Besides developing some of my closest friendships within the unique Marwari complex where I grew up, it was through my father and the Marwaris in Burrabazar that I learned many essential, life-long business principles. From my father, I learned the right ethics and values of business. Besides teaching me careful money management through a very sparse allowance, he implored me to deal honestly with people, whether a business partner, employee, or customer. He offered the following explanation:
“The best thing to understand that inspires good business is that everyone needs two slices of bread and soup. Whether you are rich or poor, your appetite never changes. The rich do not need more food and the poor less. Both require the same number of calories a day. Both need to sleep as well.”
He also said, “An honest man will sleep deeply. The dishonest man will always struggle because he will be troubled by all his dishonesty.”
For my father, sincerity brought him the same amount of food as the dishonest man, but unlike the dishonest man, he had sleep and peace of mind as well.
Armed with his principles, my father worked hard and with integrity for the sake of our family, leaving early in the morning to open his office in Calcutta and not returning home until late in the evening. On weekends, he put in additional hours to keep up with accounting and the production of his factory in Aligarh.
When visiting the factory, my father intentionally sat and ate with his employees rather than acting as their overlord. Once when I accompanied my father to the factory, he reprimanded me for asking one of the assembly line workers for a glass of water.
“These people are not your servants,” my father scolded. “They work for the business. If you want water, go get it yourself.” Dad valued his employees and treated them as equals because together they worked for the health of his business.
I learned another memorable lesson on an uneventful Sunday in Calcutta. On the corner down the street from our home sat the shop “Arun Cabin,” which cooked and sold snack foods. Dad sent me with ten rupees to buy a particular breakfast dish from the shop, with which I ran to the corner and handed to the merchant while I waited for the food.
There were many customers that morning, and the merchant seemed to overlook my patient waiting while he gave food only to those who had not yet handed him payment. I was kept waiting for almost an hour before Dad came down wondering what was taking so long. Seeing that I had already given the merchant the money, he spoke with the man briskly and collected the breakfast dish. I will never forget what he said to me as we walked back towards the house:
“Bobby, now remember, never pay the money before you get the product. First, get the product, check it, and then give the money. If you give the money upfront, you will be treated like you were never there.”
This was a heavy lesson for me as a young child, but I have been using it to my advantage ever since.