How he’s gearing up for the future.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
When I first meet Gulshan Kumar Manchanda, an affable and soft-spoken man in a dapper trilby, he’s very self-effacing about his achievements. “I only did whatever needed to be done, together with my team” he says with a smile, when I reference the Hindu Samaj, Dev Mandir’s contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including being the first organisation here to send oxygen canisters to India during the catastrophic shortage. As the President of the Hindu Samaj, he tells me it’s his duty to get the ball rolling to help people, no matter their extraction – from the migrant workers who had run out of food while self-isolating in their communities, to the victims of a devastating typhoon in the Philippines, a fact that personally touched me, with most of my family there.
Meeting Gulshan and his determination to be the first person to do the right thing, no matter the obstacles in the way, the word vanguard comes to mind; a military term referring to the troops moving at the head of an army and now one that refers to someone at the forefront of any movement. An apt description, as Gulshan is also the CEO and founder of M.C.L.P. Co., Ltd., which stands for Military, Camping, Law enforcement and Police, a company that provides protective apparel and equipment for the military and law enforcement forces, and is also the official distributor for world-renowned brands in the field.
“When I was studying at Delhi University, I realised the benefit of gaining real world experience, through putting myself out there and experimenting, far exceeded any knowledge I could gain in university,” Gulshan reveals, candidly. “So, I quit after two years. This is when I was inspired to not only join my family business, but to establish and build something for myself, so I started exporting. I remember my first export market was in Dubai, when I was 21. My cousin brother, Satya Pal Manchanda, took me on my first business trip, and I can still feel the excitement today for the first order I got, and it gave me the courage to go on. Every second of every day was a learning experience.”
Gulshan hasn’t looked back since, and M.C.L.P., which has now been operating for over 25 years, has transformed into a bastion in its field, with an attention to detail, quality, and after-sales service that has landed it multiple government contracts over the years. “The force behind my business is my passion for the product line, which I’ve been interested in since childhood; an interest that has only been growing,” Gulshan tells me. “However, the product is also one whose requirements keep changing, and that requires you to be updated with your research, and to use your intuition, especially when you are dealing with a new product from scratch.”
He speaks to Masala further about his journey to where he is now, how he built his business in such a competitive industry from scratch, and how his determination to rise to the challenge has also informed his charity work and role as the president of the Hindu Samaj.
Can you give us a brief summary of your family’s background in terms of business and origin, and how they came to be here in Thailand.
I was born and raised in Bangkok, the youngest of three children to my parents, Kundan Lal Manchanda and Leela Wanti Manchanda. Both my parents were born in Gujranwala, which is now in the Pakistan side of Punjab, and they had all emigrated along with their parents and siblings to India during the Pakistan and India partition in 1947.
My father’s elder brother, who was an Indian soldier stationed in Rangoon, Myanmar, planned to settle down in Thailand after the termination of his duty, and he called my father to join him. Here in Thailand, my father then got married into a respectable Indian ethnic Pathela family. He joined up with my mother’s nephew, Shri Satya Pal ji and together they opened a business, Manchanda Commercial, which flourished and has till date become an empire in its own right.
My education started here at the Bharat Vidyalaya School, at the Hindu Samaj, Dev Mandir. When I attended high school at Bovornnives School, I could choose to attend either morning classes or afternoon classes, and I chose the morning classes so I could spend the afternoon helping my father and cousin brother Satya, who was also my work mentor, at work. I remember that I was always eager to learn as much as I could, and even then had a genuine interest in my father’s business.
You mentioned that you began your career in your family business. How did those experiences help shape your professional journey, and what inspiredyou to enter the field of military and law enforcement equipment?
When I joined the family business, my brother Suresh, my cousin brother Satya, and my father were already working together in two markets: the ceremonial market, and the market for monks. My brother and my father took care of the local market while my cousin brother took care of the imports.
As I mentioned, I soon wanted to initiate something new, and decided to venture into exports. After that first business trip, my eyes were opened to the endless possibilities of initiatives or projects we could undertake. Every obstacle or road block only encouraged me to push further.
After that, I ventured on my own, looking for manufacturers here in Thailand who had goods that were in demand in Dubai. I even had my own designers for my own products. This carried on for eight booming years until my products got counterfeited. Despite that setback, I wasted no time, and
I took the opportunity to start a new product line in an area that had interested me since childhood, and that is how M.C.L.P. was born. This pushed me to attend various exhibitions overseas in the US and Europe, while my wife, Anju Manchanda, along with my cousin brother and Dad took care of business here.
When I decided on the first product I wanted to be the distributor for, I chose what intrigued me, and luckily it happened to interest the Thai market as well. That’s when I realised that passion was the driving force behind my decisions. Only when I am genuinely inspired and interested in them, will I be motivated every day to adeptly introduce them into the market. I started exhibiting at the local shows in Thailand, where I met my high school friends who suggested and guided me into tendering, which is when the government invites vendors to bid for certain government projects.
Tell us a little about that. How difficult was it to get a government contract, and what challenges did you have to overcome?
The process for governmental business is firstly, registering under government procurement for news updates on governmental requirements. If you think you can fulfil those requirements, you have to get the documents from the department to study the possibility, after which you prepare all that’s required in the documents, with your price for the bidding. The officer will then check and choose the bidder for that particular tender and announce the winner in front of all candidates. The winning bidder will then come back after few days to sign the contract, after which production starts.
It wasn’t a win-win when I started the tender for law enforcement. Even though I did get plenty of support and guidance from my high school friends, I lost my first tender due to incomplete documentation. But I didn’t give up. I researched and asked around on how to get the documents right, which I did the second time round.
However, that isn’t the only challenge with government contracts. Making the products on time, with the correct specifications, is even more challenging. If you fail any of the above, the fine will cost you more than what you will earn. As you can see, there’s a lot of pressure involved in this business. However, this pressure is exactly what drives me. Knowing the significance of the government contracts and the meticulous details that go into every aspect of the deal (from sourcing, to supplying, to finance), drives my purpose and ambition.
As you mentioned, while a government contract can be quite lucrative, it also comes with a lot of requirements, such as ensuring that all equipment is of highest quality. Can you tell us about the unique knowledge, skills and processes required?
You need to thoroughly understand the requirements and every little specification in detail. After that you need to order or have it manufactured as per specifications, and this is the biggest challenge. Extensive and diligent quality control is essential, particularly in this industry. If this is not done, the order could backfire and you will have to bear the loss.
Constant quality checks, as well as asking for updates to make sure that everything is done on time, are required from your side to make sure it is as per specifications for every unit. Sometimes we also have to provide the manufacturers with the raw materials if theirs don’t reach specifications. As you may anticipate, the requirements vary significantly across different contracts and projects. Thus, extensive ground work, creativity, and adaptability is important to ensure all requirements are met on a contextual basis.
With how technology has been developing at an exponential rate, how has the industry been affected, and if so, what are the ways that you’ve had to adapt over the years?
Over the years, the industry has digitised in various aspects. For example, when I first started, there were a lot of in-person interactions to scout for project opportunities, whereas now everything is done through a digital platform. To stay updated, we try to up-skill ourselves in technology and try to be innovative and relevant with our approach. Internally, we have also been trying to change our business processes to be more efficient through leveraging a new cloud-based CRM software, and by creating a B2B ordering system for our resellers online.
This was especially important during the last few years, when the pandemic affected the industry badly in terms of instability in supply chain issues, and delivery delays, which triggered contractual penalties due to time constraints. We had to negotiate broader delivery dates to account for unexpected delays. But this challenge also pushed us into venturing into B2C by creating an online presence for our company through a new updated website, and listing our products on multiple marketplaces like Shopee, Lazada, and eBay.
You’re also the president of the Hindu Samaj, Dev Mandir. Can you tell us about your experiences as president, and what this honour means to you?
My journey to serve at the Hindu Samaj, Dev Mandir was inspired by my dad, who is also a dedicated sevak of the Hindu Samaj. He, as anyone today who knew him would recall fondly, was a person of distinguished personality amongst the Indian community here. He was an ardently devoted person who spent most of his lifetime doing selfless services to the community via the Hindu Samaj. He was a pillar of strength for the Indian community to look upon in times of need, a man of mild demeanour and a gentle smile who touched the heart and soul of all that he came into contact with. Because of him, I was inspired to fully serve the same temple with similar dedication, preserving it as a place for our community to rest their minds, which is what my dad and all my ancestors valued.
I started serving at the Hindu Samaj in 2000, when I was 35, and Ashok Chawla was the president. That time, we created a new school building on the side. The second time, I came in with my teacher, Chamnan Lal Joshi, and we renovated the third floor to be as beautiful as it is today, and the third time, I joined when Naresh Khorana was president, and we renovated the second floor and invited Thailand’s head monk for the opening ceremony.
This time, I am serving as the president, and for me, that means being able to be a part of something bigger than myself. It means being able to honour and continue in the footsteps of my dad. As a team, we aim to serve the community by managing and maintaining the quality of the temple and staff. Especially during the pandemic, we have worked hard to ensure the health and safety of our community and staff by establishing systems in every department. We also gave back to the Thai and Indian community by raising funds in times of need. Some of our contributions include sending oxygen concentrators to India and to temples in Thailand, providing nonperishable items and first aid kits when there were floods in Thailand, helping provide financial help for the disabled, old, and injured elephants during Ganesh Chaturthi, and delivering food to those who required it.
The role of the Hindu Samaj, Dev Mandir is to cater to the spiritual needs of the communities here, and to bring families together. How do you hope to continue doing that, and are there any changes that you’re hoping to make in the future?
We hope to do this by catering to the interests of the youth and their families by getting involved in a host of initiatives including environmental projects, such as planting trees, cleaning the beach, and recycling garbage; intramural sports; marathons; yoga retreats; mantra chanting, meditation and pranayama sessions to release stress; mindfulness workshops; fun fairs to raise funds for natural catastrophes; helping injured animals; and teaching skills, including self-care, to the unemployed and to vulnerable kids. Moreover, translation of our pujas into English or Thai by our priests has already been implemented, and the translation of the Sunday teachings, etc., is underway.
Statically, we younger generations are becoming less religious than our parents and our grandparents, or we are less likely to practice certain rituals and traditions. How would you address these concerns, and how would you encourage spirituality in the younger generations.
Firstly, we’re doing this through language translations for prayers and teachings by the priests, so the knowledge is accessible for a larger target audience. We’re also leaning into practices that have been around for generations, but have come back into the modern world today based on popularity in media – for example, mantras; pranayama breathing techniques; and meditation, including sound meditation, to mimic the vibration that our elders used to practice with the word Om. We need to implement these practices in a way that will pull the youth back in, in the language that makes sense to them, both live and online (on our Facebook), so it’s easily accessible.
Overall, what do you feel is your greatest achievement during this time, and what do you attribute your success to.
I was honoured that the quality of M.C.L.P’s products was trusted enough for us to play a major part in the military uniform for Thailand’s most recent Coronation Day. This is testament to our policy of being truthful, providing only the best quality and after sales service, providing the products on time, following closely and diligently the specifications required, and overall reliability.
I attribute my success to my ongoing persistence and the belief I have in myself, and my passion. I never give up, and I am motivated every day to give everything my all and try my best. I recognise that every day is an opportunity to learn and that learning never stops. Everything that I do, I do with purpose, fully understanding the impact that I hope it will make. I aspire to make the world a better place, in whatever way that I can, and this drives me to always try more and do more.
You’ve talked a lot about facing challenges head on. How do you overcome these obstacles in your life?
I have faced a lot of problems, big and small, in different ventures in my life, whether it’s for the community, in business, or in my personal life. When obstacles arise, I believe it challenges you to solve the problem as best as you can, with integrity, given the reality of the situation. First, you need to be able to see the obstacle with clarity. Second, accept it. Third, with a calm mind, find a solution by putting it and the future into perspective, and fourth, decide and act on it. Finally, close the chapter and move on.
What message do you want to give to this generation of Thai-Indians?
Do what you love and what you are passionate about and go all the way with it. Don’t let obstacles discourage you, and ride through that wave until you achieve it. Believe in yourself because if you don’t, no one else will. There are no accidents; you play a big part (there are no small parts) in your role in the universe, therefore give it 100 percent.