A past Editor of the CPM’s official mouthpiece, Deshabhimani, the late V.T. Induchoodan, had propounded the theory that the absence of a clearly identifiable “Vaishya” class was the reason for the lack of entrepreneurship in Kerala in comparison to other States.
A widely respected voice during his time, Induchoodan passed away in 2002 . His views are disputable but it is a fact that the State has been a backyard for Indian business and enterprise and not its foreground. Indian big business has always been a phenomenon of the West and the North with a smattering of industrialists coming from the East and from Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka.
As a coastal State, parts of Kerala had trade relations with the Arabs, the Jews and the Chinese but in the last century very few businessmen made a mark at the national level from the State. The strong Left movement, which focused more on equity. It was anti-growth, especially if these impulses were to come from established industrial houses, who were seen as “capitalists”. This continued till towards the end of the 20th century.
With liberalisation in 1991, the winds of change started blowing across Kerala too. In the last 30 years and more, there have been wellsprings of business acumen, entrepreneurial spirit and industrial enterprise in areas as diverse as Information Technology, Retail Trade, hospitality, Medicare, jewellery, stock-broking and oleoresins. Many of them are what can be called mid-corporates but the unifying thread among them has been a slow and steady build-up of their trade with good governance and strong ethical principles.
Some, of course, started their journey in Kerala but made a mark elsewhere in India.
R.Roshan, a prominent business journalist in the State, has had a ringside view of the growth of these businesses. Totally clued in on to the growth stories of the entrepreneurs who were behind these success stories, he weaves a fascinating tale of 21 of them in his latest book “God’s Own Entrepreneurs”.
He writes with passion, empathy, great understanding and insight on all of them ranging from Yousuf Ali, Ravi Pillai, PNC Menon, Joy Alukkas to Byju’s Raveendran, K.E Faizal and Jyothi Labs M.P.Ramachandran. While those who track the markets and the world of finance may be familiar with their achievements in terms of balance sheet size and the bottomline, Roshan throws light on the persona behind the entrepreneur and how the grind up the ladder was negotiated by them.
Take Jose Dominic for instance. The late Rajiv Gandhi’s invitation to hoteliers to develop Bangaram Islands (part of the Lakshadweep group of islands) was taken up as a challenge and he built a resort there in 3 months flat in 1988. The design merged with the landscape and Jose Dominic turned that into his trademark, which he replicated in Spices Village in Thekkady and Coconut Lagoon in Kumarakom.
Nuggets like this line the stories of T.S Kalyanaraman of Kalyan Jewellers, MP Ahammad of Malabar Gold, Kochouseph Chittilappilly, C.V Jacob of Synthite, M.E Meeran of the Eastern Group and of Arun Kumar (Strides Pharma of Bengaluru). Also included in this very readable compilation are sketches of Kris Gopalakrishnan and S.D Shibulal, both among the founders of Infosys.
Roshan’s style is racy, direct and the typical newsman that he is, he looks out for the human interest angle in all these narratives. That Dr Azad Moopen chose his own name “Azad” at school. That he led a student’s agitation while at college and that he ran a small clinic on the ground floor of an apartment complex in Dubai from where the “Aster” empire grew.
Pamela Anna Mathew (the only woman in this group of 21), V.K. Mathews of IBS Software and CJ George of Geojit and MC Jacob of the Kitex Group are the others featured in the book, Roshan’s first in English.
God’s Own Entrepreneurs is a handbook of pen-portraits, for anyone caring to understand how contemporary Kerala’s animal spirits are shaping up. With start-ups and other businesses catching up, there is definitely scope for a second take on the same theme — there are at least a score more waiting to be written about.