CA Pawan Kumar Patodia, A Second Innings with Volleyball: Kolkata Thunderbolts
Mr. Pawan Kumar Patodia, a renowned industrialist, philanthropist, Chartered Accountant by qualification, angel investor and most recently acknowledged as a ‘Sports Entrepreneur’ spearheading the Championship Winning Volleyball Team, Kolkata Thunderbolts.
As an entrepreneur he dons multiple hats but his utmost passion lies in the game of volleyball which led him to initiate the Prime Volleyball League jointly with equally enthusiastic counterparts across the country.
Mr. Patodia has inspired individuals with his optimism and incredible management skills, over the years.
An avid philanthropist, he has left no stone unturned to work towards the betterment of the country and people by taking on a mission to reach 3000 villages in West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Orissa to bring the game of volleyball to the masses.
The daily operations and marketing of the team is looked after by the Team Director, Sumedh Patodia, an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad and Emory University.
Having had prior work experience in investment banking, Sumedh eventually opted for this unconventional career path into sports management and entrepreneurship.
Sumedh’s first project as Team Director of the Kolkata Thunderbolts was a grass-root outreach initiative where he aimed to activate the entire volleyball and local communities of West Bengal.
In an effort to uplift the Indian sports ecosystem, Kolkata Thunderbolts management has been at the forefront of helping young children and aspirants play volleyball in a professional setup, providing employment opportunities and generating income for communities in rural areas.
Tell us a little about yourself
Pawan Kumar Patodia: A Chartered Accountant and MBA by qualification; an industrialist, financial services provider and angel investor by profession with a career spanning across 39 years.
Born in Kolkata, I grew up at my maternal grandparents’ house in Dibrugarh, Assam from the age of 8 to 16, during which time I met my wife Kanak (whom I have been married to for 29 years now).
I finished my education in Pune, including my Chartered Accountancy, and eventually moved back to my parents’ house in Kolkata.
I am blessed with two children, an older daughter, Garima, who recently completed her second masters’ degree from the Indian School of Business currently working in the CEO’s office in Ola, and a younger son, Sumedh, who recently completed his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, and is now serving as the Team Director at Kolkata Thunderbolts.
Please tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey
Pawan Kumar Patodia: I started my career at Rs. 1800/- a month in Kolkata in 1986. By 1990, I was acting as the head of all the plywood companies belonging to the Goenka family.
In 2004, I took over one of their companies on the verge of bankruptcy at the behest of my previous employer, and transitioned from an executive to a business-owner.
Between 2004 and now, I have owned and operated plywood factories in different countries across the world and various states of India, diversified into financial services, real estate, angel investing in start-ups and most recently, a sports start-up.
Right from the onset of my entrepreneurial journey, my focus has been on value creation in the society and empowerment of the youth.
I firmly believe Kolkata Thunderbolts is a beautiful culmination of both these core elements, by providing education, employment and wellness opportunities through promoting a sport extensively played by the Indian masses.
How volleyball is gaining prominence in mainstream sports today
Pawan Kumar Patodia: The first season of Prime Volleyball League garnered 133 million viewers across merely 24 matches – the big spark that was required in Volleyball.
It saw the support of major brands such as Rupay, Eatfit, Cred, Byju’s, Apollo, Nippon Paint, A23, and others.
Season 2 is going to be streamed internationally through Volley World, a CVC Capital backed entity of FIVB (World Volleyball Federation)
Kolkata Thunderbolts, under the umbrella of Prime Volleyball League, is an earnest attempt to bring attention to a sport which has been neglected for decades in the country.
Our vision is to have an entire infrastructure of leagues and tournaments in the next couple of years, which will promote players from the grass-roots all the way to the international level.
The Thunderbolts Cup which had a representation from all 23 districts of West Bengal was a pilot in the same direction.
We scouted one of the players from Thunderbolts Cup who is now going to represent Kolkata Thunderbolts at Prime Volleyball League Season 2.
Volleyball has always been a popular game, both in India and abroad; the third most popular team sport in the country as per statistics.
The problem lay in Volleyball not getting enough media attention, because we are yet to perform well in global competitions like the Olympics.
It’s a cycle, unless India performs well internationally in Volleyball or in any other sport, masses and younger talent will not be attracted to the sport, which means the corporates will keep their wallets stashed away.
This is the cycle that the government tries to break by investing in talent development in a major way, and honing the skills of our players.
Scientific methods of trainings, tournaments at the school, college and neighbourhood level, training boot camps across the year, brand endorsements, team anthem, OTT and social media content – Kolkata Thunderbolts is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to get Volleyball the mainstream media attention that it deserves.
Your view on sports entrepreneurship in India
Pawan Kumar Patodia: It is at its optimum level of entry right now, with the entire nation paying more attention towards sports post the pandemic.
The government has invested heavily in its Khelo India schemes, and all major global sports organizations and brands are on the cusp of entering the Indian market.
I am convinced the next decade will see the sports industry in India flourish exponentially, and entrepreneurs who have the appetite and patience for risk bearing and gestation will have a lot to gain.
How sporting leagues are contributing to the economy
Pawan Kumar Patodia: Up until 2 years ago, the only sport and format which received any considerable viewership from the masses was cricket, but only during the IPL or intense international games.
The entire landscape of the sports industry has now started to shift. With the onset of alternative sports leagues like Kabaddi, Football, Volleyball, Kho Kho and others, we are seeing an exponential rise in the sale of sports goods across the country other than cricket equipment.
Students from less developed areas are enrolling in our training camps to help them get education opportunities.
The infrastructural spends of the government are being supplemented by the corporates on the look out for marketing and customer engagement opportunities.
The tourism sector is also benefitting from the rise of the sports leagues in India, conducting matches across the country.
Government owned entities which had become lethargic in recruiting for their sports teams are becoming active.
Not to forget the remuneration players get for competing in regional, national and international tournaments. Overall, the economy has much to gain from this movement.
The scope for growth of other sports in a cricket dominated country
Pawan Kumar Patodia: India is in dire need of giving up on its inertia of cricket, a sport still not recognized in the Olympics. Had we not won the world cup in 1983 and again in 2011, I truly wonder if cricket would have risen to the prominence level it has.
However, the times are changing. We can see even individual sports like wrestling, athletics, archery, shooting and others, getting a lot of interest from all across the country.
The gap lies in the resources available to the masses. Thus, I believe, resource light sports, such as Volleyball and Kho Kho will be the forerunners of rising sports in India.
Sports industry – a viable business model?
Pawan Kumar Patodia: We are a country of close to 1.4 billion people strong, with a median age of 28, making long strides in women empowerment, social equality, equal opportunity.
Sports has the highest degree of viewer attention, consumer loyalty and brand recall potential. I think the business model is as viable as it gets. “Khelega India tabhi toh Badhega India”.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Pawan Kumar Patodia: I have faced significant resistance from the federation while implementing my grass-root programmes, reluctance from many corporates who do not see the value in sports or Volleyball, specifically.
But my perspective towards them is more of hurdles, rather than failures. You lose only the day you stop trying, and I have made my bones with persistence.
What was the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur
Pawan Kumar Patodia: I was always an entrepreneur in spirit, even when I was an employee. Every executive needs to be a mini-entrepreneur in their own regard if they want to excel in their professional career.
An entrepreneur is a problem-solver in my opinion, and there is nothing more exhilarating and exciting than solving a pressing problem in the society. Entrepreneurialism creates wealth, not just money.
Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs
Pawan Kumar Patodia: First, position yourself in an industry which you are convinced is going to flourish in the coming years. It is easier to do well in a growing industry than it is to survive in a dying industry.
Second, do not be afraid of cutting your losses. You run after creating value, the money will be a by-product.
If you run after the money, you will never have the courage to cut your losses at the right time. A good entrepreneur is a good leader, a good leader is humble enough to admit a mistake and move on to correcting it.
I can preach only what I know – passion and dedication are the two traits that led to my success.
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