Ajay Bindroo, 39, does not think twice when he says that, "I had the most idyllic childhood.'' His family owned a 25-bedroom villa overlooking a huge apple orchard in the picturesque town of Sopore (nicknamed ‘little London' because of its altitude and apple orchards) in Kashmir, India.
The place was clean, green and picture perfect. The weather was excellent and there was plenty of space to run and play.
Some of his cherished memories are of accompanying his father to Delhi with the freshly harvested apples to be auctioned at the fruit market there.
"It was there that I learnt the basics of business,'' he says. "The market was truly exciting and buzzing with activity. There were no written documents and all business was conducted on the basis of trust.''
Little Bindroo enjoyed those seasonal visits to Delhi with his father. However, those idyllic times changed almost overnight when violence erupted in the Kashmir valley and his family - like thousands of others in the region - had to migrate to other parts of India.
The Bindroos moved to Jammu where they had to start life from scratch. Ajay was 17 at the time and had just completed his 12th Grade. His parents were keen that he earn a degree in engineering or medicine so they gave him their life's savings and told him to enrol in a college in Bengaluru, Karnataka. And he did. But after a few weeks, "my conscience did not permit me to use up all the savings for my education,'' he says. So he asked the college to reimburse the fees and he returned to Jammu where he enrolled in a local college to study for a bachelor's of science degree.
Even at a young age, Bindroo wanted to be the architect of his destiny and was unwilling to accept things on a platter. "I decided I would make my own destiny,'' he says.
He was also keen to do his bit for the community and he got involved when his college began assisting people in refugee camps, managing an outreach service for families who were displaced, offering support to those who had lost a family member.
In 1993, Bindroo who was 21, chanced upon a small advertisement inviting graduates for the post of marketing executives at Super-Max, a company manufacturing shaving products. It was an advertisement that changed his life for ever. He attended the interview, was taken on as a marketing executive and has never had to look back. Bindroo, Group CEO Super-Max, which has a presence in more than 140 countries, says, "Since the day I joined the company I have only grown.''
He is now heading the global operations for his organisation from Dubai.
Over the past 18 years he has worked hard to take the company from being a modest family business that started in the 1940s to a global corporate and the world's second largest razor blade manufacturer today.
I always look for an opportunity where I can have some initiative to prove myself and work hard. Landing a job with Super-Max gave me that opportunity. I was very enthusiastic and within three months of joining the company exceeded all their sales targets. My first salary was Rs1,800 (around Dh150) with a travel allowance of Rs45 per day. It was a modest salary at the time but I was happy with it.
A chance meeting with the organisation's owner RK Malhotra one evening was another turning point in my career. He asked me to move to Mumbai to handle their export marketing. In six months I had all the training I needed in industry, operations, marketing as the Malhotra family mentored me. There were times when I erred but they stood behind me. I was like a son to them and I put my heart and soul into the business of blades. Within six months Malhotra asked me to move to London to assist his son Rocky with overseas business.
In less than nine months I moved from Delhi, to Mumbai to London... I was at a stage in life I never imagined I would be when I attended the walk-in interview.
The moment I landed in London, I realised that Rocky and I agreed on most issues and as far as the growth of the company was concerned we were on the same page. We wanted to build the brand and make the company global in stature. We had to do what other international brands were doing.
By late 1994, we decided to set up an office in Dubai and moved here. We rented office space in Jebel Ali and I was determined to find my fortune even if I had to go to the middle of the desert. I rented a small apartment in Bur Dubai and every morning I'd take the abra, go over to Deira and scour the retail market convincing traders about my product. In the afternoon I would take a cab to our office in Jebel Ali and process the orders.
A couple of years later, I realised just selling razor blades and finding more distributors was not enough. There was more work to be done in brand building and a lot of lateral thinking was required to [overtake] our competitors.
After some brainstorming we decided to take our business to Oman as well. We appointed a reputable distributor and the first purchase order I recall was for $10,000 (around Dh36,700). In a matter of time we became the leaders in the Oman market capturing 55 per cent of the market share for razor blades.
This first success in the region inspired us to power ahead and our story evolved to where we are today - a trusted brand in over 140 countries across five continents. Today we work with some of the largest retailers. Our USP is that we are the company that innovated in the disposable blade market while our competitors were busy with the non-disposable varieties. We upgraded to the twin blade disposables, then to the triple blade market, the four blade disposable market and now the battery-operated disposable razor blades.
We have a R&D section that keeps abreast of market requirements, a strong manufacturing section where the best Italian designers make our products with sophisticated cutting-edge technology. We also have an equally strong sales and retail team. Together we work the magic.
I feel as a market leader you have to be innovative, entrepreneurial and have your heart in the right place to understand the true pulse of the market.
One sector least affected by recession is the razor blade industry because whatever your situation, men will never give up shaving.
I sometimes wish there were more than 24 hours to a day. I spend 20 days a month travelling overseas and we have target of 120 per cent growth this year. We have already achieved 35 per cent of that and are moving steadily to cover the gap.
To me, my work is also my play. I have never for a single day felt that I was doing a job in the strict sense of the term. I feel I am an integral part of the Super-Max family and am always looking for a challenge.
I love golf and I am convinced it is a great stress buster. I have been playing for 15 years and in most places where I have lived, I have chosen to stay close to a golf club because the greens remind me of the verdant Kashmir Valley that was my hometown. During the two hours I am on the greens, teeing off, I plan my strategies, work things out in my mind...
I prefer spending leisure time with my family - my five-year old twins Ansh and Anay and my wife Madhavi. I met my wife by coincidence. She was the friend of my sister-in-law and I met her before my brother's wedding. She is my pillar of strength and I credit her for the manner in which my family life has shaped up.
My dream for the company is to set a target for the next five years, plan what market segments we would like to reach and chart our paths.
As for my personal dreams, I have quite a few. One of them is to set up an institute for young entrepreneurs and management graduates where I can teach them what true globalisation really means. This is one of my post-retirement dreams.
I do have a few dreams for my sons as well: I'd like them to have what I did not in my life. But I would never hand things to them on a platter. I would like them to struggle and be self-reliant. I would also like to give them the freedom to choose their own destiny.
Another dream of mine is to be able to spend more time with my wife. I would also like to move to a lush green place, maybe Switzerland, where I can give fishing lessons to my sons.
I am convinced that nothing is impossible if you have a dream and work hard to realise it. If you have a clear strategy, a superior product and believe strongly in your product, there will always be a market for it. If you have a vision, you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Our life is like an open university and there are many lessons we pick while struggling to shape it. I learnt the basics of business and how to be a good marketing strategist through what life doled out to me.