From a Humble Beginning to India's Largest Logistics Firm: How This Entrepreneur has Scripted his Success Story The saving grace was small NBFCs, which encouraged him to take the business forward

By Agamoni Ghosh

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India's largest logistics firm VRL Group, also known for having largest fleet of commercial vehicles, had a humble beginning in 1976, when a single truck was purchased by Vijay Sankeshwar, who believed that the sector had great potential.

Early Start

Sankeshwar was only 19 and the family was not too thrilled with his venture. "Most of the people, advisors, mentors, family friends said that this would not work. For the first ten years, I struggled a lot. I was dependent on the single payments of INR 5,000 and 10,000 sometimes as capital," said Sankeshwar. Operating in the transport sector in the late 70s and early 80s meant having no communication with ground staff, which made handling the drivers difficult. Moreover, having a truck business in the 80's meant getting lured into illegal domains like smuggling, which he wanted to avoid at all costs. "I suffered severe losses and frequent accidents of vehicles. Not deterred by these setbacks, I worked hard to reach my goal. All I knew is that I cannot choose the illegal path and kept my focus," he said.

Dearth of Financial Assistance

Financial assistance was tough to come by in those days, as banks relied on heavy documentation and there was only so much one could borrow from kin. For Sankeshwar, the saving grace was small NBFCs, which encouraged him to take the business forward. "They believed in me and my customers, rather than some pieces of paper," he said.

From a turnover of mere INR 2 lakh in 1976, Sankeshwar has built a conglomerate that includes VRL Media Limited, a INR-300-crore publishing house and the big fish, VRL Logistics, valued at close to INR 2,000 crores and has a market cap of nearly INR 3,100 crores.

Passion for Publishing

Amid all this, Sankeshwar's passion for publishing never went away. He started VRL Media, whose first venture Vijaya Karnataka became the largest circulated newspaper in the state and for the language. Unfortunately in 2007, he had to sell it to Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd. (The Times Group) for an undisclosed sum due to financial problems. "Vijay Karnataka was the first-of-its-kind, so it achieved great success. To replicate the same was going to be a challenge and I did not know whether the next venture would be as successful," he said.

His passion remained for the field and after a 5-year non-competence clause he launched Vijaya Vani in 2012. Vijaya Vani is now the number one Kannada Daily Newspaper with eight lakh+ copies sold every day. Riding on the success wave, the group has also launched a new Kannada Channel "Digvijay 24X7" on April 4, 2017. He said, "I believed in quality of the content and focused on positive, meaningful news with less emphasis on Page 3 elements and I believe that is the reason, despite having sold the earlier paper, we came back even stronger."

Sankeshwar emphasized on the need to deal fairly when it comes to finance and suggested that it's the core element to the success of his empire. "Even when I was in challenging situations, I kept belief in myself and did not give up. I had confidence and kept practicing in what I believed in," said Sankeshwar.

(This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

Agamoni Ghosh

Former Staff, Entrepreneur India

She was generating stories out of Bengaluru for Entrepreneur India. She has worked with leading national and international business publications, including Newsweek, Business Standard, and CNBC in the past. 

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