ES. Litmus Meroform celebrated its glorious 21 years of excellence. Please share with us your reminiscences of this incredible journey.
Nanu Binu. Thank you for asking me to share the memory of this journey. Journeys have different phases. Sometimes it is pleasant and at other times you find yourselves in storm and get headwinds. We had a baptism of fire to start with. So, when the headwind came, we did not falter. We believed in our principles and ethos. We always kept the interest of the customer in mind. We treated our associates well and they all stood with us in good times and bad times. Yes, looking back it is an incredible journey.
ES. We have heard stories about your hard work and dedication where you used to move around carrying exhibition equipments on your scooter to the site. How true is this account and do give us a glimpse of your hardwork and efforts. Also please share how was the industry back then.
Nanu Binu. Well, I do not know how to ride a two wheeler. So, the scooter bit is somebody’s figment of imagination. I hail from a business family which owned multiple businesses. In my first chosen profession also I was rising very rapidly when I made the decision (circumstantial) to change my profession and reached Delhi. Initial years were difficult but soon I jumped directly from the DTC bus to a Maruti Van.
When I bought that blue van, I removed the back seat so that I could load materials at the back. I used to go to Bhogal market myself to order things and then move to Pragati Maidan and work till 1200 or 2 AM till the day’s schedule is finished. I hardly saw my children during those days. But my family backed whatever I did. Going back a bit more. While in school, one of my teachers wrote a line on the blackboard, “Perseverance is the very hinge of all virtues.” I copied it in my diary and wrote that line in every diary I kept. To this day, I believe in that and persevere for any objectives that I set. I was also not risk averse. Whenever a challenge came, I took it head on. When the company where I was in those days got the first large order, I took it although resources were limited. We had to find solutions for the shortage of funds and we did. It turned out to be fantastic project which changed our fortunes and also gave a new and visible direction to the exhibition business in India.
The motive was not money alone. Money is important but somehow I have always pursued excellence with fervour. Then quality and excellence became the hallmark of the company and whatever I did subsequently. Exhibition business was in nascent stages then and quality was an accident. I decided to make it a rule. It was difficult but not impossible. We did not have the help of computers, IT or communication facilities. Drawings were drawn by hand, artwork by hand and work was more physical and crude. I had the backdrop of technical education and experience of working in an industry. I tried to bring in all the management techniques and rules of productivity to exhibitions. To an extent, I was successful. I am using the adjective as I still feel that our businesses can still adopt many practices and do better.
ES. Please share with us your major struggles and challenges encountered in those days & how did you overcome them.
Nanu Binu. First struggle was for funds. But I always kept in mind what Dhirubhai Ambani once said, “if you have a solid business plan, funds will never be difficult.” Then came phases of many challenges when the existence of the company became difficult. But as I said before, when your clients and associates trust you and support you, no challenge is insurmountable.
ES. Please throw some light on the major turning points in your journey that put Meroform in further orbits one after the other. Please highlight some key projects that transpired in your journey.
Nanu Binu. There are many theories in management. One theory is to focus only on one business where you have complete mastery. The other one is slightly broader. Bajaj Auto believes that making motor cycles is their area of excellence and they stopped making scooters. Tata Motors believes that moving people and materials from one point to the other is the expertise that they have. I believe in the latter theory. Display is our expertise, whether it is in the field of exhibitions or any allied businesses. This widening of the horizon helped us find new pastures.
ES. What ethos have transpired to allow the group to set the industry standards for the customer service and satisfaction?
Nanu Binu. We called it the three tenets of Meroform which we started following from day one. Be ethical, Be transparent and have the attitude to walk that extra mile with a smile. We are in the service industry and face challenges every day. But, when you are transparent with the client and they believe that you will walk that extra mile and you will be ethical, things happen is a positive way. Regarding industry standards, we can simply say that we always tried to do the best and try to set the bar high which subsequently becomes industry standards. Probably, we were the ones who started employing people with higher academic standard, tried for extensive detailing and planning for each project. Many times, I also wonder whether people realise the extent of work behind every project. The concepts, thoughts and struggle when you try to do something different and away from the oft walked path. Perhaps that struggle is what you term as industry standard.
ES. In your previous interview you had stated that lack of low cost finance and lack of skill at every level were some of the major challenges faced by you during the start of your professional journey, how do you relate the current scenario for the entrepreneurs with the challenges faced by you earlier?
Nanu Binu. Finance has become much more easier than when I started. At last, Banks now know that exhibitions and events is a business with a good return and they have started backing our business. As far as skill is concerned, there is a definite upward shift in recent years. But we have a long way to go before we can call ourselves ‘ global standard’. But we are very close and have bridged the gap substantially.
ES. How Meroform is gearing up to overcome the challenges posed by Covid19? How have you evolved your offerings and understanding, adapting to the future of the industry.
Nanu Binu. COVID is a circuit breaker and Black Swan. It is too early for a prophecy as to what will happen when the pandemic is over. Sometimes, I think a bit philosophically, that world will be a better place having experienced the humbling phase we are going through now. I also believe that post COVID world will be a much more efficient place with more technology interventions.
ES. What drives you to keep going even at the time when the current scenario is striving against the stream? How do you see 2021-2022 in terms of business? When can we see the revival of our industry.
Nanu Binu. It is too early to talk about any definite date. Every night has a day. Let us hope that the times turn for better sooner than we think.
World is cyclical. I learnt about Sine Wave in mathematics class. Sine Wave goes up and down the median in equal measure. Sometimes I think that it should have been taught is philosophy class because life is like that. Up and downs in equal measure. One should not rejoice too much when the graph is at the highest point nor despair when it hits the bottom. The cycle will repeat. I do not know when business will be as usual, but it is a matter of time. Just hang on there even when you feel that things look beyond redemption.
ES. Each and every year, we see the latest trends that are ranging from the new technology to stronger focus on the sustainability. Do you think its time that our industry reflects a stronger commitment towards environment and sustainability? What can be done to safeguard and promote sustainability in our industry so that it does’nt impact the environment in a negative way?
Nanu Binu. We are a very wasteful industry. The norm here is ‘ build and burn’. I agree that we need a huge quantum jump before we can talk about sustainability. Mind you, we alone cannot do it. We need to educate our clients also about the importance of sustainable practices and make them partners in our endeavours. Perhaps the industry associations can ponder over this subject through workshops involving clients and creative minds. Rather than calling it new technology, I would say a new mindset is required.
ES. What according to you are the challenges and the opportunities surrounding the Indian Exhibition Industry in the current age?
Nanu Binu. The challenges and opportunities come from technology. The shift from physical to virtual is an emerging challenge. The setback the virtual is facing is temporary. It will become better and better as time goes along and become a challenge to wood and aluminium. The opportunity also lies in the same sphere. We have a wonderful opportunity to migrate to a better and eventually profitable phase. Right now an Indian exhibition is visited by a million at the max. In the virtual world, the number will be ten times. We will almost become B2C where exhibition will reach every home just as Netflix and Amazon Prime reaches every home. Maybe, industry will have its most prosperous phase when that happens and if we are prepared to change with times.
ES. What is your take on virtual events? Are exhibitions here to stay in the new normal?
Nanu Binu. I always hear of the power of a handshake and a cocktail. True ! Millions of years of herd mentality will not go away in a year or two but it may change in decades. See how our habits about entertainment has changed. Theatre gave way to Cinema. The cinema hall is giving way to OTT. The economics of entertainment has changed. Now IPL or F1 can happen without audience and will remain profitable. In any of the sports, gate collection is now a fragment of the total income. So, technology is capable of making rapid changes to our behaviour.
Exhibitions will also change. But as Broadway and Hollywood exist parallelly, both physical and virtual will continue. But I believe that technology will have the last laugh. Always think that Change is the only Constant.
ES. What learnings can we handpick from this disruption? Is there any silver lining in this dense dark cloud?
Nanu Binu. As I said before, a cyclical wave is the norm for life and business and change is a must and is inevitable. We are a resilient society. Our history has many disruptions. But, we always came out of it and always rebuilt ourselves. I agree that we have never come across a situation like what COVID has created. But let us believe that this will pass and good times will return. Every dark cloud has a silver lining. The silver lining is human spirit and endeavour.
ES. As IESA’s Founder President, what are your recommendations & suggestions to the association, to serve better the interests of its members and that of our industry overall? What is your message to the industry ?
Nanu Binu. We have already achieved some objectives. If you look at the SOP released by GOI regarding reopening of exhibitions, you will see terms like venue owner, organiser and service provider. A few years back when service tax was introduced, we all were clubbed under ‘Mandap decorators’. Because of the activities of our Associations, the GOI now know us and also recognizes us.
ES. What is your message to the industry?
Nanu Binu. But always there is more to be done. Imparting knowledge is an inevitable part of any association. We should focus on skilling and reskilling. The knowledge of yesterday is no good for business of today. We should have more seminars, workshops and India Expo Shops. All physically and virtually. Members should be encouraged to discuss the platonic shifts happening in the business and we should think how we can avoid future shocks by building more flexible businesses. We should think together and act together. This is my message to the industry.