It’s virtually unknown in the consumer lighting market. But NTL, the ₹700-crore company Arun Gupta created with his brother Praveen, can safely claim to be at the heart of most fluorescent tubes and CFL lamps made in India, a position it holds as the largest maker of electronic drivers and ballasts that run modern lights. To the uninitiated, a ballast regulates the current in a fluorescent lighting system. With around 5,000 employees, NTL, which also contract manufactures CFLs for Indian lighting brands, now aims to strike out on its own in the emerging LED business.
If this appears a tad too ambitious, Gupta’s entrepreneurial journey offers some clues. A mechanical engineer from the 1982 batch at BIT Mesra, Ranchi, Gupta held jobs for eight years before starting out on his own, choosing to work in small companies to learn the ropes. “I’ve been a sales and marketing person from day one,” he says. “It helped me connect with other business processes in a company.” Gupta’s brush with electronics happened when he set out to market PCBs (printed circuit boards) in northern India on behalf of Indal, which had set up a high-end PCB manufacturing facility at Mysore.
In 1992, he launched Northern Telelinks to cater to the under-served demand for power filters required in C-DoT designed EPABX (exchanges) when India’s telecom revolution was unfolding. A critical component in the power supply of an EPABX, these needed C-DoT approval as the exchanges had to work in difficult weather and operating conditions across India. It was an altogether new challenge, and Gupta says he could learn about systems and processes needed to produce to high reliability standards. His next round of learning came about when HCL-HP signed up NTL as a vendor for wiring harnesses, transferring some of its process orientation and knowledge to Gupta’s team.
Around 1996, when cheaper imports from Taiwan and China threatened to put the electronics components industry out of business, Gupta found himself struggling to survive on PCBs alone, and explored new areas, before finally deciding to switch to making electronic transformers and ballasts for OEMs in CFLs and fluorescent lamps. “It was a natural progression for us as a company,” he says. The company was rebranded as NTL Electronics India with Osram as its first customer in 2002.