Foodking CEO Sarathbabu is ready to take a political plunge, writes S.S. KAVITHA
PHOTO: K. ANANTHAN AND SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT.
His story is much more than a celluloid dream script. For, he is a real life hero who has risen from poverty to riches through sheer hard work and determination.
When E. Sarathbabu, CEO of Foodking Catering Services, walked into a city school, the applause refused to die down as hundreds of young ‘dreamers’ waited in stupor to hear how dreams could become real. By the time he reached the mike, a hush silence fell and every attentive ear was tuned into his inspiring story. Every word, every sentence that dropped out of the entrepreneur’s mouth unfolded the stages of his life’s journey that started in the slums of Madipakkam, Chennai.
Combining Chennai slang and accented English with charged up confidence, Sarathbabu held his audience captive for more than an hour recounting his days of abject penury when he supplemented his mother’s income selling idlis door-to-door and binding books.
“Poverty can never play a spoilsport if an individual is really determined to win” – when he says this he reveals his attitude of taking on ‘negative aspects’ on a positive note. With two sisters and two younger brothers around, not only food was less, there was no electricity either.
“But I never felt sad as there were no distractions while studying. My entire concentration was on books. You cannot achieve anything if you brood over what does not exist. Even when I was asked to stand outside the classroom for not paying fees, I used to listen to the lessons from the door because I understood that neither my mother nor me or my teacher were at fault for the situation I was in,” he philosophises. “To achieve” was the childhood passion of this now 29-year-old millionaire Sarathbabu. His will power and vigour coupled with his mother’s desire to see her son speak English like the "upper-class" people do, took him to Kings Matriculation Higher Secondary School.
Passion to win
While his classmates discussed the good food they ate and the new dresses they bought, young Sarathbabu was always driven by the desire to top the class. And first he came, always, scoring highest marks in his school in the Matriculation board examination. His score of over 1000 in Plus-Two examination made him dream big. And next, he found himself enrolled in Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, followed by the country’s best B-school, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
Thoughts of ‘eating more than what I can chew’ came to me when I was at BITS, Pilani. My lack of spoken English aggravated the situation. But I was not the one to give up. I started reading books and practicing spoken English in front of the mirror. Today, I think I have made it,” he smiles.
“Whenever I feel dejected, I think of my mother whom I remember drinking only water to make sure that her children ate the available food. As a child, I used to think she likes water a lot but only realised later that it was acute poverty that forced her to fill her stomach with water,” he says.
Sarathbabu worked for two years with Polaris and paid back the loans taken for higher education.
When good jobs came knocking on his door, he shocked all by rejecting them. For, he nurtured a different dream: “I know the pangs of hunger and always wanted to provide employment opportunities.”
Sarathbabu launched his Foodking in Ahemdabad with a paltry sum of Rs.2000 as initial investment.
“It was a dream coming true, when Infosys founder chairman N.R. Narayanamurthy inaugurated my maiden venture 2006. I introduced my mother to the chief guest and her eyes filled with tears of happiness. It is one of the most memorable moments of my life.”
Today, he manages outlets in Chennai, Goa, Hyderabad and Rajasthan making an annual turnover of seven crore. But most importantly, he has employed 250 people and is indirectly supporting their families.
Recalling his initial days, Sarathbabu says, when his friends were raking in moolahs in reputed companies, he was running into losses – a couple of thousands every month. Yet again, nothing could cow him down.
Never give up
“Luck comes and goes but we should be ever-prepared to fight our battles. Never forget the failures, brush them aside and proceed” is his mantra.
“Now, my only big dream is to witness a hunger-free world by creating more job opportunities. I wish I could eradicate poverty and wipe out hunger and starvation,” he notes.
How does it feel to be a youth icon? “Positively happy. On an average I address 150 meetings a year. Every time, I believe that God is giving me this fantastic opportunity to inspire the youth so that they too can create more jobs in the future, bridge the rural-urban divide and address social issues and make India shine globally.”
Having come so far, Sarathbabu still remains humble to the core. The unassuming ‘crorepati’ continues to live in the Madipakkam slum with his wife Priya, mother Deeparamani and his younger brothers. But he does plan to construct a house for his mother and also convert the ‘hut’ — from where he began his journey — into a memorial.
His next line comes as a shocker but he justifies: “I want to take a plunge into politics and do something good for my country. How long can the educated youth afford to be away from it? Do you know that the youth representation in the Parliament is less than three per cent when the country has a youth population of above 65 per cent?”
“I do not want to be branded with the majority spending 25 years in studies and other 25 years in supporting themselves. I wish to be a trend setter in politics. Every learned youth should enter politics,” he advocates.
“I have risen from the bottom. If I can, why can’t you? Do not get lost stating that you were born poor” – is Sarathbabu’s clarion call. He also plans to start a school to help the downtrodden get standard education. If one can understand his concept, his vision and emulate him, perhaps poverty and hunger can truly be defeated.
Awards: Example to Youth Award (Rotaract).
Honorary Alumni of XLRI.
Honorary Rotarian (Rotary Club Dist 3201).
Adjudged as PEPSI MTV Youth icon -2008 with Anil Ambani, Shah Rukh Khan, Rahul Dravid and M.S.Dhoni in the list.
Hobbies : Reading
Loves: Dancing and long drive.
Favourite food: Appam, idli, idiyappam.
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