Follow us on: Facebook Linked In
Toll Free

Forbes India: Captain Gopinath dreams flies high

Subroto Bagchi , Forbes India

Posted on May 21, 2010 at 13:47 | Updated May 21, 2010 at 14:03

Captain G R Gopinath, serial entrepreneur, founder of Deccan 360 and author of Simply Fly, in conversation with Subroto Bagchi.

Captain Gorur R Gopinath was born in a picturesque village near Hassan in Karnataka to a schoolteacher. He was home-schooled until the fifth grade, as his father thought a school is like a jail for such a small child. When Gopi was finally sent to school, his mind was already yearning for a world far beyond. That was how, in his seventh standard, one day when the Head Master announced that there would be a test to get into a Military School, Gopi raised his hand. It was a solitary hand.

“I had no idea what a Military School was about,” says Gopi. “Nonetheless, I put up my hand to write the test. I needed to get there, whatever thing it was. There is a famous poem by Kannada poet Narasimhachar: Beyond the temple, beyond the woods, beyond the border, let us go for new lands yonder.

WHAT'S YOUR BIG IDEA:  G R Gopinath, founder of Deccan 360 (left), with Subroto Bagchi.

In that spirit, I raised my hand.”

“What was your father’s reaction,” I ask.

“He let me try,” replies Gopi. “He had just one refrain for me: In life, if you become a cobbler, be the best cobbler in the world.”

When Gopi sat for the examination, it was quite another story. He blanked out. He had been studying in a Kannada school. It was one thing to recite Wordsworth at home, quite another to write a math and science test in English for a competitive entrance examination at a national level. Gopi felt humiliated.

When he returned, he told his headmaster all about it. The man was visibly angry; he wrote an impassioned letter to the Defence Ministry that it was a shame they were testing children in English in rural areas and equating English with intelligence! Someone within the stone walls of Delhi’s bureaucracy actually heard the voice and lo and behold, allowed Gopi to take the test again and this time, it was in Kannada! Gopi passed the test to eventually join the Indian Army.

“From the act of my Head Master, I learnt my first major lesson in dealing with the world. He taught me not to take ‘no’ for an answer,” says Gopi.

I interject: “Going forward, what was the most amazing lesson for you once you joined the Army?”

The Captain continues. “Just as I was graduating in 1971, the Bangladesh War broke out and my training was cut short. I was all of 20 and I went to Sikkim where my unit was. The war made me question certain fundamentals of life for the first time. I am amazed how for millions of highly competent people who could bring great value to life, things get reduced to just waiting for the next promotion. I thought I could do better! I quit the Army and came straight to my village. I told my father that I wanted to become a farmer! He told me that farming was tough and that he did not want me to grieve down the line and then give it up half way!”

Gopi went full throttle, nose up. He literally pitched a tent and started farming a fallow piece of land the family had got as compensation from the government. In the process, he also learnt about organic farming and more importantly the meaning of the term, ‘low cost’ which was to become a defining characteristic of the man in the making. Recognition came his way. He got the Rolex Award for his work.

He married and had two daughters with wife Bhargavi. Life was on an even keel until one day, while leading a delegation of farmers to China, he came across the story of a Vietnamese woman helicopter pilot who had returned to her motherland after decades of life as a refugee and had started a helicopter company. That story hit Gopi hard because only days ago, he had been pained to see his long-time Army buddy Sam join a courier company in an administrative position.

“Sometimes in life, decisions are made before decisions are taken,” he says. “I knew that moment what I was going to do on my return. Sam and I were going to start a helicopter company. We had no idea how much one cost. If we did, we would not have started the business.”

“From that business, you went on to build India’s most talked about low-cost airline. You made ordinary Indians fly. Where people saw poverty, you saw prosperity. How do you do that,” I ask.

He says, “In Kannada, there is a saying: ‘if you have an abscess in your palm, you do not need a mirror to see it’. One day while flying on a helicopter to Goa, I saw it all. As we flew low, I saw hamlet after hamlet. Each one had a dish TV antenna on top. In that moment, I saw that this was not a country of a billion people waiting to be subsidised and fed. This was a country of a billion people wanting to fly!”

“Now that you have sold that company to Kingfisher’s Vijay Mallya, where is the abscess in the palm,” I ask.

“I sold the company because, at that time, it was the right thing to do,” says Gopi. “But talking about seeing the obvious, look at what was happening every day at Air Deccan. If my aircraft needed a part in Guwahati, it was easier to fly it from Toulouse to Mumbai than from Mumbai to Guwahati. For taking India to her destiny, things and not just people must move at great speed. If poor logistics was hitting me, it was hitting thousands of other entrepreneurs who needed to move things. The time to build Deccan 360 was NOW.”

Hmmm. Logistically speaking though, I needed to leave now for my daytime job at MindTree but I did have one last question for the man who sees tomorrow.

“Tell us, who is Captain Gopinath? How do you see the man in you?”

“I think I am still dreaming -- sometimes the dream takes over,” he replies. “Even before I realised, I had set up Deccan 360. I am a man who is rising and falling, and rising and falling, and rising again!”


“We had been very reluctant to try Deccan 360 initially. But once we did, we were thoroughly impressed. They diligently handled our critical, time-bound shipment and delivered it as per their commitment....”.

© Deccan 360, 2010. All Rights reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Sitemap
Disclaimer: is our only corporate website. For any suggestions or feedback please write to

Popup Module

This is the Popup Module feature. Assign any module to the popup module position, and ensure that the Popup Feature is enabled in the Gantry Administrator.

You can configure its height and width from the Gantry Administrator.

More Information