The session started at 2.30 pm with a welcome and introduction of the Chief Guest by Sri.Roy John of EPGP 04 batch. Prof.Abhilash S Nair, Chairperson of Kochi campus, introduced the campus, its activities and profile of the students to the Chief Guest. He reiterated his expectations and the need for association of the business school with the business community for mutual benefit and development.
Sri.Kochouseph Chittilappilly, started his talk narrating the trigger point of his entrepreneurship. He, being a postgraduate in Physics, had applied for many prestigious jobs as like any other post graduates of that time, but ended up as a supervisor in a small company. As the company was not in growth phase, he had started thinking of an enterprise of his own.
He started his entrepreneurship journey with the product he believed he was good at- an electronic product, Voltage Stabilizers, for which he saw a huge market potential. Due to high voltage fluctuations, there was an opportunity in the market for stabilizers. The major players were Keltron and Nelco. He had priced his product more than that of his competitors. When the dealers were skeptical about the product and pricing he could convince them with his superior technology, aesthetic design and excellent after sales service. His confidence in his offering was exemplified by the 5 years warranty that he offered on his product. These factors placed his product in a different league and V-Guard stabilizers started capturing the market.
He shared the vision for being a successful entrepreneur and businessman: Firstly; he highlighted his concern for quality. He strongly believed that long term success depends on the quality of the products offered. Once you, the entrepreneur, have committed to quality of higher standard, the same message would be percolated to the managers and employees. The after sales service of 5 years offered by V guard was a symbol of the belief of the company on the quality of the product it offers to the customers. Also, we always need to exhibit higher level of transparency and straight forwardness while dealing with our suppliers, staff, and all stakeholders.
Secondly, he emphasized on capabilities to scale up. An entrepreneur, in order to take the organization to the next level, has to move to the next orbit of leadership. For this, he needs to consciously improve by investing in himself. One needs to acquire knowledge and skills not yet part of his education, in order to manage the entire gamut of an organization.
Thirdly, he emphasized that a key ingredient to entrepreneurial success is people management. V Guard now employees around 4000 people directly and indirectly. At this stage, the role of an entrepreneur changes from an initiator to a leader and motivator. They need to nurture and develop people in-house to take up responsibilities and positions. At V guard, people are continuously encouraged to lead and develop and undertake higher studies. The very people who joined as supervisors and executives are now heading divisions and verticals in V Guard now. These are people who were recruited with a modest educational background, but now, are managing business divisions.
He also detailed how he had continuously worked hard to improve his communication and management skills all through his life
Having elaborated on different aspects of entrepreneurship and management, he invited the participants to engage in interaction on various entrepreneurial issues:
Sri. Binu Jacob of EPGP04 started the interaction with the question, as what prompted the speaker to switch from electronic business to amusement parks and then to real estate, as they are completely different industries. Sri. Chittilappilly replied that after twenty years into electronics business, the business was developed and people with him has attained the capability of running the organization with the zeal and enthusiasm as he had, even in his absence. So he wanted to engage in some other activities. He described his visits to amusement parks such as Universal studio, Disney land etc. which had sparked the thought of starting such an amusement park in his home place, Kochi. Once back home he discussed this idea, selected the team from existing business and even an young architect who was new to this idea. He took them to various locations to have a first-hand feel and they could build and transform Veegaland as one of the best amusement parks in Asia. The Veegaland project was renamed as Wonderla in 2011. Today, Wonderla at Bangalore is the largest amusement park in India. Once he turned to 60, he wanted to retire from business, leaving the management to his sons. However, post retirement, he felt the vacuum and started thinking of his next venture. Veegaland Builders was born out of that thought. He emphasized the fact, that for a responsible builder, there would always be demand, even the market is generally dull, and they enjoy that goodwill.
Sri. Deepak for EPGP04 requested his views on man management. Whether to focus on strong points of an employee or to harp on weak points. Sri. Chittilappilly, replied that he always believed that there are people who are talented and skillful In the initial period, he could hire only ordinary people, but now they are developed and do extraordinary things in his company. People always need motivation direction and encouragement from the leadership
The next question was as how to deal difficult situations in business. Sri. Chittilapilly talked about some of the hard moments in his initial period of entrepreneurship. As his company was growing at a fast pace and orders were forthcoming, the trade unions announced strike in the plants. He was frustrated and disappointed, but he did not bow down. He thought of alternatives, and realized that much of the production can be done by lesser skilled people in different charitable and other institutions. He had started outsourcing three decades back. He advised the participants to face the challenges head on and fear of failure should not bother an entrepreneur at any point of time.
Smt. Nisha Binoy form EPGP 04 wanted to know, if there any different sentiments to women entrepreneurs. Sri. Chittilappilly replied that he had not seen any such different sentiments towards women entrepreneurs. He cautioned that unless we have real passion for a particular product or service, it is better to stay away from entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship should not be done out of any advises from consultants or friends, but out of real passion for the product. Also, in the initial days, our first priority should be business, second priority business, and third priority also business. Because unless the business grows we cannot support the family. So, it is imperative to put our heart and soul into our business.
As an answer to another query from a participant, Sri.Chittilappilly shared that even with a successful brand like V Guard, they can still struggle if they do not innovate and develop newer product lines. He emphasized, “So in business, every moment we need to be alert and careful to maintain on our competitive advantage.”
After elaborate discussion the interactive session was concluded by 3.25 pm. Sri.Binu Jacob had summed up the discussion and talk points and offered the vote of thanks to the Chief Guest and participants. Prof. Abhilash S Nair, had handed over a memento to Sri. Kochouseph Chittilappilly as a token of appreciation of IIMK, Kochi Campus. The meeting was concluded by 3.30 over a tea time.
The session started with a welcome introduction by Ms Vidya Hareendran of EPGP-04 batch. Prof Abhilash S Nair, Chairperson IIMK Kochi Campus gave an introduction about Kochi Campus, presented the initial address and emphasized the importance of hosting knowledge sessions.
Mr Mohanlal Menon started by recollecting his childhood days in Thammanam, Cochin, forming a local cricket club by the name 'Chettichira Cricket club', famous for their unorthodox playing style, power hitting batsmen as well as unpredictability of performance. Later he moved to Pune for pursuing MBA and worked at different locations in India and abroad in connection with his stint at Eicher, DuPont, APC, Dell etc. Currently he is a consultant advising many enterprises in FMCG, Consumer durables, Information technology, Biotechnology, Infrastructure and Private Equity. He is also an advisor to the Board of Eastern and was accompanied to the session by Mr. Firoz Meeran, Managing Director of Eastern Condiments Pvt Ltd.
Mr Menon mainly focused on the journey of Eastern Condiments, starting with how it was started in Adimali as a small shop business in 1960s to spread across Kerala as a most preferred brand in 1980s with 6 manufacturing facilities in India and 1 in the Middle East, processing about 47 tonne of spices, sending out about 16 lakh packets per day. He talked about how Eastern took a bold stance way back in 1980's in revamping their supply chain strategy, by deciding to distribute products directly to shop keepers, deviating from the conventional method of reaching through regional distributors. This was primarily to avoid stocks being held up for long in the supply chain. The challenge to convince the shopkeepers to move from credit purchase to buy and stock on cash and carry basis was overcome by creating a reverse pressure from customers who demanded Eastern products, which gave confidence to shopkeepers.
They encouraged entrepreneurship by giving vehicles to employees in the direct distribution channel, who eventually gets the ownership of vehicles after certain period. They were also given an Android phone with Eastern mobile app installed, that gave the sales team that track critical statistics about each shop keeper, which generated better sales and realisation.
Over the past few years, since the sales in Kerala have been steady, Eastern has been spreading over to other regions. This includes Maharashtra, U.P and Karnataka and Ras-Al- Khaimah, U.A.E. In the Karnataka market, Eastern implemented a hybrid model that succeeded against MTR, the home brand. In U.P, the sales model pioneered in 1982 of direct distribution and drew a starting monthly sale of 5 crore. They have been growing at a rate of 30%every year in these states over the past few years. The Eastern Puliogare masala they developed with real groundnut captured the real local flavour of Karnataka palate and became a great success.
Mohan Lal kept the entire session interactive allowing the participants to raise questions during the session, to ensure better participation. Some of the most interesting questions and his responses are enumerated below.
How he evaluates new ideas and ventures for investment as a venture capitalist, he hinted how Warren Buffet does it and said they specifically look for 1) the idea, 2) Energy of the founder, and 3) Integrity of the founder. He illustrated this with the example of CloudSek, an IT based firm into Artificial intelligence based risk management in which they have invested. He also pointed out the same characteristics of the idea founder made them associate with JackFruit-365, a venture for processing and distributing ready to consume products made from jack fruit.
About how he hire the right employees, he said that integrity was the most important quality that he looks for. He felt that high energy levels are essential to succeed in profession, Business or being an entrepreneur. He also stressed that, among many challenges they face in business, the right talent is the hardest to come by.
Asked about failure stories, he said that during the journey they failed more number of times than succeed. Had they failed less number of times, Eastern would have been doing much better than what it is doing now in terms of sales.
On product differentiation, he said even though marketing is important, it is not sustainable unless there is product differentiation and innovation. For instance, the packaging innovation of biodegradable packs by Eastern is now being followed by others. About challenges in sourcing raw material, Eastern is a net importer and he feels this is because of the show pace of growth in agricultural production especially in spices, against rapid increase in demand due to changing food habits and consumption pattern. Mr. Feroz, the MD of Eastern, added that sourcing was a big challenge and that they achieve this by means of contract farming and constant monitoring of the farms and processes. The session concluded with a session summing up by Sambhu Sasikumar of EPGP-04 batch.