#2 Sant Advani - World's Worst Engineer
Sant Advani is a mechanical engineer who prides himself on being efficient because he is lazy. We bet you've heard this before - 'you must be the hardest worker in the room'.
Yeah, well... Sant doesn't agree with that.
Sant: I am the world's worst engineer. To give you an example, I drove a Honda car in Europe for about four years. I never opened the bonnet. I learned how to open the bonnet finally, and I said, please show me a cold spot where I can touch my finger. Whenever it started, I used to open the bonnet, put my finger out and then four or five people always came and helped.
Aamer: That was Sant Advani. Sant is the product of what happens when you combine the right amount of lazy with smart. It's a lethal combination. And oddly enough, he always knew how to get his way. Sant is a 76 year old man with the heart of a 20 year old. And this is his story.
Hello there and welcome. I'm Aamer Khan, and this is the Zed Medium Podcast, a podcast that talks to people and about them, too. We narrate people's journeys in the simplest way we can. If you haven't checked out the first episode yet, please do so. Karina was a delight to have on the podcast, and her story was an amazing one to share. Now, when I said Sant has a young heart, I really meant it.
He enjoys dancing, namely salsa, and he's absolutely killed it in competitions. Keeping up with his young female dance partners, that is. And this is entirely him talking now, by the way. Also the reason why he took up salsa in the first place. He gets to dance with young, beautiful ladies. He loves having a good time, and his idea of a good time is partying. Which is why he booked an entire club in Mumbai on what was his 69th or 70th birthday. Yes, an entire club.
But the Sant that we're talking about right now is extremely different from the Sant that started his journey way back in the late nineteen sixties, for starters. I am pretty sure a young Sant would have never forbidden me to call him sir. He would have insisted on it.
So let's begin from the beginning. So there were only three parts of education that you could take in the 1960s. Two, really. Either you became a doctor or an engineer. And as I mentioned earlier, Sant prides himself on being very lazy. So medicine flew right out the window. From there, he did his mechanical engineering and after a brief period of trial and error with jobs, went on to join a company that is now the leading air conditioning company in India.
Sant: I spent seven years in Blue Star, loved every minute of it, and I got some accelerated promotions. In fact, I was made an assistant manager in three years, which normally there's a ten year waiting period. And then there was a case of burnout because they could not take it to the next level because there was a lot of opposition from the other departments that you can't have this pipsqueak up at a senior manager level.
So that got to me a little. And at a certain stage, I was very content with my job. I was enjoying the work at the start to say, I said, hey, I can't eat titles. Yes. I need some money. And that's when I thought of a switch. I approached a couple of companies and there were positive responses due to serendipity.
By chance, my ex boss was working in Kuwait for a joint venture with the Belgian company, and he called me up. Would you like to work in Belgium? I said yes. He put me in touch with the Belgian counterpart, who said, send me your bio data by telex. We had no faxes. And all these things and I sent it from the central telegraph office at Fountain. It cost me Rs600, which left my bank balance at zero.
Aamer: So I did some research. Rs600 in the 1970s is equivalent to approximately Rs24,000 today. I should have given a bigger wow for that. That is an ability that Sant had, the ability to take risks. Some risks come back to haunt you, but some pay off well, and this one definitely did. He received a letter of appointment from the Belgian company, and his tenure over there and the Middle East had begun.
Sant: We did projects for Iran. Then we did a nuclear shelter for Saddam Hussein. It was always interesting work. In my earlier bluestar are days. I did a factory in Malaysia, did another textile mill in Indonesia, where we went on weekends to go to the live volcanoes,I did Bangkok. We did a couple of projects. I won't tell you what we did on the weekends there. So life is always interesting there.
Aamer: Clearly life was interesting and pretty smooth sailing for Sant. And for the purpose of context, when Sant bagged a project, he estimated the costs of executing that project, added his margin, and that was the budget that he submitted to the client. Now, as long as the work was done and everyone was happy, you could play around the budget a bit.
How he played with that budget, we'd have to wait a bit more to find that out. His time in Blue Star, Belgium, and the Middle East was a rewarding experience. He excelled in areas where others lacked and soon became one of the most sought after people to execute certain projects. A person getting accelerated promotions, appreciation, monetary rewards, almost always has trade secrets. And he admitted to two things that worked wonders for him. These two things managed to get him to the peak of his success.
Sant: I always said, for example, I worked on projects for 30 years, and the one thing that stood me in good stead, in which I realized well on time, was that a project is 80% getting along with people and 20% work. I come back to this. Please get along with people. It may be a little difficult at times. It may feel you're not standing up for your rights, you're not being assertive enough. No, be agile. Definitely. You must be agile, but you must be agreeable.
Aamer: Getting along with people. It may sound simple, but it's easier said than done. Several books have been written on the subject and even though Sant didn't necessarily read those books, he figured it out pretty early on. He coupled that with the ability to do things out of goodwill for those around him. Small, nice things go a long way.
Sant: I'll give you an example. We did something for Garware Polyester, the video tape plant, and we were doing a Class 100 area.
Aamer: Let's stop there for a second to explain a few technical things in an easy manner. Firstly, a clean room is a controlled environment. Imagine your bedroom. There are a million things that float about your room without you noticing, because such things are invisible to the naked eye. These include germs, tiny hair strands, dust and so on, the sizes of which can be measured in what we call microns. To give you an example, the diameter of a single human hair is about 70 microns. When Sant mentions a Class 100 area, it means that no more than 100 particles of size zero five microns, should be present in an area of one cubic foot of air. And I hope I did justice to that. Let's continue with the story.
Sant: Where they were manufacturing the raw material and the videotape, the sheets themselves and they had a section for a slitter. They were slitting this into small pieces for fitting this. And they said, oh, we don't need a clean room for the slitter. So we have a huge humongous clean room and a small section aside where they give the slitters because it's a dirty activity anyway, because things might fly over slitting and we don't need and I said, hey, I'm going to give you the clean room for the slitter as well, at no charge. No extra charge, right? I made a lot of money anyway, there's no extra charge. And then they came back and they were ever so grateful.
Because what happened was because we kept the slitter in a clean area, there was no abrasion, there was no dust coming on that. And they were changing the blades every three days. And from here it went from every three days to every 60 days. And those blades were about a lack and a half each. So there is a humongous saving.
Aamer: And because of that humongous saving, when Garware Polyester had another project coming up, can anyone take a guess who backed the project without even bidding for it?
Doing nice things indeed goes a long way. After his stint abroad Sant returned to India. He returned successful, having amassed huge amounts of wealth in the process. It was a testament to what a lazy engineer could really do. So you're 37 years old, have a lot of money, experience, energy and self confidence. What do you do next?
Sant had the ability to take risks. The great thing about risks is if they pay off, they pay off quite well. But if they don't, they come back to haunt you. And the odds were not in his favor this time.
Sant: My major setback I had, which I'm glad to share with you, is I was a gambler, a compulsive gambler, which means you keep on gambling to lose money. At the age of 37, having spent eight years abroad and amassed a fair amount of wealth, I was paid very well also. We used to have profit sharing. You made a budget in the office, you sold the project, you designed the project, you executed the project. And when the project ended, they came up with the figures. If you made the money estimate, they said, Good boy. If you made more, they said profit sharing. And if you made less, the watchman at the gate had your belongings in a box and you went home, you sold it, you designed it, you executed it. No excuse.
So that went well till I gambled over everything. With all that money I made. I got lots of bonuses because I used Indian labor. We used to estimate Belgian labor at $40 an hour and I hired Indian labor at $40 a week.
Aamer: This was what year?
Sant: 77, 77 through 84.
Sant: The profits are humongous. And they were very fair, sharing those profits, which is nice. And I came back at the age of 37 and in three months I used to go to the race course before. I started betting things a little more heavily. And we had a lot of funds that went to the next bracket and in three months, I made more money than I'd made in eight years overseas. And then what about- what do you want to do?
Do you want to do something? Take a job in a factory or set up something? You gotta be kidding me. I know the race course, which is 2 km away, I make so much money, I'm not doing it. This is what I'm going to do. And the next three months, I had lost everything I earned overseas, everything I earned here.
At the age of 37, my net bank balance was zero.
Aamer: Imagine that for a second. Thousands of dollars in your bank account, you bet the money, earn triple the amount. There is a feeling of invincibility when the odds are in your favor. It is difficult at that moment to step out of what you're doing and look at what you've got, rather than what more you could get. In that moment of taking another risk. You risk losing it all.
And Sant did. I mean, this wasn't the first time his bank balance was at zero. Life had definitely completed a full circle there. But the circumstances, the intentions were very different at this point. A person is bound to break. To feel that all they've lived for was for nothing. The amount of pain, anguish sure, he's talking about it very casually now. But what he felt in that moment could not be explained in words. So what really happens when you broke at that age? You get back up, pull yourself together and restart. That's not what everyone does, but that's what Sant did. He started a company in Air Filtration, the one subject he knew the most about.
Sant: The first month I got some business. Then the next three months were blank. So I applied for a job and a job in Dubai. Al Sharabi was the thing and had the interview while the guy was interviewing. The job was $1500. So now I’ve shown 5000 plus allowances. But circumstances I'm willing to accept the 15. All right, I'll make a go of it. And while the interview was going on, he said, Hold on, he's got a call. He got a call from out on the other line. There were no mobiles. He just shifted around. So he left the thing and by interviewing he turned it flip side and left. And I turned it over. He wrote very very good. And he came back. So he said, yes, I'd like to offer you the job. I said I want 2500. But you applied for a job for 1500.
Sant: He said alright. Give the job in about three weeks time. We do all the paperwork and all. And in the meantime I got a nice order. So I called him and I said Look, I'm very sorry, but I told you I'm doing business. I got this order. If you want, I'll come and do the job. He said, no. Please, no. He said, Why did you suddenly jump from that? I said, I saw the flipside of the sheet.
Aamer: No matter what happened, Sant never lost his sense of humor. He found joy in the little things and I don't think he knows that. But I think that's one of the reasons he could keep going on, no matter how big the problem was in his life. Needless to say, the business took off. Repeated successes and employing the right people at the right positions is what made his company prosper. Sure, there were hardships, but there is only little that challenges and life can do to a man who could lose everything and restart his journey like it was nothing. From what I've heard from other people, Sant was as ruthless and aggressive in his work as they come. He often wasn't nice to people, but there was a reason behind it. There's a reason behind everything someone does. When asked after all these years what success meant to him, this is what he had to say.
Sant: For me, success is when I'm content. Early days, one was striving for things, be it material things or be it recognition. As you said. When did I start being nice when I realized that I was content. Right? So now I'm content. I'm happy with my situation, where I am, where I belong here. And I'm quite happy to go on like this. And you can't put a price and contentment.
Aamer: So what is Sant up to now? Retirement. No. A person who loves doing what he does seldom ever retires. Sant now runs an advisory firm. 53 years of experience in the clean room and air filtration industry passed on to those who seek it. He is also a secretary of the Contamination Control Society of India. In addition to being on a couple of other international committees in the same field. He's definitely going stronger than ever at 76. As we come to the end of the episode, we'd like to say that Sant leaving a mark in this world is an understatement. He impacted several other lives in his journey. How 80% of the people that worked under him when he started his company have gone on to be widely successful in life as we speak. That does speak volumes of the kind of person he is.
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Next up is Navroz Mahudawala's journey. And here is a snippet from that conversation.
Navroz: As a youngster, you don't get it. You think it's very glamorous, but it's actually not. And then when you get in is when you realize that it's a lot of hard work.
Aamer: Can anyone take a guess to know what he's talking about? Well, stay tuned and goodbye for now.