Ashoke “Bappa” Mukherji is no stranger to pressure. Soon after graduating from Vanderbilt with both an MBA and a law degree, he was thrust into one of the more challenging roles a budding young attorney could ask for—sitting second chair in a first-degree murder trial. It was his first trial ever.
When asked about the stress he was under, he laughs, “It could have been worse. At least I wasn’t the one on trial.”
Mukherji spent the ensuing years at a Nashville law firm, where he concentrated mostly on mergers and acquisitions. Advising clients on these deals suited his Owen School background, but he always wondered what it would be like to “move to the other side of the table,” as he puts it, and go into business for himself.
In 1997, with the help of two business partners, Mukherji did just that, launching a startup that manufactured recycled toner cartridges. That idea eventually blossomed into Guy Brown Products, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based office products distributor that had revenue close to $200 million in 2010. Mukherji served as CEO of the company until he stepped down last fall.
“At Guy Brown we differentiated ourselves from competitors by focusing exclusively on selling to large, geographically dispersed organizations and doing it better than anyone else,” he says. “It’s similar to what I’m doing today—studying the market and figuring out where our company has room to operate.”
The company he’s referring to is Gics Foods, a food packaging business in Greenville, S.C. Appropriately enough, this latest venture is all about pressure—albeit a different sort from what Mukherji is used to.
Under his guidance as CEO, Gics packages food into retort pouches, which are plastic laminate and metal foil containers that can withstand the high temperature and pressure used to cook what’s inside them. Convenient microwaveable bags of rice are just one example of this growing technology that’s revolutionizing not only how food is preserved but also how it’s prepared.
“We’re the first company focused solely on retort packaging,” he says. “That’s what makes us stand out.”
That, and of course, a bit of pressure.