CHASING THE SUN

With non-re­new­able sources of en­ergy dwin­dling, it re­quires some­one to step in and pro­pose a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion. Gyanesh Chaud­hary, who has been among those to cham­pion the cause, has slowly but steadily built his em­pire of so­lar en­ergy to help pro­mote

Marwar - - Profile - Text Meera Acharekar Pho­to­graphs Cour­tesy Vikram So­lar

WHEN IT COMES TO BUSI­NESS, GYANESH Chaud­hary is no novice. In 1974, his father, Hari Kr­ishna Chaud­hary launched the Vikram Group of In­dus­tries in Kolkata. Start­ing out as a forg­ing plant that man­u­fac­tured stain­less steel seg­ments for CTC rollers (used in the tea in­dus­try), the group ex­panded, pro­vid­ing ma­chin­ery to the ever-grow­ing num­ber of tea com­pa­nies. Grow­ing up un­der an in­flu­en­tial father and a flour­ish­ing busi­ness cer­tainly helped the young Chaud­hary, who has im­pres­sive re­sults to show for it.

Har­ness­ing en­ergy

Hari Kr­ishna Chaud­hary always be­lieved in the over­all devel­op­ment of so­ci­ety and es­tab­lished the Bal­laram Hanu­man­das Char­i­ta­ble Trust in 1977 to fa­cil­i­tate this. While work­ing on the trust’s aware­ness pro­gramme, the idea to start a so­lar en­ergy devel­op­ment com­pany was born, his vi­sion and fore­sight telling him that so­lar en­ergy was the an­swer to all our en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

Mean­while, af­ter grad­u­at­ing from UK’s Cardiff Univer­sity with a de­gree in Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion, his son Gyanesh Chaud­hary joined the board of Vikram Group of In­dus­tries as its di­rec­tor. He also holds diplo­mas in Mar­ket­ing and In­ter­na­tional Trade from the Univer­sity of Bos­ton and in In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness from Har­vard Busi­ness School, USA.

“Hav­ing stud­ied in an in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment at Cardiff Univer­sity ex­posed me to dif­fer­ent busi­ness prac­tices and made me be­lieve in my fu­ture busi­ness goals,” says Gyanesh Chaud­hary

In 2006, he de­cided to en­ter the re­new­able en­ergy space that his father had en­vis­aged. The same year Vikram So­lar was es­tab­lished. It was a time when the so­lar en­ergy sec­tor in In­dia was at its in­fancy and there

Hav­ing stud­ied in an in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment at Cardiff Univer­sity ex­posed me to dif­fer­ent busi­ness prac­tices and made me be­lieve in my fu­ture goals.

weren’t many op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able. The in­dus­try lacked the gov­ern­ment’s sup­port and in­cen­tives. Nev­er­the­less, Chaud­hary’s strong will and de­ter­mi­na­tion to es­tab­lish an or­gan­i­sa­tion that would give back to both so­ci­ety and the en­vi­ron­ment and his be­lief in the fu­ture of the so­lar in­dus­try kept fu­elling his am­bi­tion. In this quest to ex­plore the sec­tor, he, how­ever, was aided by his father H K Chaud­hary and also by his el­der brother Anil Chaud­hary. It is partly be­cause of their ex­pert guid­ance and sup­port that Gyanesh Chaud­hary has been able to take Vikram So­lar where it is to­day: a re­puted en­ter­prise on the global so­lar plat­form.

The jour­ney for Vikram So­lar had be­gun with the es­tab­lish­ment of a state-of-the-art man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity at Falta, West Ben­gal. Ini­tially, the com­pany man­u­fac­tured so­lar mod­ules, light­ing sys­tems and power packs. It has ven­tured into other as­pects of the busi­ness since, in­clud­ing en­gi­neer­ing, pro­cure­ment, con­struc­tion man­age­ment and op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance of so­lar power plants.

Tak­ing off

In the 11 years since its in­cep­tion, Vikram So­lar has been named the fastest-grow­ing com­pany at the Eco­nomic Times Ben­gal Cor­po­rate Awards. And that’s very apt given that the com­pany has ex­tended its pres­ence to five con­ti­nents in just over a decade.

The com­pany has also cre­ated a record of in­stalling and com­mis­sion­ing more than 130 MW of so­lar projects across 22 states in In­dia, with an ar­ray of projects in the pipe­line. Fur­ther, it has com­mis­sioned In­dia’s first float­ing PV power plant in Ra­jarhat, near Kolkata, in De­cem­ber 2014. An­other notable achieve­ment for the com­pany was aid­ing the con­struc­tion of In­dia’s first fully so­lar air­port in Kochi. Be­sides, it has in­stalled rooftop plants of 750 KW at Cali­cut Air­port and a 2 MW so­lar plant at Ne­taji Sub­hash Chan­dra Bose In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Kolkata, which is the largest rooftop so­lar plant built by the group so far.

These achieve­ments re­flect the com­pany’s re­mark­able growth un­der Chaud­hary that in FY 2015-16 re­ported rev­enue of INR 910.69 crore—a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease from the INR 623.14 crores gen­er­ated in FY 2014-15. This growth was a re­sult of en­hanced scale and global scope of op­er­a­tions.

Be­sides work­ing on var­i­ous projects in In­dia, Chaud­hary has en­sured a firm foothold for his com­pany in over­seas mar­kets as well. To sup­port his ex­pan­sion plans of in­creas­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity to a tar­geted 2 GW by 2019, Vikram So­lar has part­nered with the Ger­man firm ‘teamtech­nik’. In ad­di­tion, in Fe­bru­ary,

2016, the com­pany en­tered into a part­ner­ship with Pow­ertech Africa, an African dis­trib­u­tor of en­ergy tech­nol­ogy, thereby gain­ing ac­cess to 14 new mar­kets in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, in­clud­ing Botswana, Zim­babwe and Tan­za­nia. Vikram So­lar, in fact, has al­ready started op­er­a­tions from its of­fices in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa.

So­lar en­ergy in In­dia

In­ci­den­tally, Gyanesh Chaud­hary is also the leader of the Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­mit­tee of Na­tional Re­new­able En­ergy Com­mit­tee of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of In­dian In­dus­try (CII). Here too he has rea­sons to feel up­beat about the fu­ture of the so­lar power sec­tor.

As of De­cem­ber 2016, In­dia’s so­lar power in­dus­try was one of the fastest-grow­ing seg­ments. And as of now, the coun­try’s cu­mu­la­tive so­lar ca­pac­ity has al­ready crossed the 9GW mark and is on the way to­wards achiev­ing the am­bi­tious tar­get set by the Min­istry of New and Re­new­able En­ergy of gen­er­at­ing 100GW of so­lar power by 2022. Moving ahead, in 2017, new ca­pac­ity ad­di­tion of over 9GW is ex­pected and up to 8GW of new util­ity scale ca­pac­ity al­lo­ca­tion of so­lar power by NTPC, SECI and states in­clud­ing Mad­hya Pradesh, Ma­ha­rash­tra and Tamil Nadu, is also in the pipe­line. Fur­ther­more, even as other in­ter­na­tional mar­kets such as China, Ja­pan and Europe slow down, In­dia is slated to re­main one of the fastest­grow­ing mar­kets around the world.

Be­yond the desk

Apart from Gyanesh Chaud­hary, his el­der brother Anil Chaud­hary, who heads the group’s tex­tile divi­sion in Su­rat, is also at the helm of the Vikram Group of In­dus­tries. Armed with a de­gree in Elec­tri­cal En­gi­neer­ing and an MBA from Ja­davpur Univer­sity, Anil Chaud­hary acts as a guide to his younger sib­ling.

In ad­di­tion to his father and brother, an­other of Gyanesh’s unswerv­ing pil­lars of sup­port has been his wife Meenakshi, who gave up her as­pi­ra­tions in or­der to raise their chil­dren. How­ever, in the last three years, she has brought forth her gifted pro­fes­sional ac­u­men into play, hav­ing ac­cepted the re­spon­si­bil­ity of head­ing the Mar­ket­ing Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and CSR port­fo­lios of Vikram So­lar Pvt Ltd. She has ini­ti­ated and in­tro­duced a plethora of cre­ative ideas and ini­tia­tives to help the com­pany evolve in terms of its brand iden­tity and global recog­ni­tion.

Be­sides her in­volve­ment in the cor­po­rate func­tions, Meenakshi is also highly in­stru­men­tal in lead­ing the CSR ac­tiv­i­ties of Vikram So­lar.

In spite of the fam­ily busi­ness de­mand­ing most of his at­ten­tion, Gyanesh Chaud­hary tries to en­sure that he spends time with his fam­ily and pur­sues his hob­bies too. He is a self-pro­fessed avid reader, and in or­der to de-stress, he prac­tises meditation. His week­ends, how­ever, are usu­ally re­served ex­clu­sively for his fam­ily.

“Be­sides trav­el­ling to my favourite holiday des­ti­na­tions (Lon­don and Dubai), I en­joy ad­ven­ture sports, es­pe­cially scuba-div­ing and be­lieve in ex­er­cis­ing ev­ery day,” says Chaud­hary. Be­ing a fit­ness freak, he also jogs on a daily ba­sis and ad­vises ev­ery­one around him to fol­low his fit­ness reg­i­men. In fact, he has been con­duct­ing work­shops around em­ploy­ees’ phys­i­cal and men­tal well-be­ing, in or­der to help them man­age a per­fect work-life bal­ance and lead a stress-free life.

A help­ing hand

“Our fam­ily is well-known in Kolkata for its phil­an­thropic ac­tiv­i­ties, es­pe­cially through the projects un­der­taken by the BRHD Char­i­ta­ble Trust, es­tab­lished in 1977. Driven by the philoso­phies of ‘Janamb­humi’ and ‘Karamb­humi’, Vikram So­lar’s CSR ac­tiv­i­ties fo­cus on giv­ing back to so­ci­ety,” says Gyanesh Chaud­hary. While ‘Janamb­humi’ is re­ferred to as birth­place, ‘Karamb­humi’ is re­ferred to as a place where one works hard to es­tab­lish self-iden­tity and grow, both as an in­di­vid­ual and as an or­gan­i­sa­tion.

That apart, in or­der to cre­ate aware­ness among stu­dents about non-re­new­able en­ergy and the need to safe­guard the en­vi­ron­ment, Vikram So­lar dis­trib­utes free so­lar en­ergy kits to schools in ru­ral ar­eas where power cuts are fre­quent. Aware­ness ses­sions have been held in re­puted schools such as The Her­itage School, in Kolkata, and Agra­sain Ba­lika Shik­sha Sadan, at Liluah, as well as in ru­ral schools such as

Be­sides trav­el­ling to my favourite holiday des­ti­na­tions ( Lon­don and Dubai), I en­joy ad­ven­ture sports, es­pe­cially scuba- div­ing and be­lieve in ex­er­cis­ing ev­ery day.

Sun­dar­ban Janakalyan Sangha Vidya Nike­tan, in Ganga Sa­gar, West Ben­gal. They plan to ap­proach other schools in ru­ral ar­eas in the near fu­ture.

Vikram So­lar’s CSR ac­tiv­i­ties have gar­nered such in­ter­est among ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions that a few in­sti­tu­tions such as The Her­itage School and the revered St Xavier’s Col­lege, Kolkata, have gone a step fur­ther and in­stalled so­lar rooftop power plants in their premises, in the in­ter­est of safe­guard­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and pre­serv­ing bio­di­ver­sity.

Fur­ther­more, Bal­laram Hanu­man­das Char­i­ta­ble Trust, sup­ported by Vikram So­lar, runs the Agra­sain Ba­lika Vidyalaya, a free school for girl stu­dents in the pe­riph­ery of Kolkata, where more than 6,500 girls cur­rently study. Un­der its ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme, in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion to the girl child, it also pro­vides sweaters, books, sta­tionery and other ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als to un­der­priv­i­leged school­child­ren and fa­cil­i­tates com­puter lit­er­acy and other vo­ca­tional train­ing pro­grammes in ru­ral re­gions. Be­sides con­duct­ing these ac­tiv­i­ties, the com­pany also sup­ports the Umeed Foun­da­tion, an NGO for chil­dren, and the Ed­u­care San­jee­vani Re­lief Trust, an or­phan­age.

Given that Gyanesh Chaud­hary lays great store by health and fit­ness, Vikram So­lar has not only es­tab­lished a hos­pi­tal but also ar­ranges for reg­u­lar health camps in ru­ral ar­eas. Ini­tia­tives have also been taken to­wards mo­bil­is­ing med­i­cal teams to serve the ru­ral ar­eas, pro­vid­ing train­ing to health work­ers, mid­wives and nurses, and set­ting up yoga and meditation cen­tres.

Back to the fu­ture

That Vikram So­lar has al­ready achieved tremen­dous suc­cess in the field of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, there is no doubt. Gyanesh Chaud­hary says, “I am look­ing for­ward to ex­pand­ing the com­pany’s mod­ule man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity from the cur­rent 0.5 GW to 2 GW by 2019.” Also, hav­ing achieved a turnover of over INR 900 crore in FY 2015-16, he is eye­ing the $1 bil­lion mark by 2020. Young, fo­cused and com­mit­ted, these tar­gets too may not be un­achiev­able for the dynamic go-get­ter.

From left: Gyanesh Chaud­hary with former Pres­i­dent APJ Ab­dul Kalam; The in­au­gu­ra­tion of Vikram So­lar’s man­u­fac­tur­ing unit by Bud­dhadeb Bhat­tacharya, former CM of West Ben­gal

Top: (L-R) Gyanesh Chaud­hary, H K Chaud­hary and Anil Chaud­hary Be­low: The com­pany’s Ra­jasthan project

Left: With Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi Top: Float­ing power plant at Ra­jarhat, near Kolkata

Be­low right: Ed­u­ca­tion­re­lated CSR ac­tiv­ity con­ducted by the com­pany

Top: Gyanesh Chaud­hary with wife Meenakshi, daugh­ter Yashvi and son Agastya

Be­low left: Meenakshi Chaud­hary dis­tribut­ing ed­u­ca­tional kits to chil­dren

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