Starting Ma Foi
On August 15, 1992, the couple decided to launch Ma Foi Management Consultants ‘to market expertise as a product.'
But why a French name? "We were targetting the international market. So, Ma Foi -- or My Word -- is a name that meant something to all European countries. It gave us an occasion to speak about our value to the clients. ‘Ma Foi' symbolized what we wanted to say and do."
With an investment of Rs 60,000, they started Ma Foi in "a small shack of a place." But by the end of the year, four of their friends put in Rs 10,000 each and upped the investment to Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000).
They started primarily by placing engineers overseas.
The Chennai office, which opened at 6 a.m., remained open till midnight so that candidates could walk in and register any time. "Although it was a struggle initially, we wanted to position ourselves as a candidate-centric organisation. About 30 to 40 people visited us every day. It was 1992-93 and the Gulf region was booming. We sent dozens of middle-level and managerial people at that time to countries like Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Brunei, etc. . ."
Even as visa processing began, the Babri Masjid was felled. All Gulf nations put a ban on issuing visas to Indians. And Ma Foi's losses ran into lakh (hundreds of thousands). "It was a tough phase and we had to pledge even our jewellery. But when we came out of the struggle, we expanded into all kinds of things."
By 1994, a lot of multinational companies made their entry into India. By the end of 1994, Ma Foi got a huge offer from Apple Computers to recruit all their heads of departments. "That was also the time the salaries in the Gulf region started falling. Till then we had not done any such huge recruitment in India. Whatever we had done was only on the secretarial side. With that one assignment from Apple Computers, we moved ahead in India."
Ma Foi also set up offices in all the big cities in India and seriously started looking at domestic recruitment and sectors like IT, finance and banking.
By then, Ma Foi became a closely held public limited company. "We gave equities to our friends, relatives with the promise that we would return at least 20% dividend every year."
During the dot-com boom in 2000, Ma Foi also had a dot-com plan and got a lot of venture capitalists investing in it. But then came the dot-com bust. "Thankfully we were affected only slightly by the dot-com bust. We pulled back the dot-com model very soon and convinced our VCs to use what we got -- around Rs 8.5 crore (Rs 85 million) -- in the brick-and-mortar model. With that money, we could spruce up our offices and add more people."
Image: Students at a laboratory in a school run by a trust set up by Ma Foi Consultants.
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