Tuesday, July 10, 2018

R. Venkatasamy Naidu (Royalty Never Dies): First generation Industrialist

R. Venkataswamy Naidu was popularly known as RVS and he reigned supreme in the world of business for much of his life. RVS was born to the smart agriculturist turned entrepreneur V. Rangaswamy Naidu of Peelamedu and the lady with a golden touch Chinnammal on May 12, 1910. Peelamedu was the home to a number of black cotton farmers who had the gumption to take risks and therefore a number of them ventured into industry. Venkataswamy joined the Sarvajana School and subsequently spent some years at the St. Michaels Higher Secondary School before graduating from the University of Madras.

RVS went to England and pursued his B.Sc (Tech) Textiles from the University of Manchester. On his return he joined his father at the family run Radhakrishna Mills Limited. He was appointed as the "Manager" and the title stuck to him for life.

The great depression of 1929 destroyed many an enterprise in the US and around the world. The impact was felt in Mumbai and a number of business houses went into difficulties. This was capitalised by several from Coimbatore. Coupled with the availability of electricity from Pykara, it encouraged them to establish a number of textile mills in the region. The mill owners got together and established the Southern India Mills Association (SIMA) in 1933 under the guidance of Dr. R.K. Shanmukham Chetty who went on to become the first Finance Minister of independent India.

RVS became the Honorary Secretary of SIMA and he went on to achieve much during his tenure which lasted until 1947. He was the main spokesperson for the textile industry prior to independence. The jubilant mill owners recognised his contribution by elevating him as the Chairman of SIMA and he discharged his duty with finesse for 11 years until 1958. RVS took a keen interest in the affairs of SIMA and toiled hard for the industry. It was during his tenure that SIMA got a beautiful office in Race Course and the same was named as "Shanmugha Mandram" as a tribute to Dr. Shanmukham Chetty who had been responsible for the formation of SIMA. The RVS family run "Nava India" brought out a special issue under the stewardship of his younger brother Prof. P.R. Ramakrishnan in order to celebrate the inauguration of the new headquarters of SIMA.

RVS entered the social sphere and he very quickly assimilated much from Diwan Bahadur C.S. Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar, Dr. Shanmukham Chetty and T.A. Ramalingam Chettiar, the trio who helped Coimbatore evolve into a centre for enterprise and administration. Young RVS began by establishing himself with the Peelamedu Weavers Society, Peelamedu Milk Society, Peelamedu Housing Co Operative Society, Central Co Operative Bank, Coimbatore District Central Co Operative Stores among other things.

The sojourn of RVS with industry saw the establishment of Jothi Mills, expansion of Jayalakshmi Mills, V.R. Textiles, Ramakrishna Industrials, Nava India, and The Madras Aluminium Company (MALCO) at Mettur with the collaboration from Montecatini of Milan in Italy. He co-promoted Viscose along with the Lakshmi family and the other texpreneurs of this region. Later on he became the Chairman of EID Parry, SAE India, Herdillia Chemicals, Air Control & Chemical Engineering and Madras Industrial Investment Corporation (TIIC now). RVS did his bit for the society by establishing the Coimbatore Institute of Technology along with his brother during 1955 and today it's a world renowned institution. He was a frequent flyer on behalf of SIMA and also as a member of several FICCI led trade delegations which went around the world.

Thanks to his industrious nature he brushed shoulders with many eminent statesman and leaders of his time including Prime Ministers Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Sastri, Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai, Chief Minister K. Kamaraj, T.T. Krishnamachari, Bharat Ratna awardee C. Subramaniam, former President R. Venkataraman and former Chief Ministers M. Bhaktavatsalam, C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi and M.G. Ramachandran.

Eminent educationist T.V. Angappan recalls RVS, "My association with RVS was for decades and is truly memorable. He had the courage, grit, ability and vision that no other Coimbatore-based entrepreneur could dream of. He ensured that the south got adequate representations in the national trade bodies during the formative years.”

The huge godowns built by RVS near the Peelamedu Railway Station will stay another 100 years as a tribute to his pursuit for quality. He used to give milk free of cost to all the new born kids in Peelamedu until they were ready to eat solid food. Former Rotary Governor P. Jagadeesan remembers RVS: "He was an extremely talented industrialist with capacity, vision and the ability to make it big. He was quite hard working and got up by 4.00 a.m. and began the day in his large dairy farm. He considered it to be an auspicious beginning."

G. Muruganathaswamy of Gopalapuram was his protege and his opinion on RVS is sure to inspire the youngsters of today, "RVS was an innovator all along and he had a fantastic acumen. He had the capability to grasp concepts, products and processes really fast and he was among the earliest to suggest that the private sector should be given an opportunity to build and operate power projects in Tamil Nadu.

RVS was married to Kamalam, the daughter of R.V. Guruswamy Naidu of Udumalpet and the couple were blessed with four sons. It was through his brother in law G. Ramaswamy that RVS got to be associated with thespian Sivaji Ganesan. His huge bungalow "Kamala Nilayam" stands tall on Avinashi Road.

Shankar Manivannan, the grandson of K. Rangaswamy Nadar, shares the concern and affection that he had for kids, "RVS used to play tennis with his friends at the residence of R.K. Kandaswamy and also read all the newspapers in the company of his friends. He and his friends were quite fond of children. He used to believe that children should be taken good care of. While I was studying in Lovedale he used to direct the caretaker of his house 'Woodend' known as 'Kappal Bangla' to take the car, take me to the bungalow, serve a marvellous meal and drop me back."

The hard work and blessings of his mother Chinnammal was a guiding force and companion for RVS all his life. He was among the earliest to use sewage water for farming and also make fly ash bricks. He perhaps was the first to use modern techniques to harvest rainwater in our region. RVS took up the responsibility of managing Thirumurthy Mills, Kamala Sugar Mills, RVG Higher Secondary School, etc., which belonged to his wife Kamalam. The world of medicine saw him as an administrator while he headed an institution which took care of the medical needs of the people from Perundurai. He had the courage to put forth his views without fear or favour to the difficult politicians of his times. Though there was disagreement, ultimately the political administrators used to see his clear intent backed by vision and seek his guidance on a number of matters concerning industrial development.

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