Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Book Review - Simply Fly

I just finished reading the book 'Simply fly' by Captain G.R. Gopinath and was fascinated by his ventures. From a Captain to a farmer to an airways owner (strikes a note similar to the movie Gladiator), the book does not bore once.

Early Days

Capt Gopinath was born in a remote village of Karnataka called Gorur. He saw early success in his career when he aced the Sainik school examination. Post Sainik school, he sat for UPSC and joined the NDA. He took part in the 1971 Bangladesh war as an intelligent officer initially and later got into the centre of action as a gun position officer (GPO). During a climbing expedition, he injured his arm severely and that got him thinking about his future career in the army. He felt that he no longer had the urge to strive in the armed forces instead he wanted to start new ventures elsewhere. His 10 year stint in defense taught him discipline, endurance and also flying (which would be the major driving factor later).

Farming and Politics

Capt Gopinath took a part of his family's land for farming. It was here that he innovated the most. He took the 'road not taken' and introduced some traditional and some unconventional methods of farming. While farmers added more and more chemicals (which is harmful to the topsoil) to keep the termites out of the farm, Capt Gopinath left aside the debris around the coconut tree as mulch. The termites ate the mulch and left the tree alone. He was also awarded the Rolex Laureate award for his eco-friendly ways of farming especially silk worm farming.

Along with farming Capt Gopinath started new ventures in the form of Motor cycle franchise (from Enfield) and maintenance shops. He also started an Udipi restaurant and also got down into agricultural consultancy which was hugely successful. Capt Gopinath also dabbled with politics as he contested for the state assembly elections in the support of BJP. Though, he failed in winning a seat he was exulted at his sheer determination in carrying out the task.

Deccan Aviation

I was enticed by the sheer no. of businesses that Capt Gopinath had got into. His strength lied in identifying a business opportunity and his ability to take risk. At this point of time, he further surprised me when he wanted to start Deccan aviation. The business opportunity that he saw was logical and simple. While developed and emerging countries had more than 100 helicopters, India had 10 (defense not considered). The need was always there. All that was required was starting the business (Why did not other people see it?). The toughest phase of starting the helicopter business (and maybe the reason for lack of start ups in our country) was getting through the bureaucratic tape (With the booming economy and many reforms it is much easier today). It took Capt Gopinath 2 years to get through the tape and an angel investor to get started (It is hard to believe that he got through without giving any bribes). Once the business kicked off there was no looking back. It was huge success as demand erupted in the form of tourism, medical rescues, marriages, aerial filming and photography.

Deccan Aviation (Helicopter)

Air Deccan

The LCC (Low cost carrier) was a familiar concept to the developed world. Ryan Airlines was a leading LCC airline in Europe and South-West Airlines in US. Capt Gopinath wanted to bring in a similar concept to India especially to connect Tier II and Tier III cities. The major difference between Deccan Aviation and Air Deccan was that Air Deccan was conducive to the political environment. It was seen as a political benefit. So getting through the tape was much simpler. LCC differs from other high cost airlines due to three factors - Inclusiveness, Innovativeness and Efficiency. They are -

1. High seat occupancy (varied ticket prices from Re 1 for early birds)

2. More flights per day (6-7 flights for each aero plane)

3. Cost cutting (no-frills) and point to point flying.

After the success of Air Deccan (It had 22% of overall air plane market), Capt Gopinath sold a majority stake to Kingfisher. I was disappointed at Capt Gopinath's decision. Capt Gopinath throughout the end pages accepted that he and Vijay Mallya had different philosophies and could not work together. But, he ended up selling Deccan to Vijay Mallya justifying the profit he got for his investors (Rs 155 for Rs 125 market price on the share). The other bidder was Reliance and even that would have been a bad investment as it would lead to blood bath (like in the Telecom). Instead he should have stuck with the company for a longer duration as business is all about long term investment and gain.

Market Share

Post merger, Deccan has been renamed many a time (Air Deccan -> Simplifly Deccan -> Kingfisher Red) but the impact was subdued. Deccan had about 22% market share in 2007, but after merger it has fallen and today Kingfisher (both Kingfisher and Kingfisher Red) has 21% market share. Deccan and Capt Gopinath would always be remembered for bring in the LCC model and changing the market dynamics, it created a new demand among the middle-income Indians. Like a true entrepreneur, Capt Gopinath has started one more venture, i.e. Deccan Cargo. I wish him all the success.

The book has many more fascinating stories and insights. It also has some wonderful quotations by renowned people. I loved the poem by Rudyard Kipling. The book is worth a read.