I look at the mirror now, when I am 53 years old. Eighty percent white hair! Only to be expected at this age? Actually, it happened to me a long time ago, back in 1993 when I was only 34. That was when Hitachi stumbled upon Enpro, a company founded by Alka and I to design and manufacture packaged piping systems.
On a sleepy afternoon back then, I got a phone call from our friendly neighbors, Thermax. They say there is a team visiting them from Hitachi of Japan. They want to visit Enpro and wanted our permission to do so. It was a bolt from the sky! I bolted from my chair and got our team together. We had to put out best foot forward! Hasty housekeeping exercises were undertaken to create the semblance of a walkway in our cluttered shop.
A team of five Japanese, led by Mr. Y Hagiwara turned up at sharp 10:00 a.m., wearing immaculate black suits. After a few pleasantries (repeatedly bending at the hip at right angles, and exchanging business cards as though they were our most precious belongings), they very politely asked for permission to take photographs. Once granted, all five of them suddenly pulled out their cameras and went berserk through our tiny shop, capturing on celluloid every tiny detail in every nook and corner. (Remember, this was pre-digital age when cameras had film, drawings were made by drafting machines, messages were sent on fax with thermal paper and one had to book STD calls to talk to other cities.) The photo session was followed by detailed personal interviews of everybody right from the Managing Director to the shop welders, and an audit of all functions.
“Mistal Kalkale, what is the wolkin time at Enplo?”
“8.00 am to 5.00pm Hagiwara san”! I replied meekly.
“All these people came to Enpro after 8.30? You must be fie (fire) them at once!!”
This one day audit was followed by an enquiry, which we quoted with the same recklessness of a four -year -old child (after all, we were only four years old in the business and had practically no exposure to international business.) What followed was a whirlwind tour to audit all our sub-suppliers (8 cities in 4 days, six flights, 1,800 kms on road and three sleepless nights.) After this not-so-cursory due diligence, Hagiwara San was ready to talk business. After a lot of technical back-and-forth he offered a price and a delivery date and told us that the order would be ours if we agreed to both. We were really salivating at the prospect of getting our first international order and agreed almost instantly (again with the same ease as a four -year -old would agree to do an errand in exchange for a lolly pop.) No sooner had we shaken hands, Mr. Hagiwara pulled out a neat box file and handed it over to me: “Congratulations, Mistal Kalkale – This is your lettal of intent!”
That box file (letter of intent) was destined to change the future of Enpro and the color of my hair forever.
In the coming few weeks, we spent thousands of rupees and dozens of reels of thermal paper, sending drawings over the fax and receiving comments/approvals from Hitachi. Every time the fax machine rang and I saw a message from Hitachi, my heart would sink (here goes another thermal paper roll worth Rs. 800 and several hundred rupees added to the telephone bill!). Two months after shaking hands with us, Hagiwara San realized that things at Enpro were not going exactly as planned. Hagiwara San would be on the phone with me every single day, running through the minutest details of our order. “Mistal Kalkale you told me a lie!” he would shout on the phone (meaning you did not do what you said you will do.) If I told him that a part did not arrive because a truck broke down or a supplier could not be contacted as telephone lines were not working, he would simply fail to understand what were to us common facts of life.
The six-month interaction with Mr. Hagiwara was indeed baptism by fire for the fledgling Enpro. Today, Enpro is one of the best known brands for lubrication systems globally.
After about a month of shouting (his) and cowering (mine) over the phone,Mr. Hagiwara decided to take things in his own hands. He packed his bags and landed up at Enpro with one of his sidekicks, Kudo, and a welding expert Mr. O Tanaka whose entire vocabulary in all foreign languages (including English!) was “Namaste!” besides a big smile (which, fortunately, is understood the same way in all languages).
But when Hagiwara San arrived, he had another universally understood expression on his face: a highly contemptuous and contorted frown. For the next two months he took virtual command of Enpro, questioning anything and everything he felt affected the execution of the Hitachi order.
Once, a worker was distributing pedhas to celebrate a new vehicle he had purchased, and offered one to Mr. Hagiwara. “Why Now!” he hissed with a contorted viscous face. “Is this eating time? Please go and work on Hitachi Order!”
One day he was about to attack me with his most viscious abuse for our daily ‘non performance,’ when his expression suddenly changed from extreme anger to extreme fear and almost started shivering with fear at the sight of something behind me. I turned around to see it was just a common house lizard lurking on the wall!
Another day, he started frothing at the mouth and almost burst with fury when he saw one of the much-awaited plates for his job being delivered to our shop on a bullock cart!
One day, I arrived at the factory at 9.00 am and found Mr. Hagiwara sitting at the gate on a chair with a notebook in his hands. He followed me into my office, brandishing the note book that had a list of names written in it.
“Mistal Kalkale, what is the wolkin time at Enplo?”
“8.00 am to 5.00pm Hagiwara san”! I replied meekly.“All these people came to Enpro after 8.30? You must be fie (fire) them at once!!”
We started serving him tea in steel mugs after he broke a couple of china cups during one of his fits of fury. We also adopted an open door policy so he did not have to kick the doors while entering or leaving cabins.
Whenever he introduced himself by name, many of our vernacular workers could not help laughing. This would infuriate him to no ends. No one dared to tell him that the name was so funny when said in Marathi.
The fits of fury continued nearly till we completed our first order six months later (against the scheduled four months.) We were already 200% over budget. We were also 200% sure that Hitachi had totally written us off.
But to our utter surprise, they placed another much larger order with Enpro, even before the first order was shipped. Alka went to Hitachi Japan to get trained on lube systems (and that is another story in itself.) We executed the second order well within schedule and the budget and to Hitachi’s full satisfaction. This was the beginning of a relationship that then lasted and flourished for almost 20 years. It has also spawned new relationships with other global giants like GE, Siemens, Ebara, Alstom, etc. It is true that the teachers who are hardest on you, teach you the most. The six-month interaction with Mr. Hagiwara was indeed baptism by fire for the fledgling Enpro. Today, Enpro is one of the best known brands for lubrication systems globally. This would certainly not have happened if Mr. Hagiwara had not kicked asses at Enpro a long time ago.
Today Mr. Hagiwara is retired and at peace with himself; whenever his name is mentioned at Enpro, a smile lights up on every face that hears it.