Arun Pudur: A Bengalurean's journey to billions

Arun Pudur: A Bengalurean's journey to billions

Recently, Wealth-X listed Indian businessman Arun Pudur as the world’s 10th richest individual under 40; top on the list was Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Pudur, whose net worth is estimated at over $ 4 billion, is the CEO of Celframe, which makes the world’s second most popular word processor after Microsoft.

Based in Kuala Lumpur, Pudur has diversified into several sectors including mining, real estate and oil and gas. In an exclusive interaction with Tarannum Khan of Deccan Herald, the reclusive billionaire, who says he does not give interviews as they intrude into his personal space, opens up.

Excerpts:

You began your career at the age of 13 in a garage in Bengaluru, fixing Kinetic Honda scooters...

I coaxed my mother to fund a garage for an acquaintance who was working at a shop near our house in Bengaluru. But he disappeared after five or six months and we were stuck with it.

When I began my career in the garage at the age of 13, I had no formal training. I had just observed this guy working. So, whenever a bike or a scooter checked in for repair, I was on my own. I used to solve problems on the fly and became good at that. My scooter garage became so famous even scientists from ISRO started coming there. That is where I think I got my first taste of business. That is where I learnt sales, marketing, customer service, managing human resource and finances. I ran the garage till my plus one or plus two. I shut it down after that as my father wanted me to perform well in college.

But you started breeding dogs after that...

I found out about breeding dogs from an aunt in Chennai. She also gave me a Boxer, to kick-start my business. I started breeding Boxers and Rottweilers. I have delivered hundreds of puppies, cut their umbilical cord and taken care of them. I used my marketing skills to sell the puppies for up to Rs 20,000, which was good money in the mid ’90s.

You started Celframe after graduating, how difficult were the early days?
We opened the first office of Celframe at Lalbagh Road, Bengaluru. Funding was a problem, I did not have a family name behind me. I worked with the wrong people, who took advantage of my naivety. I lost quite a bit of money - my own money and also the money of my initial backers.

What were the major turning points in your career?

Everything was a turning point - opening the garage, breeding dogs, setting up Celframe. But the biggest spike in my revenue happened when we released our first product, Celframe office. It is now the Number 2 office suite in the world. When I launched my product, companies like Sun, IBM and Coral had failed in this category due to fierce competition from Microsoft.

You were one of the few people the Redmond giant could not smother...

It was more of a David and Goliath kind of situation. Being a monopoly, Microsoft used every tool in its arsenal to bring us down. They made sure that no original equipment manufacturer like Dell and HP would ever pre-load our products on their PCs.

How did you survive that?

In this industry, partners and distributors get one or two per cent on every deal they make. I decided to give away 40 per cent of my revenue and make them partners in my success. I focused my business more on the public sector because private companies cannot bully governments. This was the biggest hurdle I crossed in business.

You have also made you mark as an investor...

I have diversified into gold mining, coal business, oil and gas and real estate. It’s said that my fortune is $4 billion; but with my diversification it has grown nearly five to six times in the last two to three years. I am a very cautious investor. I would like to know the entire story and the people before I do business. I invest only if I can get majority control in a company.

You say your upbringing taught the value of money…

There was a time when I used to buy jets just like candies. I had eight private jets of my own; once, I tried to sell one of my jets and found that I had lost about 40 per cent of what I had actually paid. That was when I realised that these toys did not add much value to you. I took a hit, got rid of jets and houses, and reinvested them back into my businesses. I also turned whatever jets and yachts I was left with into a rental business. This lesson, appreciating the value of money, was taught by my parents.

So, your parents wielded a considerable influence on your growth...

My father Sri Ranga, was a noted cinematographer in Kannada and Tulu movies. Thanks to him, I knew everyone in the industry – be it Vishnu uncle (Vishnuvardhan), Ambareesh uncle, even Dr Rajkumar and his sons. My mom was a housewife who was my teacher as well. She was a disciplinarian, who made sure that we did our chores ourselves, including washing clothes and utensils. Now, I understand the value she brought to my life. She showed me the right way to grow.

(For full interview, log on to www.deccanherald.com)

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