Joseph D’Souza: Meeting with destiny
“Everyone used to tell me I should start my own company. But it was only when India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru told me the same that I kept it as a goal ahead of me,” reminisces Joseph D’Souza,founder of Osworld Scientific Equipments Pvt. Ltd. an ISO 9000-certified company.
The year was 1957 and 22-year-old D’Souza was part of a scientific equipment exhibition that was held to give an impetus to the newly forming Indian economy. The opening ceremony was graced by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was joined by his daughter Indira. Nehru visited D’Souza’s demonstration booth and asked the young engineer a few questions about the equipment on display. Impressed by his confidence, the Prime Minister advised Joseph to “go ahead in this line. Keep moving on your own.”
Now in his eighties, D’Souza reflects on that meeting and singles it out as a turning point in his life. “I was thrilled that the PM spoke to me and told me to go forward independently in this space. It was almost like some inner-voice telling me that this is what I have to do,” the Osworld founder says.
Riding on the goodwill he had built, alongside his perseverance and tenacity, he went on to build the now 51-year-old scientific equipment manufacturing, supplying and exporting company, brick by brick. Had Joseph D’Souza stayed back in Mangalore, had he taken to coffee plantation in Khasi when he was barely 16 years old, or had he simply continued as a delivery agent with Mumbai-based Laboratory Furnishers, his life would have been different. Destiny, it seems, had bigger and plans for this first-generation entrepreneur who was constantly striving to improve his knowledge, and who was willing to take the risks.
“I came from Mangalore to Mumbai to serve as housekeeping staff for a family staying in Mahim. I used to work as a delivery boy for them too. I left their place in 1948, but I got an insight into this industry. After that, I started working with Laboratory Furnishers in Dadar,” he says, reminiscing about his early days in Mumbai, then Bombay. Indians were moving through a period of enthusiasm, riding on hope of a bright future following India’s independence. D’Souza remembers how he was willing to put in hard work to ensure his business became a success.
“My job took me to the length and breadth of the city. I would meet purchase officers of every company or institution that would require scientific instruments,” he says. Those meetings turned to long-lasting friendships and business associates.
“The lab professor at VJTI, the head of Bombay College of Pharmacy-–Mr Tipnis and Dr Abraham Patani of Inga Laboratories were always encouraging. Dr Patani was like a brother to me,” adds D’Souza. These mentors encouraged the young entrepreneur to start his own business. However, they saw more than just business acumen in Joseph, they also valued his strong will and hard-working spirit.
Developing a successful business is never an overnight process, so D’Souza worked hard for 25 years, working 12-hour days often alone. “I wanted to work. I somehow knew that whatever I would do now would help me later,” he explains“I used to visit lab equipment manufacturers, sit with the workers and watch them blow glass to understand the manufacturing process. I even toyed with the idea of a glass unit but did away with it because that industry is prone to labour problems. As much as I could, I kept learning by observing.”
Joseph’s life took another turn when he met Angeline and they married in 1963, adding another dynamic in his life. It was Angeline who became an important source of advice for D’Souza. For example, she saw her husband was working too hard for little financial reward, so encouraged him to work more closely to his dreams. Joseph listened to the wisdom of Angeline and started only supplying clamps in 1964, before moving to other small equipment. “My wife played a very important role during the decision-making of venturing into business. It was a tough call, considering that I didn’t have any business experience. It was her encouragement that pushed me to take this decision,” says Joseph, remembering those early days. “She helped by preparing invoices and handling all customer correspondence, working from home, and at the same time ensured that our children were well looked after. And whenever we broadened our base by way of acquiring new space, it was she along with my sons who worked together on the economics. It was very satisfying to see my entire family getting involved.”
When his eldest son Oswald D’Souza joined him in 1984, Joseph was elated. In spite of having his heart set on a legal career, Oswald focused his energy and helped his father in the initial stage of setting up the manufacturing process. “Oswald was even studying law at that time,” Joseph proudly points out. Oswald would live his dream when he left the company in 1990 and pursued a career in law. He is now the Senior Legal Counsel of a multinational company.
Reflecting on the industry, D’Souza remembers how the numbers of pharmaceutical manufacturers grew in India. “Between 1949 and 1952, there were very few manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Later, the numbers jumped up; Burroughs Wellcome, Amar Dye, Glaxo, Crompton, Pidilite, Ahura Chemicals, Inga Laboratories, Camlin— all wanted scientific equipment. I shared a good rapport with all of them and kept getting orders,” says Joseph.
A significant turning point came with a Rs 28,000 order that he received from Mr Tipnis of Bombay College Of Pharmacy in 1973. That order was a blessing that saw Joseph enter into the manufacturing process for the first time. From a single man working to fulfil orders, Joseph went on to hire two workers to work at his first working shed in Andheri. Over the decades, much has changed. Osworld now boasts sales and service agents in every major Indian city, over 12 products, 40,000 sq. ft of proposed factory area, and exports to over 20 countries. The mainstay of the business remains excellent service, quality and goodwill. Joseph’s standards have permeated through the company, including to his sons and employees, who he believes need love and care to thrive.
“Ours is an accuracy-driven industry and we need to maintain superior performance of our products. I offer my customers the best and immediate service. My children have carried forward the business in the best possible way,” he says. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing my employees move on to bigger things. I tell them to work hard because I believe everyone has the ability to reach out and touch the skies.”
Joseph understands the difficulties of life, learning early that he must give back to society. That’s why he was a long-time supporter of High Court Advocate R S Honawar to improve housing facilities for people in Mahim.
Age is only a number for Joseph. He is 84 but this is one man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘retirement’. He still prefers walking to his club and hobnobbing with his friends daily. His sons, Osbert and Oswin, vouch for his never-give-up attitude and also claim that he has more energy than the two of them put together.