Dominating From Hills

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A young man, who fought poverty to study management, finally chased his dream and created an exclusive manufacturing facility in a non-industrial space near the Jawahar Tunnel. Samreena Nazir reports that the only sanitary nipples producing facility is one of the fast-growing units in Kashmir that has substituted imports to a large extent

Ishfaq Ahmad Wani with his team. (KL Image by Saqib Mir)

When his comrades and friends decided to give themselves a break after two years of hard work while pursuing MBA, Ishfaq decided to follow his passion to defeat the poverty. More than five years later, he is convinced his actions speak louder than his words. Monitoring his dozen-odd workers donning the blue company uniform, through his office window, Ishfaq Ahmad Wani is now the Managing Director of Prime Steel Works, a name that is perhaps one of the quickest hybrid stories of government intervention and passion to change.

Located on the Srinagar-Jammu highway at Lower Munda, the workers at his unit move faster to load a truck that drives supplies to the market in Srinagar. His unit is the major manufacturer of sanitary nipples and it took Wani quite a few months to substitute the imports, almost entirely.

The small 12-ft track leading to Wani’s unit is uneven and rough, but get into the unit and it is one of Kashmir’s best manufacturing addresses. But creating a facility, far away from the designated industrial estates, and getting it the market acceptability is not a kid’s play. Ishfaq genuinely says he had broken a glass ceiling to reach here.

In 2013, when Ishfaq completed his MBA from Lovely Professional University in Punjab, he preferred starting his own business rather than applying for jobs. Somehow, he was of the opinion that a job falls short of his ideas and requirements.

Born and brought up in Lower Munda (Qazigund), Ishfaq’s family now resides in Dooru. But the unit operates from his ancestral village. His father Gull Muhammad completed his matriculation in 1973 but his handicap (he had problem in left leg) turned against him and he ended up being a village tailor. This had an impact on the economic well being of the family. When Ishfaq required tuition fees tensions at home would go up. Though enrolled in the Iqbal Memorial Institute, Dooru, Ishfaq would hardly afford a bus ride. Then, they were living in Lower Munda.

Ishfaq Ahmad Wani (KL Image by Saqib Mir)

The hand-to-mouth situation would get aggravated when Wani would take rest or had less work. The family would manage its modest expenditures by selling their cow’s milk or the eggs. These indelible memories of his upbringing would make Ishfaq feel strong about his responsibilities in altering the fate of his family. Primarily this was the reason why after completing his Bachelors in Business Administration, Ishfaq wanted to follow his brother who dropped out of the school and started earning at a young age by working in a private company. But the family put its foot down and literally forced him to seek admissions for MBA in Punjab. “My brother and father had to spend the biggest share of their earnings on me,” Ishfaq admitted. “But they had their hopes too that I will succeed.”

On his first day in University Conference Hall during an introduction session, the University Director asked every student about his or her aim in life. Everybody mentioned the big companies where they wanted to work but Ishfaq’s answer surprised all: “I want to start my own business.” The response was a morale booster.

Finally with a degree in hand, he was desperate to get into business but lacked capital. Somehow, he landed at the J&K Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) where a scheme was in vogue that suited his requirements.

Ishfaq enrolled with EDI, got his DPR approved and the JK Bank agreed to fund his idea and advanced Rs 22 lakh including a support of Rs 7.5 lakh from the EDI. The initial idea, pitched by his brother, was to start nail-manufacture. Ishfaq did a quick survey and found it lacks adequate economics.

He started a manufacturing unit of pipes, instead. Ishfaq worked so hard that within six months he started giving a tough competition to the major companies on price and quality of the product. “I reduced the margins of profit and the pipes became cheaper automatically,” Ishfaq said. “Soon, we started manufacturing nipples.”

Since the sanitary nipples have a specific market, there is nobody manufacturing it in Kashmir. “We manufacture 15000 nipples a day,” Ishfaq said. “We sell our products across the state and we have 12,000 dealers and sub-dealers. The focus remains on quality and the cost. Our demand is improving,” Ishfaq said. “We had a turnover of more than Rs 13 crore last year and I expect it to cross Rs 17 crore this year.”

Looking back at the rollercoaster ride of last few years, Ishfaq says nothing is easy. “It was just raw passion,” Ishfaq said. “Managing the basic infrastructure – the achiness, sheds, warehousing on one hand and taking the product to market and selling it well was and continues to be a tall order.”

Workers busy at their nipple manufacturing unit. (KL Image by Saqib Mir)

The other challenges were that of an unpredictable situation and reliance on outside markets for raw material and certain process.“We bring the raw materials from outside and after working on that we have to send it back outside for furnishing,” said Ishfaq. “We still would require time to evolve certain skills back home.”

His success has made him an instant model. Located barely seven kilometres short of the Jawahar Tunnel, his mere presence is a key resource to many youth who see how difficulties are passable. Now a guest faculty at the EDI, Ishfaq is the most successful of the Institute’s 70000 units, which were set up in last seven years.

“I always supported and respected his decision,” a beaming Gull Mohammad said in the din of the manufacturing facility. “It is a miracle that what my son made possible with his hard work and dedication.” But the aeging tailor, who had stopped working because of his problems in his eyesight, says he still gets shivers when he remembers his son lifting such a huge loan for his venture.

Role model apart, Ishfaq is the major employer in the private sector in his area. He has provided employment to more than 55 people with an average salary of 12000.

Idrees Ahmed, 25, from Chowgam (Qazigund), is one of the 55 youth who work on his facility. “After I completed my MBA from CT College Jalandhar, I was looking for a job,” Ahmad, who manages the accounting of the company said. “Here I got a perfect atmosphere with positive exposure for working.”

Aashiq Hussain Ganie, a MA in Urdu and B Ed said, “Earlier I applied for many jobs in the government but I did not got any. For the last four years, I am working here and earning Rs 28,000 per month excluding over time.”

With a vast network in the market, Ishfaq is keen to build on it. He has already set up Crown Sales Corporation that is exclusive distributor for sanitary products. These are products by various companies. “Last year, we had Rs 7 crore turnover of this company,” Ishfaq said.

Now, he is exploring the possibility of starting his CV fitting business. Presently he has an arrangement with some contract manufacturing facility that supplies him the product. Ishfaq, however, is keen to have his own manufacturing facility at Lower Munda.

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