Click here for more...

Madras Musings wishes all its readers a very Happy New Year!                      (ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 18, January 1-15, 2013
Centenary recollections
Three pioneers of industrialisation


T.S. Santhanam, one of the five sons of the founder of the TVS Group, T.V. Sundram Iyengar, is remembered for his pioneering contribution to the transport sector. For over six decades he was closely involved with the development of the transport industry in the South.

T.V. Sundram Iyengar pioneered the public bus transport service a hundred years ago in Madurai. His sons, T.S. Rajam, T.S. Krishna, T.S. Santhanam and T.S. Srinivasan (the other son T.S. Duraiswamy died early), worked together to expand the base laid by the founder.

The growth of TVS group was organic: from bus service to parcel service, body-building, tyre retreading, dealership of vehicles, distribution of auto components and, from 1962, manufacture of auto components, parts, sub-assemblies and two-wheelers.

The first two of the Padi units – Wheels India Ltd. and Brakes India Ltd. – were managed by TSS. Axles India Ltd was added to this later. These companies together evolved as a strong Tier I supplier for the booming automobile industry.

T.S. Santhanam moved to Chennai in 1936 and spearheaded the Group's entry into the automobile spare parts trade. Madras Auto Service and India Motor Parts & Accessories emerged as large and reliable distributors and dealers of a vast range of auto components. TVS & Sons and Sundaram Motors emerged with a strong reputation as dealers of utility vehicles, trucks, buses and cars.

At a very early stage, TSS identified the need for financing vehicles and insuring them. And so emerged Sundaram Finance Ltd. (SFL) and Madras Motor and General Insurance Co Ltd. (MMGI). Through his personal involvement, TSS encouraged thousands of aspiring young men to acquire vehicles on their own, using the easy financing options offered by SFL and backed by the trust built by TVS for fair dealings. SFL emerged in quick time a leader in transport finance.

TSS's foray into insurance suffered when the general insurance sector was nationalised in 1974. But TSS bounced back once the sector was again opened up in 2000 and Royal Sundaram General Insurance was set up.

TSS was closely involved in the evolution of the country's transport policy. He was associated with several committees set up by the Government on transport development, such as the Indian Roads and Transport Development Association, and those by dealers, such as the Federation of Automobile Dealers' Association.

I remember TSS taking the initiative to organise a State-wide meeting of transport operators in 1968. M. Karunanidhi, then Minister of Transport of the DMK Government, proposed nationalisation of the passenger transport services. At the massively attended meeting at the SGS Sabha Hall in T'Nagar, TSS made a firm plea for a fair deal to the operators who had worked hard to develop the industry over several decades. Southern Roadways bus service in Madurai was naturally among the most prized of the State's acquisitions. TSS, reconciled to the inevitable, made sure that the terms of nationalisation were fair and honourable. The base laid by the private operators had enabled the State Bus Transport Corporations to grow rapidly. 45 years later, even today, Tamil Nadu maintains a fair reputation for widespread bus service.

TSS will also always be remembered for setting up the Sundaram Medical Foundation (SMF) as a community multi-speciality hospital in Anna Nagar. Liberally funded by the Sundaram Finance Group of Companies, SMF has evolved as a boon for the sprawling community in the western part of the city, offering quality medicare at modest prices.

... TSN

So two decades from the mid-1940s, T.S. Narayanaswamy made a rich contribution to the industrial development of Tamil Nadu. I remember a document, 'Progressive Madras State', produced by him for the Hindustan Chamber of Commerce in the mid-1960s, as an excellent record of the state of development of the State and an outline of a route map for its future.

Those were the years when a new generation of entrepreneurs surfaced in Tamil Nadu with nothing other than their rich intellectual capital to offer. These enterprising men, strongly supported by the State Government and the Centre, and with its visionary leaders like Rajaji, K. Kamaraj, R. Venkataraman and C. Subramaniam, helped the State emerge strong in economic development.

TSN showed his mettle at the Indo-Commercial Bank headed by S.N.N. Sankaralinga Iyer of Tirunelveli. His suavity, untiring energy and rich capability for networking and interaction with policymakers were great assets. With his mentor, Sankaralinga Iyer, TSN boldly ventured into the manufacture of cement. They mobilised resources of around Rs. 5 crore (a pretty large sum in those days), through widely dispersed shareholders and set up a plant at Tazhaiyuthu in southern Madras. Iyer's son K.S. Narayanan tied up technology collaboration with Denmark, and India Cements Ltd. (ICL) soon emerged as the largest producer of cement in the South.

TSN looked for opportunities in various other directions and worked closely with several other business leaders of the region to embark on a wide range of enterprises.

In the production and distribution of calcium carbide, he involved V.D. Swami. Working closely with K.S. Narayanan, C.S. Loganatha Mudaliar and J.H. Tarapore, he set up the first major shipping company in the South, the South India Shipping Corporation Ltd. which acquired six ships. He should have been inspired by Dr. Jayanti Dharma Teja in negotiating the purchase with zero down payment! He named them in Tamil with such names as Chennai Oakkam, Chennai Perumal, and Chennai Sadanai. With K.S. Narayanan, he also identified the prospects of manufacture of PVC based on agro-chemicals: Chemicals and Plastics India Ltd. soon emerged as a pioneer in this area.

TSN was the public face of Industry. He was actively involved in the successful conduct of the World Tamil Conference and the National Games hosted by Tamil Nadu Government.

TSN died suddenly in early 1968 at the age of 57. Some two decades later, TSN's son N. Srinivasan took control of ICL.

... and SSN

S. Sankaranarayanan (SSN), a multifaceted personality, boldly experimented with a variety of businesses. and thus Super Auto Forge (SAF) sprouted on the base created by him.

Born in Rajamadam, SSN did his Maths (Honours) at Bishop Heber College, Tiruchi. He opted for self-employment and experimented with a variety of businesses that ranged from selling footwear to tailoring, civil contracts, printing, leather tanning and manufacture of drum and kegs for packaging.

During the war years, SSN supplied clothing for the Army through two units in Salem and Madras, and followed this through civil contracts in association with his brother-in-law G.R. Narayanaswamy. In the following years , he set up a printing unit. This was followed by import of barks for leather tanning. This business, however, collapsed due to a crash in prices.

In the early 1950s, SSN set up a unit in Guindy to manufacture steel drums, kegs and cans for packaging. His mathematical brain and his expertise in getting the best out of leather skins and clothing helped him emerge quickly as a leader in this business. Companies like MRF and Addison Paints became his prized customers and, in less than a decade, his unit in Guindy emerged a leader in packaging materials.

SSN had an innovative spirit. I remember his designing transformers for his factory, all on his own. He was equally at ease experimenting with indigenous herbs and country ingredients for the preparation of exotic indigenous medicines.

In the 1960s, he opted to retire and closed down the flourishing unit. He rewarded his employees handsomely, bequeathing the machines and clientele to them.

Worried over the numerous obstacles in running a business, he desired his two sons to opt for service. The elder one, Vasudevan, after his postgraduation in commerce, joined the Indian Air Force. SSN's younger son Seetharaman qualified as a mechanical engineer. He had an irrepressible desire to set up an engineering unit on his own.

SSN's interests were wideranging, from Carnatic music to healthcare and social service. He was President of the Social Service Centre, Mambalam. A close friend of M.C. Subrahmanyam, he liberally donated funds to the Public Health Centre.

Keenly aware of the hardships suffered by middle class households, SSN set up the Shankar Benevolent Foundation with his own funds. SBF funds higher education for meritorious students, irrespective of caste and creed. So far over 300 students have received SBF's scholarships to complete collegiate education. At any given time over 30 students receive scholarships. The corpus is expanded with munificent contributions from SBF. The grateful beneficiaries not only return the amounts funded, but also liberally contribute to the corpus. Several of them are today in top executive positions in India and abroad.

SBF's average annual spend is around Rs. 15 lakh. In addition to this, SBF directly contributes around Rs. 20 lakh a year to some of the well-run health centres in and around Chennai. To mark the birth centenary of SSN this year, SBF and SAF together have planned to donate around Rs. 100 lakh during this financial year. Vasudevan has been managing this benevolent work initiated more than three decades ago.

To think that this initiative was taken up way ahead of the focus on CSR that's so widely discussed today! – (Courtesy: Industrial Economist).

Please click here to support the Heritage Act

In this Issue

How about a Festival of Chennai?
Are things moving again in the Poonga?
Bharati complains about the Police
In-Sight into ensuring better eye-sight
A memorial to a life of service
Three pioneers of industrialisation
18th Century Madras Lockyer saw

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


Download PDF

Back to Archives

Back to current issue...