I have a dream. That, one day, the 240km coastline between Mumbai and Goa will rival the French Riviera or the Gold Coast. To those who raise their eyebrows, I only say, would you believe there’s a Rs200 crore market for boats in India? Those are the sales figures from the Mumbai International Boat Show 2007.
If I have one mantra, it’s this: We make mistakes when we compare our plans with the past instead of the possible. Just because India hasn’t had a leisure boating culture doesn’t mean it never will. The country has 7,600km of virgin coastline, warm weather, a booming economy and projections of a 50% below-25 population by 2020. In the next five years, the leisure boating industry will be worth at least $1 billion (around Rs4,000 crore) in India.
I’ve always been able to spot opportunities early. After focusing on IT and technology in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I moved into knowledge process outsourcing. When Gartner took over my outsourced research venture in 2001 and asked me to continue, I held what was practically my first job. It also made me travel a lot and it exposed me to shifts in the lifestyle arena. Gartner’s annual July summits from 2002 to 2005 coincided happily with the Sydney Boat Show, and I began to enjoy boats and boating.
In his earlier life, Chohan worked in knowledge process outsourcing and technology
My passion for sporting activities actually dates back to 1974 when, as a kid, I visited Sikkim—then a foreign country—with my uncle, who headed the 42 Border Road Task Force. I fell in love with the Himalayas; this led to trekking, high-altitude climbs and subsequently, in the 1990s, paragliding. A few of us were mad enough to FedEx in a paraglider and teach ourselves to fly.
The outdoors, specifically the Himalayas, are where I truly belong but work pressures made it impossible to get away as often as I would have liked. Marriage and a baby—Sumee, my daughter, takes her name from me and my wife Meena—also became priorities. Then I took to sailing off the Mumbai harbour. In sailing, I found I could apply the principles of paragliding and it gave the same peace, brutal honesty and scale of the Himalayas. Plus, it allowed me to spend active time with friends and family, especially my daughter, minutes away from home. And I thought, why aren’t more people doing this?
I got my answer when I tried shopping for a yacht for myself in 2005. No one had a clue how to get one; there were no agents in India and no one could advise me on the kind of boat to buy. That was about the time Gartner, though fun, was becoming a case of more of the same. Around that time, I met Malav Shroff—he had represented India in sailing at the Athens Olympics and was then working for McKinsey in New York. We got talking and his knowledge and passion once again sparked my entrepreneurial spirit. In 2006, we both decided to quit our jobs and introduce India to leisure boating. The best way to do this, we figured, was to host a boat show.
With great support from the Bombay Port Trust, the Navy and the government, we pulled off a spectacular show, selling everything from kayaks to super yachts. We lost money but we’re aware this was the turning point for the boating industry in India: Since then, we’ve had manufacturers telling us they had an average of four calls a week for dealerships! We back India Boating, the country’s first and only luxury boating magazine, we are lobbying hard for the development of a marina, have jointly introduced the concept of timeshare on luxury yachts and have organized, managed and sponsored a number of sailing regattas, including the recent Ocean Blue Kochi-Lakshadweep Offshore Sailing Race.
The second edition of the boat show ( www.mumbaiboatshow.com ) is from 28 February-2 March. After that, the sky is the limit. As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org