36th anniversary: business tycoon
Tara Ranjan Patnaik, 70 years
Total assets 1,200 crores
where do you invest
FMEL is going to invest about Rs 1,450 crore in this period to take its business to Rs 5,000 crore in the next three years
Even after having a law degree, Tara Ranjan Patnaik decided not to follow his father’s legal profession. Tara had a little apprehension then, but because of this she did not have any confrontation with her father. However, when he tried to explain that he was considering deep sea trawler fishing as an alternative career, his father frowned in disbelief and worry. Seeing this, Tara Ranjan immediately understood that he would have to decide the journey of this career alone and would not get any help from his father. But in the late 1970s, the thrill of hanging out with friends and earning Rs 25,000 a day in trawler landings was too tempting to give up.
The government was giving encouragement and easy loans to unemployed youth to try their luck in fisheries. Borrowing Rs 5,000 from her cousin as a personal investment and taking a loan of Rs 2 lakh from the Odisha State Financial Corporation, Tara bought a trawler and dived into the sea. He says, “The business was full of ups and downs from the beginning. Either the weather would have been bad or the fishermen would have shied away from venturing out. I suffered a huge loss and then I learned the basic rule of business – learning from failure and staying focused.”
After incurring losses, Tara decided to deliver lobsters to her friends who supplied the ingredients to big food chains ITC and Britannia. Soon things started looking better and he started making a profit of Rs 15,000 a day. Hard work during the day and stress relief with friends in the evening became Tara’s routine. He recalls, “A bottle of beer used to cost Rs 8 and I was single. How much can you spend? I used to be with my friends at Taradeep restaurant almost everyday. After 1980, I got the license and opened my aquaculture firm.” Infrastructure was a big challenge then. “In the beginning, I had to lay many roads to minimize the time taken to transport the lobsters from the sea to the processing station,” he says.
The company did not have its own processing facility. Tara used to run from production centers to processing plants. Today they have 5 modern processing plants with a processing capacity of 150 MT. Apart from these, it has excellent logistics and supply chain infrastructure, which includes cold storage and warehouse capacity of 7,200 metric tonnes. In those days the storage in Chilka was also decreasing. Therefore, according to the characteristics of export, he set up a team of contract farmers to increase the production of lobsters. The criterion was that the prawns should be fresh and free from antibiotics. In the 1980s, FMEL was exporting prawns and seafood to Japan with an annual turnover of Rs 40 to 50 lakhs.
Today the company is not only one of the top seafood exporters in the country, but also supports 10,000 marginal farmer families and has a turnover of around Rs 28 billion. The turnover of the company is expected to reach Rs 50 billion by 2025-2026. Farmers are also earning well and the income of some has reached up to Rs 1 crore in a year. The company has about 3,500 hectares of land for aquaculture, most of which have ponds for rearing lobster species. According to MPEDA reports for 2018-19, the firm is the largest exporter of frozen seafood in Odisha.
Even after all the successes, Tara did not forget her roots. His neighborhood in Keonjhar, where he spent his childhood, has been transformed. His neighbors and relatives who were not as prosperous, they also have pucca houses, modern facilities in their houses and all the facilities for development. Tara made sure that the neighbors also get the fruits of their hard work. He points out that the model of private development ultimately cannot be sustained without holistic development, “thatched and mud houses and the scars of all-round poverty do not ultimately match the edifice of prosperity.” Development can happen only when everyone is embraced. I helped my neighbors build modern houses so that neither I nor they would feel alienated or out of place.
Tara did not forget her school and college friends as well. They meet him at least twice a week and play cards. They listen to music, pull each other’s legs and enjoy sumptuous food. Billionaire Tara says, “I believe in helping people, friends as well as strangers, because I have seen from my own experience how strangers helped me when I was afraid that all doors were closed He also returned a lot of money to his cousin who had given the first capital.