It was a conventional banking job – with the Africa desk of Exim Bank – that took Jose Parayanken to Mozambique in 1986, after graduation from St Stephen’s, Delhi and an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur. But little did the Kerala born and raised Parayanken know that he would go on to build Mozambique Holdings, a conglomerate with a $100-million capital base in the south-east African country.
Today the group has operations in transport and automobile distribution, transit warehousing and distribution, production and distribution of military and police uniforms, ground water development and irrigation systems, toll road construction and maintenance, mining, including prospecting and exploration of owned mining concessions in coal and phosphates.
When Parayanken reached Mozambique in 1986, the country was going through a difficult phase. The previous decade had seen the country racked by civil war that had destroyed both infrastructure and agriculture. Worse was the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1991. Mozambique was highly dependent on the Communist country for military and economic support. “The economy was in trouble post-Soviet disintegration. At that stage technology support and exports from India were becoming very important,” says Parayanken.
RIGHT CAREER MOVE
And that’s where he saw the opportunity and decided to quit his job with Exim Bank to venture out on his own. “The government there invited me to share the expertise that I had picked up through my banking experience. It was a big career challenge and I decided set up infrastructure operations,” he reminisces.
The first step was about active participation in the Mozambique government’s business and industrial restructuring and privatisation programme. “My first project was setting up a factory to make military uniforms. From there, I moved on to other big projects in building rural infrastructure,” he says. Building his diversified business empire involved acquisitions of public sector companies in the services and infrastructure sectors through the public tender route.
“In trying to turnaround the companies, I was heavily dependent on Indian expertise and technology,” says Parayanken. He has hired many engineers and managers from India for his companies over the years.
“There are huge opportunities for the Indian government and companies to support the economic development of Mozambique. The Indian government is already providing a line of credit of $500 million for infrastructure projects, agriculture and energy. Joint ventures between the two governments as well as projects by Indian companies will work very well,” says Parayanken of the economic opportunities in Mozambique, a country rich in energy resources.
HAPPY EVER AFTER
The Afrodrill drinking water project, which was conceived by him and is now being funded by the Indian government, was a good beginning. The decision to settle down in Mozambique – a very unconventional destination for Indians – was definitely not an easy one for Parayanken and his family.
“There are a huge number of Indian expats in South Africa and the east African countries, but Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, was not on the map of most Indians in those days,” he recalls. His wife Dolly Merita, a banking professional, had to give up her job to support his
For his children, too, settling down was a tough challenge. “It took us all a long time to learn the local customs and blend in socially,” Parayanken says. His son Deepak has recently joined the business as executive assistant to his father after finishing his MBA while daughter Sheila Mary works in the US.
And while Parayanken is proud of making a contribution towards the revival of the economy of Mozambique, the Indian government’s prestigious Pravasi Samman, which was conferred on him by President Pratibha Patil at the recent Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Jaipur, is a big honour. “I feel that I am playing a very important part in building economic and commercial ties between my country of origin and my adopted country,” he says.