Ramesh Bhutada: Seeking Higher Goals Through Business Skills

Ramesh & Kiran Bhutada with son Rishi and his wife Shradha, and grand kids Juhi & Sahaj.

Ramesh & Kiran Bhutada with son Rishi and his wife Shradha, and grand kids Juhi & Sahaj.

By Haider Kazim

HOUSTON: Hindus of Greater Houston have bestowed their Lifetime Achievement Award on Ramesh Bhutada, founder and CEO of Star Pipe Products, employing over 1,400 people in the United States, Canada, China and India.

The award was presented to him at HGH’s Janmashtami celebrations on August 25, 2018 by Bollywood legend Anupam Kher. This award has brought into focus a successful entrepreneur who strived throughout his life to build his corporate model not on strategies taught in business schools, but on values deeply rooted in Indian culture and philosophy.

As a result, Star Pipe Products has emerged today as a professional organization with a family touch where employees work in flexible hours, father-son or husband-wife teams are accepted norm, volunteerism by employees in community service projects is encouraged, and holistic treatment therapies are promoted“I have always believed in promoting a business organization with a team of people who enjoy working in an organization suited to be a platform for their overall growth and become better human beings, financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually,” said Ramesh Bhutada in an interview at Star Pipe headquarters on Westhollow Parkway Houston.

This strategy has paid dividends. Established in 1979 with only one employee, Star Pipe has now grown into a global manufacturer and supplier of pipe fittings and accessories. It has 14 distribution centers across North America and business operations in China and India. The company recently acquired a foundry in South Coffeyville, Oklahoma, and is embarking upon a major upgrade of the facility with state-of-the-art equipment.

Ramesh Bhutada receiving Life Time Achievment Award from Anupam Kher.

Ramesh Bhutada receiving Life Time Achievment Award from Anupam Kher.

 “My father has set up a friendly and welcoming culture, where we get to know each other and try to make it an enjoyable place,” said Rishi, the only son of Kiran and Ramesh Bhutada. Having completed his undergraduate degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from Rice University, Rishi works as VP of Finance reporting to Dan McCutcheon, President and is married with two children. He lives with his father maintaining the Indian tradition of joint family.

It is probably the friendly work environment at Star Pipe that has encouraged the family of other staff members to join the company. Tyler McCutcheon, son of Dan McCutcheon (President Star Pipe Products), came from a much larger company to join the Star Pipe Products family. “Knowing you’re building for future generations gives you an extra sense of purpose and pride to work in a family business.”

Similarly, Bharat Pallod also took a pay cut to work in the same company as his father Vijay Pallod who is a close relative of Bhutadas and an associate at the company for nearly 28 years.

The staff at the company have been touched by Ramesh Bhutada’s modesty, integrity and work ethics.

“I’ve worked with Ramesh for 22 years.  What originally attracted me was his honesty and pure intentions.  Secondly, his commitment to our community and several charitable organizations is matched by few.  He is a special man,” said Dan McCutcheon who as the president of the company.

“His integrity is his commitment and when he makes a commitment he keeps it,” said Prakash Morolia who has worked with Ramesh Bhutada for over 28 years and recounted several incidents to emphasize this point. “He is a very simple man and a sincere businessman with an acumen for details. He is an astute analyst who always applies due diligence to make a fair business decision.”

Ramesh Bhutada with Dan McCutcheon, President.

Ramesh Bhutada with Dan McCutcheon, President.

Dale Andrews, who is one of the long-term employees of the company, described Ramesh as a “great leader who is always on top of the game.” She said even if he is busy he is always accessible to employees who can go to him and discuss their problems.

“He always holds himself to the same standard that he holds for others,” said Kirthi Jain, who as CFO works closely with Ramesh Bhutada. “For him, it never mattered what the religion of other person is. He is always connected to the people who are spiritual. He is open to understand and explore any spiritual ideas. That may be the reason why he is so down to earth.” Said Jain: “His idea of philanthropy is social responsibility. He always took this as his personal responsibility, with a desire of sharing.”

Daniel Dominguez, a retired partner at BDO Seidman, an accounting and consulting firm and presently CFO and Director of Centro Familiar Cristiano or Christian Family Center said: “Ramesh is a prime example of an individual that not only does things right, but he also does the right thing. A very successful business person that in the process remains sensitive to human needs (the youth, the poor and the underprivileged), never seeking recognition or self-indulgence. Peaceful and analytical and at the same time caring for the less fortunate at home and abroad.”

Asked about the genesis of his work philosophy and management style, Bhutada said it did not happen in one day, but has rather evolved over a period. Going back to his early life in a remote town in Maharashtra state of India, where his family operated a small retail store and engaged in farming. His father was active in RSS, but young Bhutada never understood RSS properly and was busy in his studies. After graduating from high school in Nandura town, Buldana district, Bhutada got into the prestigious Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani from where he graduated in electrical engineering.

He had a burning desire to do his master’s in electrical engineering from the U.S. He wanted to travel to the U.S. via a western route, stay there for a short while to earn enough money to pay off student loans and go back to India via an eastern route.

Bhutada said he got admission into the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago but, his family did not have enough money to send him there. Bhutada went to Bombay to explore different avenue to raise money for his education. There he met several people to get a grant or a loan. Among them was the head of a Marwari organization which gave financial assistance to aspiring students. Bhutada was able to impress him to give him a loan but it was his advice that influenced and shaped Bhutada’s career.

The advice was plain and simple: Don’t plan on just doing a job for the rest of your life; get into a business where you can create jobs for others.

Star Pipe Products employees

Star Pipe Products employees

After raising money, Bhutada came to Chicago in 1968 and was able to complete his master’s degree in two semesters. He got a job with Texas Instruments in Houston and had to borrow $100 from a friend to come to Houston. He checked in a motel where he had to stay for two weeks, till he got his first pay check to pay the motel bill. But the job did not last long and he was laid off within a year. Later he got a job with a geophysical company as a computer programmer and later as a manager of a department.

Bhutada remembered the advice given to him as a student. He got into a business of garment import with two partners. But the business floundered as none of the partners knew anything about garments. He wrapped up the business. Being ambitious those days, he had three businesses Star Pipe Products, Comstar and All Imports running simultaneously. After several ups and downs, he decided to shut down Comstar and All Imports and focused on Star Pipe with the help of his brother-in-law Jugal Malani.

Bhutada said two events influenced him deeply and shaped up his personal and business outlook. The first came when he was overwhelmed by the intensity of the business. It took tremendous efforts to run the business and almost reached a decision to give up the business, take a job and lead an easy life. At the height of his frustration, he happened to read an article in the Organizer by H.V. Sheshadri, the then general secretary of RSS. The article was about Purushartha, the goals of human existence or the soul’s purpose. The article said that a man must put all his efforts with the skills he has acquired in life. He is not the owner of the fruits but are only a trustee or a custodian of those fruits. You must consume only what you and your loved ones need, and the rest belongs to the community at large. Bhutada said he was so deeply influenced by the article and he realized that he was destined to do business and therefore gave up all the thought of winding it down. From that day he never looked back.

Ramesh Bhutada addressing the employees in Houston in Jan 2010.

Ramesh Bhutada addressing the employees in Houston in Jan 2010.

The second incident was the imposition of the state of emergency in India by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1977. A crackdown on dissent followed in which over 100,000 RSS leaders and workers were detained and put in jail. His father was also imprisoned for his links with RSS. Although Bhutada was not a political person, he was deeply shaken by this unravelling of democracy in India. He joined protests against the emergency regime and got closer to RSS for the first time in his life, got to understand it and began organizing shakha in his home. HSS or Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh which gets inspiration from RSS, got established in the USA, of which he is currently the national vice president.

Bhutada said he discovered that HSS was the most decentralized organization where team work is emphasized, and decisions are taken by consensus at each local, regional or national level. Authority is delegated at all levels and each action is judged by its intent. If the intention is good, it is presumed the results would be good.  He said the HSS organization management model influenced the Star Pipe organizational culture, where long term important decisions are taken by consensus even though it may take time. Openness, integrity, team work and overall personal growth is emphasized.

In personal life, he leads a simple life and tries to consume only what he needs, not necessarily the norm in business. Ramesh firmly believes that just as in personal life, where one should always have some higher purpose in life besides just raising family, that even business organizations should also have some purpose besides just making money. He contributes the success of Star Pipe to his colleagues at Star Pipe Products beginning with Jugal Malani, who helped to lay the foundation of Star Pipe. He specially recognizes Dan McCutcheon, President, and Navin Bhargava, Executive Vice President along with other teammates and employees for their contribution in making Star Pipe’s welcoming organizational culture leading to its success.