More Than Meets The Eye – Vivek Mendonca Interview
He was a 3rd generation entrepreneur. However, his father did not take him in the family business straight away. He wanted him to learn some skills, find his way and not take the family business for granted.
Whilst completing his B.Com., he got pocket money of ₹200/- from his Manglorean Mother Olga. His father the veritable R. H. Mendonsa told him “Don’t come to office!” Enjoy college life to the fullest. With a one way bus fare being ₹1.50 (later it doubled to ₹3 – Ouch!) and a masala dosa costing about ₹9 he found his pocket money lasted for barely half a month. The remaining month, he would find himself in the company of the girls in his class – unable to buy a snack/meal for himself — leave alone buying any for them!
Such embarrassments left him no option but to begin working at 16. Vivek immersed himself in the marketplace. Eg. With the launch of the ‘I love Mumbai’ campaign by the then Sheriff of Mumbai, Nana Chudasama, Vivek immediately recognized the need for Garbage disposal bags. He & Mrs Kunti Oza quickly found a way to trade in these bags and share a neat profit for himself & his first business partner. His first customer was a gunna (sugarcane) juice vendor!
For quite some time he was involved in doing ‘Market Surveys‘ for SAMIR (Scientific Analyzers of Market Information & Research) part of MUDRA ADVERTISING. He would go house-to-house, office-to-office filling Forms. Whilst his friends would try to complete forms over the phone or fabricate inputs; he would painstakingly visit offices; negotiate his way past the watchman (once even leaving his cheap wrist watch behind as security) and go in and speed-fill 10-15 forms instead of just 5-6 forms. He also began stapling business cards of the persons visited thereby establishing the credibility of his contribution. This sense of transparency and accountability has become part of his professional DNA.
When working on a similar assignment for Apollo Tyres, he was taunted by the Sardar Automobile owners with “Have you come to waste our time?” Vivek would promptly assure them he was there to be of practical help rather than a nuisance. He demonstrated this by physically moving tyres and helping the owner set up shop for the day. Those days, tyres were not covered in foil or plastic. Consequently, this activity would soil his clean, ironed clothes. But, he did not allow this to be a barrier in building invaluable rapport and creating a powerful bonding relationship with the person in his sights. Inevitably, the owner would be touched, and say, “Aao beta, pehle chai peyenge, phir aapka kaam karenge!” (Come son, first lets have tea, and then let’s do you work!) Early on in life, he learnt to effectively convert stalls and objections into certain sales; make his way into the hearts of people and stay there!
Suhani, his wife who knew him since his college days; bears ample testimony to the same.
Because of the BPO culture, today’s youth are looking for glamour rather than valuing the dignity of hard, physical labor and build invaluable market-savvy skills.
His neighbor, the veritable Mulk Raj Anand noticing this bustling youngster; enquired about and requested Mr Mendonsa to send Vivek to him. Vivek noticed that the elderly Mr Anand’s feet were swollen and the folds of skin were falling over the straps of the sandals; making it impossible for Mr Anand to take his sandals off himself. Vivek promptly got down on his knees and gently eased the sandals from Mr Mulk Raj Anand’s feet. With him, Vivek developed the ability to speed read scores of manuscripts that would land up there. He also got the opportunity to meet with a host of media and film personalities like Shabana Azmi, Shoba De etc. which he put to good use subsequently.
Thus, as a youngster, his priorities were college, work and family and only thereafter make time for his friends. He learn to never waste a moment & he occupied his time by either being with people or reading. This, he feels, contrasts sharply with the youth of today who put friends at the center of their life.
Realizing quickly that boys like to be with girls and girls like to be with boys, and they needed a constructive outlet for their energies; he proactively got involved in the youth wing of the Colaba Cuffe Parade Citizens Group (CCPCG). Under the able leadership of the Late Dr. P. Navin Kumar, he ramped up the membership to 70 youngsters. They would meet at Vivek’s residence on Friday evenings and speakers would be invited to address them. They would also get involved in a host of social activities including Ganpati Visarjan, tree planting etc. And this continued for 3 solid years. Even today, every building he passes in his neighbourhood he easily knows at least 8-10 people/families in each.
After completing his Diploma in Optometry he determinedly set about starting an Optometry Program. For this purpose, he went to the University of Pune for several consecutive days and waited several hours each day to meet Dr. Bushan Patwardhan. With his towering 6’ 1” stature and imposing authority he finally came out to personally meet a 5’ 8” Vivek and summarily told him that it would take years to start such a program in the University of Pune. Not to be outdone, Vivek firmly shot back –“I cannot wait even a minute to start this program!” – and headed to Bharatiya Vidhyapeeth.
Impressed with his clear-headed determination, Dr. V. N. Karandikar, Dean of the Medical College – Bharthi Vidya Peth Deemed University, who worked under the then Education Minister of Maharashtra Mr Patangrao Kadam offered to come all the way to his residence on the forthcoming Sunday. Vivek promptly provided a clear map to his place at Clover Center — a maze of 30 flats per floor; and rushed to get his bachelor pad in presentable shape. Within 45-50 minutes of the meeting, he pointedly conveyed to the veritable Dean that Optometry was missing in the menu of courses offered and it must be offered — at Bharthi Vidya Peeth! Today, thanks to Vivek’s vision and persistence, hundreds of students have passed out through this program and created rewarding, professional careers in optometry!
It was a paradox of sorts that Vivek Mendonsa, a Diploma holder; set up the first Degree College of Optometry in Maharashtra at Bharthi Vidya Peth, Katraj, Dhankawadi, and Pune and was asked to be the Vice-Principal at the age of 28 years. He is currently the President of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO). He has been associated with approximately 143 Institutes of Optometry pan India and closely connected to promoting the awareness of the importance of the Science of Optometry. He has personally ensured that two seats are permanently reserved for deserving 12 std. Science students in each of these Institutes.
When he moved from Pune to the Head Office of the family business at D N Road; he took up renovating the showroom as a top priority with the able assistance of his brother-in-law Vivek Nandodkar & eldest sister Michelle.
Here he strongly emphasizes that his was not a sole effort; but the effort of the entire joint family. He makes it a point to name each member of the family involved actively in the business and the critical role each of them plays in accordance with the respective strengths. With great pride he states that at Lawrence & Mayo, they follow the Golden Rule of Managing Family Business by Caroline M Brown: Unequal Contribution; Equal Compensation!
Vivek Mendonsa is currently the Marketing Director of Lawrence & Mayo, a two Division company established in 1877. Lawrence & Mayo has created a niche for itself as India’s Leader in the business of Ophthalmic Optics & Contact Len Clinics and in the specialized technical field of Engineering (Geomatics), Scientific, Vacuum Instruments and Systems. He has been in this business since 1992. Lawrence & Mayo is a 137 years old Institution in India, and Vivek & his team has been instrumental in gearing and expanding the company optical showrooms from 19 when he joined in 1992 to 92 till date and 13 instrument offices with a huge network spanning across 38 cities across India. He, along with his 11 family members, strategically located in Mumbai & other cities look after a professional team of over 1200 employees.
(Interview published in the April issue of The Christian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Newsletter)