New Delhi: Seven years ago, Geeta Sachdev was livid when her husband Kunwer splurged most of their Rs25 lakh savings on a 20GHz spectrum analyser. They had been looking for a house to buy at the time.
Growth story: Su-Kam’s Kunwer Sachdev. The inverter company is readying for its entry into automotive batteries in the current fiscal. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Kunwer Sachdev laughs at the memory today. “You know how wives are.”
Ensconced in a mansion in Gurgaon along with their two sons, he can afford to be sanguine about the 2002 expense. After all, Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd, the power backup specialist company that he started in 1998, has grown into an enterprise that expects Rs500 crore in revenue in the year to March.
Sachdev lounges casually in his Gurgaon office in a T-shirt and bermudas on a Monday afternoon.
“I’ve taken a sabbatical from day-to-day operations, which in any case are on auto-pilot,” he says. The hiatus from 16-hour workdays was also prompted by health concerns that surfaced about a year and a half ago, prompting him to bring in a professional at the helm of affairs—chief executive officer Venkat Rajaraman.
It’s not as if he’s whiling away his time in the office. Sachdev is indulging his passion for history by reading up on Stalin, Mao and even Hitler, playing squash, learning to play the piano and putting finishing touches to Su-Bake, a forthcoming patisserie venture which is still in the laboratory stage.
The young company caught the fancy of large investors in December 2005, with Reliance Capital Ltd and Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd, Singapore’s government-owned investment company, together picking up an 18% stake in Su-Kam for Rs45 crore. The public will get a chance to own a piece of the business, with Sachdev planning an initial public offering sometime next year.
For the fiscal year, the company expects to achieve an output of one million inverters. Export revenues, too, are expected to see a 25% rise to Rs100 crore this year from Rs80 crore in 2008-09.
Su-Kam has moved beyond its bread-and-butter business of inverters for domestic use. The share of revenues from power backups for homes has been steadily declining in any case. It will drop to 40% this year from 55% last fiscal, while industrial inverters and exports will make up 30% each, compared with 20% and 25%, respectively, for the same period.
The product range also includes solar-based backup systems, power storage facilities and LED (light-emitting diode) lighting.
“We have started three pilot projects in solar-powered LED lighting—in Nepal, Nigeria and Malaysia,” says Sachdev. Power storage devices were a natural corollary, he adds, as the company readies for its entry into automotive batteries in the current fiscal.
A self-admitted straggler during his academic years, Sachdev started off his career by assisting his brother in the business of selling pens, which took off well enough for his elder sibling to open a shop in Old Delhi’s Nai Sadak area. “I wasn’t satisfied with just retailing other brands. I wanted to create a brand of my own while my brother was more conservative who didn’t want to lose a good thing,” he recounts. The name Su-Kam was coined during a college canteen chat with friends.
After Sachdev opted out of the family business to branch out on his own, he dabbled in various commercial pursuits, including with a law firm and a cable TV equipment manufacturing company. The latter eventually led to his moment of epiphany in 1992 when he established his own business manufacturing dish antennae, amplifiers and splitters.
“Towards the end of the 1990s, locally assembled inverters had appeared on the scene,” he says. “In fact, I had purchased one for my home for which I needed the services of a local mechanic almost on a daily basis.”
Exasperated, he took matters into his own hands, buoyed by his expertise in the electronics equipment industry.
The void that he saw on peering into his inverter convinced him that there was a crying need for a branded product in the inverter segment that was largely unorganized.
“By that time, I had made money from my cable TV business and so, with a seed capital of Rs10,000, I set up my first inverter manufacturing unit,” Sachdev recalls.
The strategy was simple—take a look at all the inverters in the market and design his own. That was the time when his Rs22 lakh spectrum analyser, which measures and analyses electrical waves, came in handy.
It wasn’t a smooth ride though; quality issues kept cropping up whenever the company came out with a new product.
“The first year, we sold 100 units,” he says. Product innovation, he says, was crucial to constantly up the ante against the competition. “We have filed for more than 50 technology patents so far,” he points out.
Today, with six plants running to capacity—four in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, and two in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi—Su-Kam’s client list includes Tata Teleservices Ltd and Vodafone Essar Ltd, which use its inverters as power backups for their cellphone towers, besides the Bharti group’s EasyDay outlets in Jagadhari near Ambala in Haryana, and Dwarka and Pitampura in New Delhi.