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
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.
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.
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