LION GONE WILD IN DATES EMPIRE Story of an entrepreneur rags to riches. Born to an indigent landless farmer left with his parents and siblings to Srilanka in search of green pastures as their native town Tiruchi in south India was facing monsoon failure sometime before 1974. They could hardly eke out their living in Srilanka as the nation was ravaged by civil war. The only job he could get was in grocery shop and without schooling, he was impoverished and ignorant of three R’s except that he could converse in his mother tongue Tamil. Despite this he developed a dream that he would sell his own product from his own shop. He and his brethren were shunted out from of Srilanka in 1974 and thus he returned to mother land to pursue his dream. He couldget to work for pittance with a grocer as a help. He could set up on borrowed loan, a grocery shop but being ignorant of nitty- gritty of this trade, soon suffered loss with debts exceeding over rupees four thousand. Fortunately, he could get job in collectorate of trichy on a monthly salary. As luck would have it, he got partime work for distribution of kitchen-vessel cleaning powder then known as Sabeena. While handing over some packets of Sabeena to a shop owner, he found him selling small quantity of exposed dates removed from a dirty container over which flies were hovering. He had suggested to the shop owner that if the item was packed suitably it would be more hygienic and sell more. The shop owner retorted saying “Why don’t you do that?” This command-like question,dominated his mind and he deliberated and was obsessed. He concluded and assured himself that he would do it. withinfew days he commenced packing dates at his home and distributing and selling. He observed the potential market for this product. Within two months, he could witness sales from 80 packets a day to 800 packets a day market extending beyond Trichy town to Thanjavur, Madurai and Chennai. His friendship with sabeena clientele helped a great deal. With the savings accrued from these two jobs, he wiped out the debts and bought an auto rickshaw in 1983 to facilitate faster handling and distributing dates and sabeena packets. He chanced upon a person in1992, who suggested him to go over to Bombay (Mumbai) for his large requirement of dates. He did and though ignorant of Hindi and English yet he could manage with a Tamil speaking commission agent substantial import of dates from Muscat. This was learning experience. He felt the need to know English for enabling him to explore and expand business to newer territories.he engaged a tutor for 3 years to learn English at Rs.100 per visit. Thus began his extension of market for dates. He had decided in the heart of heart, that dates should be promoted as health food as it contains vitamins and minerals. He thought of a brand name with which people could associate his product. In 1983-84, there was an election poster stuck to the wall of a candidate on which he saw a lion face. He at once decided that the king of the forest known for his strength, valour and dash should be the image decorating his product label. He decided and copied that election symbol as his product brand image. He could not get the Lion label printed as the minimum order required was for 10000labels at Sivakasi. He thought of promoting the product as health food. He contracted withRadio eylon for spots for advertisement in Tamil. In those days, people detested dates carried in open hand cart in the streets and alleys, sold as a commodity exchanged for few pieces of metals and other household disposal. When people saw dates packed hygienically and made available in small quantity at affordable price, sales went up and demand grew at a fantastic pace, the target customers were being children. He could see the only way to meet the demand is to import directly; and thus he commenced regular imports of several thousand tons of dates originating from Muscat and other middle east countries including that of costliest Jordan dates. With growing demand for his packed dates, the need arose for large space for stocking. The idea of deseeding also came to him. Deseeded dated would be a great welcome among the customers because it would be less sticky. Within Trichy town, he could not get the required space and people to hire. He settled with sheds in peripheral villages around the trichy town, where cheap labour in abundance was easily available. He employed in five factories, around 900 workers chiefly women and differently abled persons for processing the dates including the deseeding. Thus fulfills one of the corporate social responsibilities. He thought it was also time to have commercial spots in television. His friend for filming suggested to modify the lion image but he said an emphatic no. He approached and got spot of 10 seconds with a budget of Rs.30000. He understood the power of publicity through television as sales since advertisement grew phenomenally. He used to think twice before settling with a branded shirt costing around Rs.500 but when it comes to allocation for advertisement, he was always generous. Presently he has booked 30000 seconds spots per week in satellite TV channels Indian languages pan India. With advent of TV promotion, demand for his products fromMalaysia and Singapore increased substantially. His product though not directly imported, yet he himself seen displayed in Indian and Srilankan shops at London and other places in Europe. Keeping with modern trend of ready to eat stuff, he has come out with a range ofdate related/mixedproducts including his eldest daughter suggested Australian oats. Presently his brand name extended to pickles,mixed fruit jam,honey and tamrind. His Almond stuffed chocolate dipped choco date is a rage among children –the principal target audience. 25 percent of his present turn over is from Honey. In 1995 he was called by Muscat/Omani Government when they experienced the difficulty inmarketing the dates syrup. He went to their plant, thought over the problem, he himself did experiment mixing milk at different temperatures with dates syrup. He found at higher temperatures, the mix always curdled. Finally he found mixing with lukewarm milk, dates syrup remains tasty. He got accolades from Muscat and thus Indian market flooded with dates syrup as an additional option to jam and butter and goes well with idli a dosa and other snacks. The uncrowned king of Dates Empire is holding market share of over 80% and still believes there is room for further growth. He believessimplicity, honesty, hard work, determination, will to succeed, innovative value addition are the essence of what he was and what he is today. He has three daughters. One is a doctor, and the other two are business management graduates from London/USA. At his residence, demonstrating his simplicity and hard work, his once-upon-a-time delivery vehicle, that old Auto rickshaw- is parked along side of his Honda City. For the financial year 2010-11, he was conferred the title “best Industrialist of State of Tamilnadu” award and received the award at the hands of Chief Minister Kumari Jayalalithaa during the State celebration of India’s independence day on15th August 2011. From 1974, within a space of 4 decades, what a meteoric rise for a impoverished farmer’s unskilled son to be owner of a business that imports 5000 tonnes of dates with 700 frenetic distributors across the nation. One of popular jingles of “lions dates” is set as caller tune in his mobile. Well done Mr. P. Ponnudurai, CEO and owner of Rs.100 crores brand, Lion Dates Impex Private Ltd – an ISO9001:2008 certified company.