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December 27, 2016
I do not know how much justice I would be doing, in this attempt to trace the long and arduous journey of Bartons through its first 150 years! The limited scope of this publication cautions me that perhaps, I should not be trying this at all? At the same time, it becomes my sacred duty, as the present Managing Director, to endeavor to commit myself, so that the past remains a treasured memory and the services of my predecessors remain an honored contribution in our Company’s history.
The word that encapsulates a hundred and fifty year passage of time, itself seems to portray the enormous burden that this journey implies. That word according to the Oxford dictionary is SESQUICENTENARY.
So here I am, sincerely attempting to pay homage to our predecessors, a solemn tribute to their spirit of adventure, their vision, their courage, their sense of discipline, their staunch adherence to values, their ethics and uprightness. This list could be virtually endless. Unlike Sesquicentenaries, there is no one word that can aptly summarize 150 virtues!
Across five generations, spanning 150 years of Bartons, to have the same outlook, attitude, values, discipline and vision, is indeed a rare coincidence and an astounding fact. Hitherto, I thought that two generations, like father and son, were more than a world apart. But here we have five in absolute tandem. I had read somewhere that coincidences are God’s way of communicating with us. Yes, there had to be divine intervention in this phenomenon, an indefinable, mysterious power that we are celebrating. My contribution was simple. It was just to fall in line; a line drawn so deep and indelible that I could not stray from it. It was easy. This line had its beginning as an inconspicuous dot, on the 1st of January 1861, when Mr. Thomas Barton established the business in Bangalore at No. 9 South Parade.
I often wonder, against what enormous odds he must have set out from the comfort of his home, to sail to an unknown land, with strange customs, beliefs and languages. Obviously he had a stunning vision, an enduring dream, limitless reserves of courage and an insatiable capacity for risk.
The second managing Director was his son, Mr. Percy Alfred Barton, who took over the reins of leadership in the year 1891. About this gentleman we happen to know a little more, from what I have been able to remember from my Father, who talked to me about him from time to time. What stands out is that he was an absolute stickler for discipline- to such an extent that, even if an order, approved by the customer slightly mismatched his standards, he would have it remade, against the pleadings of the customer- who could often be no less than a member of a Royal family. He spoke Tamil. He was ambidextrous. He could draw simultaneously with both hands! The loss of his only son in the Second World War, prompted him to sell the Company. Hearing about this, my Father MS Mehta came to negotiate the purchase and in 1947 took over as the Managing Director. Mr. Barton took a liking to my Father and volunteered to stay on to guide him in his new role. The friendship that blossomed between them prompted Mr. Barton to stay on for a few years- a gesture that my Father cherished with fond regard. The rest of the Board of Directors were all Englishmen, except my Father; and he always looked up to the support of Mr. Barton during the Board Meetings with great regard.
Perfect balance In this article, I have often been referring to my Father as a businessman. Besides, I am proud to say that there are very few I have met, who had laid out their priorities in life with such a perfect blend of Health, Family, Religion, Business and personal growth so well.
He stood out as a lone star on a dark night. My Father discarded the age old beliefs in a ritualistic approach to religion. He refrained from performing Lakshmi Pooja during Divali, as he always maintained that you cannot trade with God.
He was the first in the family to build his own home to live in. This was considered a stigma as four of his Uncles died before they could move into their own homes built by them, all in matter of a couple of years. You needed a rare blend of courage and conviction to break off from customs and beliefs that had a stranglehold over the family life style.
Here I would like to say that perhaps certain friendships that my Father had cultivated influenced his thinking in many ways.
I vividly recollect the regular weekly visits of Dr. Svetoslov Roerich, the Russian artist and philosopher, Mr. T.P.G. Nambiar, founder Chairman of the BPL Group, who met my Father almost every day, Mr. A.S. Lakshmanan, founder Chairman of Senapathy Whiteley, who also happened to be a Director on the Board of Bartons, along with Mr. Eeswary Prasad of Blue Bell Sweets. These eminent personalities from different walks of life provided a vision, an exposure, a reference point that left a strong influence on the mind of my Father.
Method and Manner
I joined the business in 1970, as a Despatch Clerk and then worked my way through all Departments and finally moved over to the Work Shop. I was given strict instructions by my Father that for the first 3 months, I was not to ask a single question, but just to observe, understand and follow existing systems. All my doubts were to be written down. By the end of the first month I had practically scored out all points that I had listed. The systems in place were time tested, had inbuilt checks and counterchecks. The credit for this must also go to my Uncle, Mr. N.J. Kothari, who was the Works Manager of Bartons. I have spent hours in his company, awed by the manner in which he designed products, his interaction with workers, his skill as a letter writer, his calmness during a crisis and above all his sense of humor. I was lucky to be exposed to such fine examples during the formative years of my life.
If I can single out one prerequisite for a successful transition from a carefree college boy to running a Workshop, it was the need to be thoroughly meticulous. Being thorough I thought was an achievement. Being meticulous was an added advantage. But being thoroughly meticulous was what my Father expected of me. And this could only be possible by writing a Diary. I vividly remember having bunches of Diaries that I persistently and relentlessly monitored every day. I soon realized that detailed planning meant control and control lead to satisfaction and joy.
Yes, from personally experiencing Joy on the floor of the Workshop, I felt that we needed to extend it beyond. Spreading happiness and joy was our business. Raw and stiff sheets of silver, adamant in their own style, at the dextrous hands of the skilled craftsman, became objects of beauty. The worker smiled with satisfaction. The Showroom staff dreamt to own such a beautiful piece of art. The customer fell in love with it. It was selected, packed and sold. The staff smiled. The beholders at home felt justified, that life had to be enjoyed with more Bartons creations, adorning their shelves. The ripple effect of happiness, as Bartons products spread joy, acted as a reinforcement to our motivation, to staunchly adhere to our values and standards.
This discipline paid huge dividends as Bartons were appointed Silversmiths to many Royal families such as Mysore, Hyderabad, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Jaipur etc. Along with this recognition was another, as Bartons were referred to as Silversmiths to the Armed Forces. There isn’t a single mess today that does not boast of a priceless collection of Barton Trophies.
In recent times we have had the opportunity to honor the patronage of eminent customers such as Dr.Veerendra Hegde of Dharmasthal, Kiran Mazumdar of Biocon, Dr. Vijay Mallya of UB and now Kingfisher Airlines, Mr. Dilip Surana of Microlabs, Mr. Suresh Sharma of Sharma Transport and other well known personalities.
Customer is king
Unless there was a solid reason to smile, the customer could be the most difficult person to please. This exercise started with understanding the requirement and then working out a design and a quotation. The customer would feel that we had made an error in calculation and I would feel that the customer was indulgent. It was an enormous challenge. Creating something within the severe constraints of a budget and a deadline day in day out was my sleeping pill every night.
Since most of the big orders were one of a kind, my Father always insisted that on completion of the order, I should review the costing. No doubt the order was accepted at a price agreed by the customer, but if at the end I felt we could have charged less, the this gave me an opportunity to share this benefit with him. My Father sincerely believed that profit was not the only motive to stay in business. A satisfied customer is more than mere profit from an order. I came to realise that making profit can be spiritual if approached with the right ethics. Business, strangely afforded an opportunity to live life in its higher aspects where profit was only a partial aim of it.
This challenge got even more stiff as Silver prices rose steeply from `170 a kg in 1970, when I joined the business. Today, it is ruling at `46,000 a kg. -an increase of over 270 times! I wish my salary had gone up by that much. Demand has obviously been hit. This apart, there is competition within the trade with hundreds of silversmiths now operating and the modern phenomenon of competing products such as digital cameras, cell phones, lap tops etc. I really needed a sleeping pill!
Anyway, we welcome both types of competition. Our design, quality, finish, price and our ethics have enabled us to still command a presence in this ocean of Sliver trade
Challenge and creativity
Challenges made us even more creative. We had to think of ingenious ways to reduce the silver content and yet retain the silver look. We resorted to selectively piercing out creative geometric patterns wherever it was feasible. We added sections of non silver such as acrylic, wood, stone etc. We even developed bi metal products, where the main ingredient Silver, is aesthetically complimented with Copper.
As a long time investment in our desire to last forever, Aashish, my son, decided to go to the UK and complete a year long course in Silversmithing at the School of Design in the University of Central England. Incidentally, he is the first Indian to have done the course.
A long journey
Bartons is a Private Limited Company which in legal parlance, is referred to as having perpetual existence. 150 years is only a milestone on the way. The next would be in 2061, Two hundred years. The word for this, fortunately is not a tongue twister, like Sesquicentenaries'. It is just Bi Centenary. Going by this yardstick, I imagine the next 50 years to be a cake walk.
In the true spirit of Bartons being a family business, my wife Nayna’s contribution has been monumental. With great ease, she combines grace and grit. Complementing us both, is our son Aashish. I have no words to express my joy in having found in Aashish, a worthy successor, to continue to build on this priceless legacy that I inherited, in the brand name Barton.
His joining Bartons in 1997, has given me an opportunity to look beyond the frontiers of business and find time to live a fulfilling and all round life. We look forward to him and his children taking Bartons to greater heights and continuing the hallowed tradition.
December 27, 2016