scale, putting little money on advertisement and passing on the cost benefit to customers.
Of the total 7,000-plus people employed at Ajanta, more than 5,000 are women. Patel has said he found women more productive than men.