Starting as a professional in hospitality industry, he today has business interests in hospitality, energy and real estate spanning over six countries. Prasoon Mukherjee, Chairman, Universal Success Enterprises Group (estd. 2000), headquartered in Singapore with operations in India and Southeast Asia, is a self made man who dared to dream big.
Mukherjee’s journey as an entrepreneur started in 1994 with energy trading (crude) based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Later he ventured into hospitality and infrastructure. Born in central Kolkata Mukherjee is an alumnus of a premier Hotel Management Institute of Kolkata. After completing the four year course from the Institute of Hotel Management, he joined the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), where he worked his way up from a trainee to the food and beverages manager. However the comfort of a secured job was not something that Mukherjee was born to be content with. The seeds of entrepreneurial skills started sprouting in him and the results are all there for us to see, admire and be inspired.
“It was back in 1991 that I was sent by ITDC to the United States for an advanced course in hotel management. On return I was promised to be promoted as the general manager in one of the ITDC hotels, but I was disregarded by a partisan administration. But on retrospection, that particular episode emerged as a boon as I decided to quit and eventually joined a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur as a kitchen manager,” narrates Mukherjee.
That was the beginning and he never looked back. Within six months, he was promoted to the post of regional manager of the TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) group's Malaysia operations and was soon in charge of 11 restaurants. In 1994, there was another shift in his career as he became South East Asia's director (operation) of TGIF and went to Singapore. But destiny had something different in store and soon enough Mukherjee left TGIF and relocated to Jakarta to join one of Indonesia's biggest corporates – the $ 25 billion Salim Group -- where he worked till 1999. Mukherjee’s pay package at Salim Group included two per cent of the company's shares annually. In five years Mukherjee sold half of his shares and armed with a robust $ 5.5 million left for Los Angeles, where another story was waiting to unfold.
The vision to create something led Mukherjee to his entrepreneurial journey
This was way back in the 90s when the Indian economy had just started to open up to the global economy. And not just India, the entire south and south-east Asia was beginning to show prospects of blooming into global business strongholds -- something that fired Mukherjee’s dreams to do something on his own.
“It was in LA that I got introduced to the Outback Steakhouse chain, one of the world's best casual dining restaurant groups. Once at Outback Steakhouse, I knew that I wanted to become a restaurateur. However, turning the dream to reality was an arduous job as Outback Steakhouse wasn’t interested in expanding their operations in Asia, nor was they convinced about my financial health. After relentless discussions for three days I could finally convince the Outback management in Atlanta to let me open franchises in South Asia,” recounts Mukherjee.
What started in 2000 -- the first Outback Steakhouse franchise in Singapore, is today a full grown tree with sturdy branches. Prasoon Mukherjee now owns 13 Outback Steakhouse restaurants in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines with a turnover of over $ 20 million, and his vision is to open 100 restaurants by 2025. Apart from hospitality, Mukherjee's business interests today include energy, energy trading and other diversified businesses. The USE Group initiated investments in India in 2003 with an objective to develop world-class infrastructure in the areas of townships, industrial parks, power and ports.
More than a decade in entrepreneurship Mukherjee has also witnessed and surmounted many challenges and road blocks. The 1997 SE Asia economic meltdown and global financial crisis in 2008 have been the major challenges faced by his company. Staying focused and believing and leveraging the principles of universal success, which are hard work, honesty and never forgetting the Community where business operates, helped him overcome the hurdles.
Being an entrepreneur and leading a world class business, Mukherjee shares his view entrepreneurship as
“Doing your own thing, gives you a sense of freedom and control. It also enables you to generate employment. An entrepreneur can touch the lives of more people than a professional can – employees, end-users and shareholders. An entrepreneur also contributes significantly to the economic growth of a country. And last but not the least; an entrepreneur can afford to contribute to the society by way of carrying out social and charitable responsibilities.”
What helped him become what he is today – a leading name in the business world? Mukherjee answers
- Having a vision, to be able to see the bigger picture and curiosity, make a good entrepreneur.
- Not shying away from taking risks and being open to new ideas always help.
- It is important to know and understand the ongoing trends in a particular industry. Prefer working with relatively younger professionals, they are always full of ideas and enthusiasm.
- Total honesty with all stake holders – dealing with total transparency with customers, financiers and employees.
Belonging to a modest Bengali Family, Mukherjee's life is a moving and gripping saga of hard work and never say die attitude. His rags-to-rich story is replete with pearls of wisdom for the aspiring entrepreneurs. 17 years in business Mukherjee has witnessed the high and low of industry trends for long, adjusted his sails accordingly and surged ahead reaching new destinations.
Speaking about the future trends in industry Mukherjee informs
“Industry has become much more competitive and dynamic, with rapid changes taking place. Oil and coal price went through drastic peaks and valleys. These pose new challenges and require new strategies to remain competitive. Real Estate sector is downhill throughout the world; nevertheless, we were with low leverage and high concentration of assets and hence we are in a better position to handle the situation,” informs the 55 year old corporate giant.
According to Mukherjee, awareness on health and fitness will dominate the food and beverage industry globally. Along with it issues of animal safety, organic food, and GMO crops will also continue to be relevant. Overall, more and more countries and cultures will open up to newer and even more exotic cuisines, enabling F&B franchises to expand to hitherto unexplored markets. The real estate industry on the other hand, feels Mukherjee, is likely to benefit from participating in infrastructure ventures, as a flourishing e-commerce industry will ensure steady growth in warehousing and distribution space requirements. “Also, technology will play an important role in all retail markets. The prices of coal are going to rise giving opportunity for higher profitability. However, the oil prices are going to plateau very soon where there will be newer challenges in extraction cost and profitability,” he informs.
Technology and the paradigm shift in business – Mukherjee’s take
Technology has played a great role in bringing a major change to the way things are in industry today. 17 years down the line Prasoon Mukherjee agrees that, “web based applications, social networks, cloud computing and mobile devices have changed the way we’ve been doing business until now.” Speaking about the enormous power of social media, Mukherjee says, “Since social network influences and even frames public opinion about products and services these days, industries like F&B and real estate that deal directly with clients and patrons have been compelled to keep up to their expectations.” Promotion and advertising, feels Mukherjee, is also quickly shifting to the web space, since that is currently the best medium of communication so far as the younger clientele is considered. “Technology has also affected manpower management and product costing significantly. Keeping up with the latest technological advancements is an expensive affair,” adds the leading business tycoon who had been lucky to have mentors and idols like Chris Sullivan – who founded the idea of giving almost 18% of the company to people who actually run the business, Michael Coble, Anthony Salim and Benny Santoso – who exemplified how adversities can be surmounted with grit and hard work, and Sharief Sutardjo.
Mukherjee’s 5 tips for millennials
- There is no short cut to hard work
- Take fullest advantage of new technology
- Human beings like contacts, so business approach should incorporate approachability, accessibility and personal touch.
- From the very beginning practice absolute honesty
- Never forget your social responsibility
A well known humanitarian, he is constantly engaged in a slew of social activities including providing support in times of natural disasters, assisting the physically challenged, endorsing national level sports and sponsoring book fairs and film festivals.