Dhirubhai - The Man - Early Years in Bombay

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Early Years in Bombay

So, sometime towards the end of 1958 Dhirubhai landed at Bombay with little money in his pocket and absolutely no connections except a letter of introduction from a Gujarati shopkeeper in Aden to his son living in a Bombay chawl to let him share his room. Soon after arriving in Bombay Dhirubhai began exploring openings for some business within limits of his meager savings. He went to various places like Ahmedabad, Baroda, Junagarh, Rajkot and Jamnagar in Gujarat looking for opportunities. But he felt that with the small capital he had all that he could do in these places was to set up a grocery, cloth or a motor parts shop. A shop could give him a steady income but that was not what he was looking for. He was looking for quick growth, for constant excitement of trading, and for the hustle and bustle of a busy bazaar, as in Aden.

He came back to Bombay, settled himself, his wife and son in a two-room chawl and launched himself as a trader in spice setting up office under the name of Reliance Commercial Corporation. All that his office had was a table, two chairs, a writing pad, a pen, an inkpot, a pitcher for storing drinking water and a few glasses. The office had no phone but he could make and receive calls on the phone of a next-door doctor paying him a small amount for every such call. From the very first day Dhirubhai began making rounds of Bombay’s wholesale spice market and collecting quotations of various items for bulk purchase on immediate down payment terms..

A jobless young boy known to him appeared soon after as his odd job man. An aged Muslim mehtaji was brought in as a part time clerk-cum-letter writer-cum-accountant-cum-receptionist. From the very first day he began sending letters in Arabic to Dhirubhai’s old contacts in Aden and trading centers of the Gulf Emirates. The letters carried rates at which Dhirubhai offered to supply various commodities like spices, sugar, jaggery, betel nuts and such and similar other things.

Orders began trickling in after a few weeks, and were promptly fulfilled. Often goods were shipped even before payments arrived. Dhirubhai kept his margins low, volumes large and quality high. Those days most Bombay traders paid little attention to the quality of their commodities. There was a lot of adulteration and mixing of substandard material in bulk shipments. Foreign exporters often complained that goods shipped from India were all so often a much lower quality than promised. Dhirubhai offered to forego payments due him in case his supplies were found below standard. That built a great reputation for him among overseas exporters. Orders began growing.