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How a penniless man made a fortune by making pens

G Singh| Kolkata 02 Dec 2016, Vol 7 Issue 49

A man who came virtually penniless to Kolkata six decades ago is now chairman of Linc Pens and Plastics Limited, the third largest pen manufacturer in the country, with a turnover of Rs 350 crore.

Surajmal Jalan, 78, determinedly built a company that is celebrating its successful 40th year, making more than a crore pens annually and exporting to 50 countries. 

Surajmal Jalan initially sold pens from a shop he took on rent in Kolkata before he began manufacturing pens (Photos: By special arrangement)

Born in 1938 at Lachhman Garhin Sikhar district, Rajasthan, Surajmal, had a very ordinary childhood.

His father lived a retired lifeand the family was run by Surajmal’s two brothers. The fifth among six siblings, Surajmal was cared for lovingly.

“My two elder brothers didn’t want me to work but focus on studies,” he shares, “despite the fact that my family lived a hand-to-mouth existence.”  

After finishing high school, he went to a college around 18 kilometres from his house where he studied for two years.

“My family couldn’t bear the expense of my travelling and asked me to study nearer to the house,” he says, “but I did not want to as the college where I was studying imparted quality education.”     

In 1957, at 19 years of age, Surajmal decided to script his own destiny.  “Some of my friends from my village used to stay in Kolkata,” he recalls, “and I had heard a lot from them about the business opportunities here.”  

His family said they would let him leave but on one condition: that he should get married before leaving the village. He refused and finally they relented.

“I had no money in my pocket when I left the house,” Surajmal remembers well. “Somehow, I managed to buy a ticket for the third-tier general class and my family packed food for the journey.”

Surajmal took up his first job at a carpet showroom at Harrison Road in north Kolkata at a monthly remuneration of Rs 60.

“I was responsible for sales, accounting and general administration work,” says Surajmal.

“A friend had a transport company and I lived on the mezzanine floor of his workplace, bathed on the footpath and ate at roadside eateries.

Surajmal Jalan with his sons Deepak Jalan (extreme left), Aloke Jalan (third from left) and grandson Rohit Jalan

“I used to walk for several kilometres as I had little money. Those days were really tough, as I missed the warmth of my family, and that often brought tears to my eyes.”

He quit the job after working for a year and joined a comb-manufacturing company for two years before finally getting married in 1960.

Subsequently, he joined a company based in Siliguri that owned a rice mill and tea gardens, and was appointed as an assistant manager at a monthly payment of Rs 500.  

“I was facing consistent pressure from my family to return to the village and settle there as my parents were old and they needed me,” he says. In 1966, he gave in and returned to his village.

Now he had to start from scratch. “I bought pens with an investment of Rs 5,000 that I had saved from my jobs.

“I began going door-to-door to sell pens. It was then that I realized that there were no good quality pens in the country,” shares Jalan.  

Deepak Jalan, MD, Linc Pens, joined the company in 1980 as a sales trainee. Under him the company started making more products (Photos: Monirul Islam Mullick)

Soon, he realized that his dream of making it big would not be achieved in his small village and after two years, he came back to Kolkata,

“I opened a retail counter for pens at Bagree Market, a major stationery market in the city, which I slowly turned into wholesale. But I always wanted to set-up a factory for making pens,” he narrates.   

His in-laws, who hailed from Kolkata, came to his rescue. “They had a small unused room of 10ft by 10ft size at Malapara in north Kolkata.

“They allowed me to start a factory. I invested Rs 10,000 and started making plastic parts for ball pens. My products became popular,but I had the dream of starting my own brand,” he says, while recollecting his hardships.

He realized his dream in 1976 when he established Linc Pen and Plastic by taking on rent a 700 sq ft office in the city at an investment of Rs 3 lakh.

“We had five employees and the monthly rent of the office was around Rs 700,” he recalls.

“The name Linc was suggested by a friend as the word (link) means ‘to connect’.

Besides a range of pens, Linc also manufactures  stationery items such as markers, notebooks and file folders

“The production of the pens was outsourced. I visited shop after shop, walking for several kilometres to convince wholesalers and retailers to keep our products. I also met customers and took their feedback.”

The business began to grow and the company achieved a turnover of Rs 1.5 crore, when his elder son 17-year-old Deepak Jalan joined Linc pens in 1980 as a sales trainee.

Now the managing director of Linc, Deepak says, “Pens were still considered a low-cost commodity. I decided to take our products beyond pens.”  

To build a global presence for the brand, Deepak set a plan in motion. In 1986, Linc set up its first manufacturing unit at Serakole in South 24 Parganas at an investment of Rs 10 lakh.  

In 1992, the big boost came when Linc tied up with Mitsubishi Japan to become the exclusive distributors of Uni-ball pens in India and the same year made its first export of around Rs 12 lakh worth pens to South Korea.

The company had achieved a turnover of Rs 25 crore by 1995. That year the company got listed in the Mumbai and Kolkata Stock Exchange as well. The turnover increased to Rs 52 crore in the financial year 2000-2001.

In 2005, the company launched the top-selling Linc Glycer. A year later, it opened Linc Stores, the retail face of the brand.

Deepak is having ambitious plans to double the turnover in the next four years

At present, Linc has 13 stores in eastern India and Mumbai, selling 50 self-manufactured products that include gel pens, ball pens and fountain pens as well as stationery items such as markers, marker erasers, notebooks and file folders.

Linc roped in Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan as its brand ambassador in 2008.

In 2009, the company started its production in its second manufacturing plant of around 33000 sq ft at Falta in south 24 Parganas with an investment of Rs 15 crore. Deepak along with his son Rohit, aim to double the turnover in the next four years.

The generations are continuing the story started by Surajmal Jalan, who wrote his name into the list of leading business companies in India.

This Article is Part of the 'Amazing Entrepreneurs' Series 

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