Born in 1971 in India, in Saharsa (Bihar State), into a professional family: Dad a doctor, Mum a pedagogue.
In 1991, as part of a cultural exchange, came to study in Moscow. After graduation from the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas, worked in Russia in such well-known British companies as Petropharma International and Polypharma International. Occupied the posts of General Manager, Sales Director, and CIS Territories Director.
In 2011, he decided to leave Petropharma International and set up his own company Soltex Group. Widening his sphere of activity, Manish began to help Russian companies enter the Indian market with metallurgical and military technology and knowhow.
Speaks Hindi, English, and Russian. Married. Brought his family over from India to the Russian capital. Son and daughter growing up in Moscow.
— After I graduated from university in Moscow (mine was the most forward-thinking of faculties: development of oil and gas fields), I had the opportunity to go and work in Canada or Alaska, but I decided to stay in Russia. I wanted to start my own business, and to do that I had to accumulate the necessary experience. All the right conditions for this were here in Russia: a wealth of oil and gas reserves, the opportunity to work with people “on the ground”, and great prospects. I began work with Petropharma International, which was right then actively developing the Russian market.
After the default and the economic crisis of 1998, there was a severe shortage in raw materials, particularly as far as the petrochemical and chemical industries were concerned. We were requested to supply what there was a shortage of at the time: the raw polymer expandable polystyrene. These are granules which on contact with steam expand by about 50 times in size. We had business contacts in various countries. We sent a test batch to Russia from South Korea. Over a year and a half, we became one of the biggest suppliers of this material to Russia.
— How difficult was it getting these materials through customs?
— In Russia nothing is straightforward. There were both delays and problems with storage. But every cloud has a silver lining. Because there were plenty of difficulties, not everyone was able to enter the Russian market with their goods. And we, in the meantime, established ourselves on a sound footing, filled our niche.
In business, you have to have a flexible approach to everything: if the laws of the land say that we have to work in a certain way, then we have to adjust and work exactly like that.
— Was the market a large one?
— We sold polystyrene granules all over Russia. Also, we brought in a new way of carrying out deliveries. All the European companies operated via a Baltic port, but we started to import our materials via the port of Nakhodka. To avoid any mishaps to do with force-majeure events, we set up our own warehouse complex. We despatched our materials by rail. Our clients were able to track their consignment on the centre’s website, and see where it was at any given time and when it was due to arrive. Clients were impressed that someone was looking after their materials. Their polystyrene arrived straight to their warehouse. They paid for their cargo on arrival: we never demanded advance payments from them.
When our business began to gather momentum, we negotiated with the bank and took out a loan. We then negotiated with overseas suppliers for exclusive rights to supplies. Over time, our supplier extended us a credit line. We were able to use the credit over prolonged periods of time. At first, we had credit of a million dollars, then of 1.5 and 2 million. To receive such funds in Russia was impossible at the time. It really helped us a lot.
— What kind of difficulties did you have to contend with?
— Difficulties come up from time to time. For example, when there is a crisis of some sort, companies close, exit the market. Such a situation developed in 2008. We thought we might have to fold. 90% of the company shut down then. But we had goods that were on route, the price of oil suddenly dropped by 40%... The uncertainty lasted for 5-6 months. But we decided all the same to stay in the market and support our clients. We continued to supply them with raw materials throughout those difficult times. And they held out, in the course of two years the market recovered, and all our debts were honoured.
— And the situation now? Is business growing?
— Yes, in spite of the sanctions and the crisis. Last year we acquired the company Total Ultramar in Dubai (UAE), bought a 100% share in a mini oil refinery in Krasnoyarsk. Production there was suspended due to the crisis. We re-equipped the factory, installed video surveillance, and launched it, having doubled its capacity. We produce diesel fuel, benzene, and fuel oil. As far as fuel is concerned, arranging its sale is no problem at all.
— Do you spend a lot of time on business trips?
— No. Why? I have reliable partners in both Dubai and Krasnoyarsk. They also deal with the management side of things there.
— How many people work at Soltex Group, and how much are they paid?
— We have 52 people working for us, including those at the Krasnoyarsk refinery, where there are 36. We also have an office in Ryazan.
As for salaries, our employees receive from 40,000 to 180,000 roubles a month.
— Would you advise foreigners to come to Russia and get involved in business here?
— Of course! Now is exactly the right time to start a business in Russia. The crisis here is not a worldwide one. It is directed only against Russia. So there are many niches lying empty, no small number of major players have left the market for considerations other than economic ones. A unique chance has arrived.
One of the most promising areas now is the oil and gas sector. But to go into big business here is very difficult. I would advise looking at medium-sized business in the same field that we are actually in. Mini refineries, base oils, some sort of additives.
After the sanctions imposed by the West and the measures taken by Russia in response to them, I see good prospects in agriculture, too. Here, again though, there is no point in focusing on imports. You need to find a region where you can lease land and start growing the produce demanded by the market, and sell it on the CIS markets. You can also send produce for export.
We have even found some interesting things ourselves in this regard. For example, we sent a test batch of coriander to India from Crimea. In Russia this spice is called kinza. Its seeds ground into a powder are widely used in cooking. And even with India being the biggest supplier of spices in the world, we are hopeful of success. After all, there are 1.5 million people in India. And there is a drought. So you have to seize the moment.
I want to emphasise that right now very great prospects for business are opening up in Crimea. I came back from the peninsular not so long ago. We met the local officials there. We have plans to start a company there, too. Investors in Crimea receive tax breaks. And we are considering getting into two new areas: production of essential oils and supplying textiles to Crimea by setting up clothing manufacturing.
— How ideal is the tax system in Russia?
— There isn’t a country in the world which can claim to have an ideal fiscal system. As for Russia, over the last 10 years, the system here has improved quite a lot. A lot of people are scared of the VAT. Often the tax rate is set too high. But now, once you have established that an excess of VAT was paid, the difference is easy to get back. This is a big plus. In other countries, getting some kind of rebate from the treasury is somewhat problematical.
I would advise any foreigner starting a business in Russia to definitely get a consultant on board, a local specialist with a good understanding of the tax system and who works closely with the tax authorities.
OOO Soltex Group was established in 2011 in Russia as a leading international business company providing a wide range of industrial materials from the biggest multinationals for use in a wide array of industries (chemical, food, automobile, electronics, consumer goods, telecommunications, IТ equipment, and others).
The company’s main markets are the CIS, India, and Serbia.
Over the last 5 years, Soltex Group has been successful in increasing its turnover and share of the market. The company provides its clients with support in the form of financial services and technical aid, as well as guaranteeing all of its products.
As part of its supply chain, Soltex group has its own capable logistics department and warehousing complex. The company also provides support to its clients in the production process, updating of technology, and in the use of the raw materials it supplies.
— Is it difficult finding office premises now in Russia?
— Not at all. You can rent the right place for either 50,000 roubles a month or for 200,000. It all depends on what your ambitions are.
— Do you find Russia to be a friendly country?
— Russia’s image in the world needs to be changed. Russians are like a coconut: they seem very hard on the outside, but on the inside – it is worth getting to know them better – remove the husk and they are “soft and sweet”. It takes time to get to know them. More should be written about Russians. Russian youngsters should travel more, socialize with their contemporaries from other countries. You should reveal to the world the other, genuine, true Russia...
— What are your plans for the future?
— We want to grow, to make a splash, take up new positions. Because, later on, it will be more difficult. It is also a plan to help businessmen from India establish themselves on the Russian market. At the moment, the Russian-Indian market leaves a lot to be desired: it’s turnover is all of 8bn dollars. The situation needs changing. In my opinion, a special structure should be put in place which would provide assistance to foreign business in Russia. Businessmen from our countries should meet up, exchange information. I want to help both sides. We have two offices: one in Delhi and one in Mumbai. I want to get my experts involved. In two areas. The first concerns the state sector. To show in detail how to take part in a tender, how to prepare the necessary documentation, and what to do to make sure of winning the tender. The second area concerns the private sector, small and medium-sized business.
Apart from the traditionally successful cooperation on military technology, we could increase trade and investment in such industries as energy, processing of hydrocarbons, road and railway construction, car parts manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, diamonds, tourism, and food.
I ache for such collaboration with all my heart.
— You have a successful business in Russia. How do you find living here?
— I have been living in Russia for 25 years now. I brought my wife here, my son and daughter are growing up here. I like it.
— Do you have any favourite places in Moscow to relax in?
— Of course. At weekends, the family and I like to go to Tsaritsyno museum and reserve. We travel out to the Zavidovo national park where the countryside is very picturesque. And I am seriously wondering whether or not to buy a flat in Moscow. Before, I thought it made more financial sense to rent. As a businessman, I think through every investment. Therefore, I preferred that the money was circulating in the business and yielding an income. But now, considering the exchange rate between the dollar and the rouble, the time has come to start thinking about buying. If the right place turns up, maybe I’ll buy it.
— What presents do you take from Russia to your friends and relatives in India, and vice-versa?
— You wouldn’t believe it! But to India I take the most ordinary black rye bread, “Borodinsky”. The one with the crust sprinkled with coriander. And also Napoleon cake. And on the way back, apart from tea, I try to get hold of something new like, for example, essential oils.