How he’s held on to joy through both good times and bad.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
No man alone can achieve any distinction or achievement – to do service, to reach the right people where they need it most, is always a team effort,” Arvind ‘Joy’ Kumar Sachdev is quick to demur when I congratulate him on having recently been awarded The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant. Humble and affable, he admits to being gratified that Masala contacted him even before the award was given, expressing pleasant surprise at the interest. “I’m a team player,” he reiterates. “When I do sewa, or service, I don’t seek recognition or ask for anything in return. I prefer to assist those in need quietly; I don’t tell anyone about it, just my wife.”
In fact, what seems to excite Arvind the most about being afforded the prestigious Order, which recognises services rendered to Thailand, is its role in continuing his longstanding family legacy of giving back to the community.
“It’s a proud moment for my family and me to know that papaji, my grandfather, got this award back in 1968, exactly 53 years ago. His younger brother was not only also awarded the same Order, but he was also the 1988 recipient of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial award, given by then- Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. It recognised one’s work in improving bilateral relationships between your birth country and the country you live in.”
It’s clear that the role that his family legacy plays in who Arvind is today is a big one, and he easily agrees. As the current head of P.N. Thep Chareon Co., Ltd., a subsidiary under the family-owned M.R. Amarnath Group, established in 1932; and as the Senior Director of Chaiyos Land Company; Arvind has his fingers in a lot of pies, from trading and manufacturing, to real estate and hospitality. However, it’s his family’s humble beginnings in textiles that continue to inspire his work ethic. “I’d always planned on joining the family business because growing up, I saw how my dad, his younger brother, and his father, all worked very hard. So, I take my work very seriously, and my daughters Devika and Ishita, and my son Pranav, who’s recently joined our business, works very hard too. I like to think it’s because they’ve seen their grandfather and me do the same.”
And it’s not just in his business life that Arvind takes his cues from his ancestors. “Our history here in Thailand spans four, five generations,” he says, with no small amount of national pride. “A lot of Indians came here during the partition, when India and Pakistan declared their independence, but we came here about a generation earlier, due to bare necessity. For us, Thailand is our country – it’s a part of us; what we do, we do for Thailand. We’ve been so happy here, so we do whatever we can within our capability to give back.”
He speaks further about his family’s journey to where they are today, navigating the ups and downs of industry, and the importance of trustworthiness and loyalty, ending with a message of hope to future generations of Thai-Indians.
Your family’s origin here is clearly very dear to your heart. Can you tell us a little about it?
Like most families of Indians who migrated to Thailand, my family came here because of necessity. My grandfather, Amarnath Sachdev, came here to find his elder brother, whom no one had heard from in a while. This was around the 1910s, and he was around 16-17 years old.
It was a long journey, but in the end, he did find his brother, who was living in the Gurudwara here at the time. My grandfather started working in Bangkok, and even spent a few years in the South, where he worked at a plantation in his early 20s. His marriage with my grandmother was arranged – she was his then-boss’ niece, actually. That boss must have seen something good in him!
My grandfather then started M.R. Amarnath, named after himself and his two brothers, Mansingh and Ramlal, the ‘M’ and ‘R’ in the name, respectively. He called his younger brother, Ramlal, who was still in India, to join him, and together they helped found the Dev Mandir Temple Hindu Samaj Bangkok, the main Hindu temple in Thailand. Ramlal also started the Sri Sathya Sai International Organization and high school in Lopburi. They did a lot of great work in their lifetimes, which we’re very proud of. What we are today, my father keeps reminding me, is owed to what we’ve given back to society. There’s always somebody up there, the Almighty, who takes care of our needs and necessities.
Your grandfather also received the same award as you. Can you elaborate more on his contributions to society?
It was my maternal grandfather who was supposed to be in charge of making the Dev Mandir, but he passed away in Antwerp, Belgium, on his way back from New York, because of a heart attack. He’d told the community that he would come back and build the temple because he had the financial capability, and he was a very dynamic, charitable person.
But because he passed away before he could do so, the community fell into a panic. My paternal grandfather, Amarnath, took up the challenge and said, “Everyone can give whatever they want to contribute, and whatever the shortfall, I will make it up.” It was a very daring decision because he was a poor man at the time; he didn’t have money in his pocket! [Laughs] But even before then, and since, he’s continuously served the community.
How did your family build your business to where it is today, and what do you attribute its success to?
My grandfather built his business from the ground up. Back in those days, industry had not really started in Thailand yet. In the textile business, things were imported, so it’s your relationship with these big import houses that dictates your success. If you’re in their good books, and the trustworthiness is there, and you’re ethically correct, even if you don’t have money, they’ll support you.
I joined the business in about 1987. Before that, I’d go to the office between classes, and I saw that my dad worked very hard. He used to travel all around the country, on non-air- conditioned buses, on dirt roads, and he’d come home with red hair because of the dust! He was, and continues to be, my role model.
In the late 80s, the textiles industry started picking up because the supply chain for garments was growing. I basically came in at the right time to catch the wave. Not many companies understood how to supply garment to manufacturers. Many of them were pure traders, they bought and sold, but they didn’t know about the components, structure, yarn count, and weight of the fabrics. I trained with the Aditya Birla Group, our current partners; I trained with Indo-Thai Synthetics, with Century Textiles and Industries; I went to the labs, I wanted to learn.
In the end, we developed that edge as a convertor. That means that we work from yarn, raw materials, then we do the dyeing and the printing, according to the customer’s specifications, whether it’s Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, or Christian Dior. We grew exponentially with the garment industry. Manufacturers found out that they could trust us, and that’s always been very important.
Do you think the textile industry in Thailand is in decline, especially after the past two years? What is your perspective on the ways that COVID-19 has impacted the industry?
There is still scope in Thailand, even if we may be less competitive now in the garment sector. Because the industry is a lot more established, big companies are held to certain standards, especially in regards to labour laws with foreign workers, and that’s good. You need to take care of your employees – I don’t believe in doing charity outside, but doing differently at home.
For example, during the last two years, I have not fired a single person, I haven’t cut anyone’s salary, and last year, I gave full bonuses. I told my employees, if I’m giving however much to charity over there, but over here, I’m deducting your salary, then I’m a hypocrite. It’s not fair, if I reap the benefits of success for the 10-15 years they’ve been working for me, success that has allowed me to send my kids to be educated abroad, to drive good cars, to enjoy good food, and because of one or two bad years, I take it out on their salaries. I may not be making money, but I’m not taking it from them.
It’s true, however, that textiles, in particular, have been badly affected by the pandemic. There are a lot of companies that are exhausted, on the verge of collapsing or closing, and I feel sorry for it. For our market to be attractive, you’ll need many suppliers; competition is vital for survival. I’m seeing the effects every day – by 3pm, the market is dead.
With how badly businesses have been affected, how did you manage to pivot to keep going?
We had a lot of stock, and I started being more efficient with our inventory. Even before COVID, I realised that when we’re making money, we should know how to cut losses. What we had that was sitting there for years, so I cleared it. It was a blessing in disguise that I cleared around 40 percent of my inventory – but it’s not that we’re not making new things, we’re making new things every day! We just became more efficient with that side of the business.
I also choose my customers wisely. One of the successes of our company is our bad debt to sales ratio is very low, but it could be very high because most of our sales is done on credit. You have to identify your customer very well, and we differentiate between winners and losers. We support people who are less well- funded, but have the potential because they’re not cheats. I’ll give those people more credit than those who have money but aren’t genuine.
What permanent changes in the industry do you foresee?
People may not like what I have to say, but because domestic business has been badly affected, our focus should be on making goods that sell abroad. Even our neighbouring countries – Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia – have cancelled their orders, so we have to look beyond them to Europe and the U.S. Thai companies have opened abroad, and we should do business with them in the future. When this pandemic goes away, we will bounce back.
How do you stay so positive after being faced with so many obstacles and stressors?
Firstly, I never overstretch. I work within my means, and even if our genuine style of working means that we’re offered a lot of funds by investors, by bankers, I know that just because I can accept them doesn’t mean I should. That greed is what gets you in the end.
Secondly, what keeps me going is that a lot of people are counting on me. Failure can happen, but I’m a sportsperson, I don’t accept defeat very easily. I get back up.
Thirdly, it’s my mindset and my faith. I’m very God-fearing, and I like to thank God a lot. I cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and with hard work, it pays off. When I don’t get what I want, when I don’t get the deal, I remember in the Bhagavad Gita that Lord Krishna says to Arjun, “You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.” If you do your duty, you should have no regrets, and the rest is in God’s hands. You’ll sleep well with no guilt.
Which of your achievements are you most thankful for?
That I’m still alive! But honestly, I’m proud my determination to always try to boost everyone’s morale. Whoever is around me will only get positive vibrations, they’ll never get negative vibrations.
Also, what I’m most honoured by, in receiving the Order of the White Elephant, is that it’s an indication that you’ve been cross-checked and deemed suitable. They wouldn’t want to give the award to a criminal, a smuggler, a trafficker, or people who have earned their living illegally.
I’m also pleased with the ways I’ve helped to build rapport between the Thai-Indian community and the Thai community over the years. I was part of the organisation that started the Thai-Indian Sports Day, after which the IAT took the baton, which I’m very grateful for. I also formed the Indian Badminton Team, and we had a great time for over a decade with the Thai players. Through this medium, they came to know us better, not from third party points of view, and they learned that we are no different from them, and they appreciate that.
What do you feel is the main difference between the Indian community when your grandfather arrived here, compared to what it is right now?
I think sometimes people forget what big hearts our forefathers used to have. When we first migrated to Thailand, a guy may have a small one-bedroom house, but he’ll call all his siblings to live him and his wife because they don’t have shelter, and he’ll see that they get a job, and that they eat well. And eating well back then was basic – some chapatti, roti, daal. Whatever you could afford.
These days, if you have five kids you need seven bedrooms. Everybody wants their space. People should remember that it’s the big heart that matters. Without the heart, not one step can be taken forward in any organisation, especially if it’s a joint family.
A good thing that’s changed, however, is how us Indians abroad look towards India. In our forefathers’ generation, they looked outwards all the time. But today, the Indian economy, its influence worldwide, has made us proud. Things take time, after a few decades, you can see that India has become a superpower, and an attractive destination for holidays, even for those in my kids’ generation. They prefer India to a modern city in the Far East because all the cities are unique and they have their own character. This generation has realised that there’s a lot of history in India to be proud of, even if not all of it is in the school curricula, but even that is already evolving and changing.
The dynasty that ruled us for 200 years doesn’t have to fill up all the textbooks. There’s more to our history than that.
Any new horizons you hope to explore in the future?
Yes, for my family. Whenever things get better, my aim is to open a restaurant for my daughter, Devika, who’s a very talented chef. My son Pranav will take over my legacy, and my daughter Ishita will graduate soon and pursue a career. As for my wife Aarti and I, we hope to travel the world together once it’s safe to do so.
What message do you want to give to this generation of Thai-Indians?
I can sum it up in two words: proud, and congratulations. I’m proud because I see them venturing into all fields: judiciary, politics, medicine, hospitality, entertainment, art, trading, manufacturing, you name it. They’re doing well because now they have the right to choose, unlike their forefathers.
To them I say, don’t get disheartened and depressed by this pandemic. There is light at the end of the tunnel, so be prepared, and stay focused. And don’t forget to go to the temple, not just for religious reasons, but for the positive messages, the brotherhood, the love, and the mantras that they teach you.