Book Review: Seven Uncommoners
The book is a collection of biographical sketches of seven entrepreneurs from across a variety of industries in India. In bringing them together, Riddhima successfully weaves a four decade long view of entrepreneurship in India. The choice of entrepreneurs is interesting – across gaming and technology (Vishal Gondal of Indiagames and Goqii), hospitality (Patu Keswani of Lemon Tree Hotels), logistics and supply chain ( of Safexpress), construction & infrastructure development (Jagdish Gupta of J Kumar Infraprojects), financial advisory (Mahesh Singhi of Singhi Advisors), facilities management (Prasad Lad of Krystal Group) and legal services (Nishith Desai of NDA). It is a wide range and it covers the old and the new, the archaic and the modern, and the old and the young. Vishal Gondal started his journey at 16 and has already become an investor after successfully exiting his business ventures, while Patu Keswani started at 44 and is all set to take the mid-market hospitality by storm through his chain of hotels.
The first story, Safexpress, is not just fascinating but also inspiring. It’s a classic made for the movies tale with Pawan Jain starting off with almost nothing amidst adversities, spending time on the roads to understand the challenges of a non-existent logistics business in India, and building a huge business completely ground up. Some of his choices and some of his trials are almost jingoistic, but in the end, his grit and clear minded focus on building sustainable businesses stands tall. The others are similarly interesting to read through.
Ridhima’s prose provides a ringside view to these entrepreneur’s lives. It is simple to read and draw lessons from. The narration is uncomplicated and engaging. But in a nutshell, almost all the stories trickle down to the twin insights of perseverance and creativity. The stories are chronologically told and, unlike better autobiographical sketches, don’t create a heightened sense of awareness of how they unfolded. There is, in general, a dearth of good autobiographical work coming out of India, which is a shame considering the diversity and challenges of our country. A country which is known for its jugaad brand of entrepreneurship should be full of inspirational creativity led stories, rather than a simple work hard-hit the mattresses-and make it big stories.
What works in favour of the book is the choice of the stories, and the fact that they all lend themselves to interesting storytelling. However, the stories are largely uni-dimensional and sugar coated. Barring an occasional here or there, the heroes of these stories do not have any flaws. They are all persevering in the face of pressure and harboring no ill will towards anyone. In that sense, the book occasionally reads like a college project, and less like an insightful journey into these lives.
The feeling that there has to be more, and that something has been left out, is the pervasive sentiment at the end of the read. Nevertheless, the book is a good celebration of home grown successes in a world which is excessively enamored by the Steve Jobs brand of arrogant leadership and perfect solutions. It is a very good book to understand what managing the environment and odds is like in our country.
The book should be a quick and mandatory read for young entrepreneurs and professionals to understand what diversity of ideas and backgrounds can bring to a business. In fact, we need more books like these that celebrate the less glamorous success stories of India.
Author: Ridhima Verma
Genre/ Sub-Genre: Non-Fiction/ Business
Rating: 3.25 of 5
Reviewed for: Publisher
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