Alay Mehta was ten years old when he first developed a passion for racing cars. He visited a local racetrack with his family in India, where he grew up, which sparked an interest in an automotive world that would shape the foundations of his career in business. Alay has since spent 17 years as a semi-professional race-car driver, winning numerous accolades from the Junior Rolon Championship and Infosys Limited.
In 2001, Alay won the Andhra Pradesh State Karting Championship. Flash forward to 2010, and he was scooping up a Young Entrepreneur of the Year award from the State Automotive Trader’s Association. His passion for tinkering with cars, racing them, improving their performance and most importantly, having fun with them, spurred him on to study Mechanical Engineering at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, nestled in the northwest fringe of Hyderabad city, India.
Many MBAs begin their business careers as engineers, but few among them can boast of founding their own automotive racing company. In 2006, soon after studying to be an engineer, Alay was soon managing 23 of them. Out with the textbooks, and in with the construction of hybrid-engine racing cars. “My father used to work with a government organisation in India and we used to roam around the country a lot,” Alay explained.
“So for me, a (normal) job was not very attractive: it was always business and I started my first racing team when I was in my third year of my undergraduate degree. Since then I’ve just been into that business-mode.”
With his mind clear-cut on a career in business, Alay founded his first start-up company, Aleron Motoracing. For two years Alay was the Manager and Team Principal, overseeing operations in a local Indian car racing championship. Alay developed Aleron's race day strategies and won the Junior-Rolon Championship in the team's debutante year. “That’s how it all started,” he says.
Before studying at the prestigious Manchester Business School (MBS) in the North of England, Alay worked as a Senior Engineer for Infosys Technologies Ltd in 2008. The future MBA won the ‘Best Rookie’ award after managing a team of five engineers, who worked alongside two leading airplane manufacturing companies, The Boeing Company and Airbus SAS, both big industry flyers.
In November 2009, Alay secured the job of Strategy and Business Development Manager at Hira Exports, a family company where his uncle works. He first began working for the company as a “delivery boy” in 2002, but seven years on and the Manchester MBA had completed a meteoric rise through the rankings. “While I was in school, raising me was very expensive,” Alay said. “So to get that extra money I had to do something part-time apart from school and college, so I joined the family business, did some jobs, started as a delivery boy and got to know and then understand the business much better, first hand.
“It just kept on growing, and when I was in my first year of undergrad, my uncle, who is a Partner at Hira Exports, said they were looking to grow internationally and offered me the chance to you do some business development.
“He said: ‘Develop a start, let me know about it and we will expand overseas’. We started with Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Now we supply everywhere.”
Alay also founded separate company branch, Aleron Design Solutions, which “took off” in 2009. Both branches of the company are based in India. “Aleron motor Sports and Aleron Design Solutions both started together but Aleron Solutions came to life much later, in 2009,” he explained. “So 2009 was when I really got into designing, providing and manufacturing cars.”
The self-confessed "petrol head" said the biggest challenge to starting his own automotive company has been staying ahead of technology in a hugely competitive industry. “It has always been staying ahead in technology, getting customers, and convincing them because automotive business is very competitive,” he said.
“It’s very hard to make people believe in your product, especially in a country where nobody believes in motorsport or automotive technology. In India its more about having a car which is cheap and gives a lot of mileage.
“When we speak about hybrid, speak about custom-design cars, which are a bit expensive, it’s difficult to get customers in. That was a very big challenge: establishing the company nationwide.”
But Alay’s automotive business is expanding. So much so, that he chose to study an MBA 4000 miles from the company’s Indian base to expand internationally. He chose Manchester primarily to understand how the automotive industry works in Europe. Half-way through the 18 month, full-time MBA program at MBS, Alay says that he has made contacts with big-name car companies such as Honda and Mercedes. With the help of senior MBS alumnus Kevin Johnson, a long-time automotive businessman, Alay has “opened doors to the industry” and Kevin has “helped me with contacts and different companies”. Alay describes Kevin as his biggest influence at MBS so far.
Alay is president of the MBS Entrepeneurship Club and says that the responsibilities have helped him with setting up his own business. “It has helped a lot,” he said, “in a much better way, because we have connections and links with some of the prime solicitors and investors throughout Manchester and the North West of England.
“The primary reason why I came to Manchester was to explore more areas, because the business which I had back in India wasn’t clicking well. I was doing well nationwide but then if I were to expand internationally, I didn’t have the required skill.
“The automotive industry in the UK is actually the best place to be… the UK and Germany.”
Alay’s brother has been minding the company while he completes his MBA overseas and once he graduates, Alay hopes to see some of the companies cars displayed at top motor shows. They are even in talks with the producers of Top Gear - the twenty-series long motor vehicle TV show that is watched in 170 different countries - to get a car displayed on-set.
The brothers hope to see the business grow in India. But Alay isn’t done with the UK yet. He added: “Currently I am doing some projects with some of the premier automotive companies in the UK, based on my ideas.
“So, I am planning to apply for an Entrepreneurial Visa once my studies finish.”