Business Economy

A story of grit and determination

In a world where start-ups are seen as glamorous icons of business, it sounds almost cliched to talk of traits needed for success.

But it becomes awe-inspiring when you peep into the history of an industrial group — that traces its roots to an environment more than 100 years ago — and find that business acumen, self-belief, sheer grit and occasional serendipity all contribute to the success of a venture.

In the book ‘Integrity and Excellence, The Sanmar Story,’ author V. Sriram takes us on a journey tracing The Sanmar Group’s fortunes from the early 20th century till date.

Serendipity is when local rulers in the 13th century excavate a canal from the confluence of a couple of rivers, making it flow through the area from which the group’s promoters hail. This diversion caused fertility in a traditionally arid region, resulting in prosperity.

Business acumen is when the founding father of the group, S.N.N. Sankaralinga Iyer made his family’s banking business a formal organisation and invested in other opportunities — from salt pans, to ink and rubber. The last mentioned was through a company that was acquired. In an endeavour to make this profitable, his son K.S. Narayanan took the first step into chemicals, with which he and his descendants would remain associated forever, the book says.

One lingering theme in the book, across generations, times and geography, is that every other venture of the group has faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles — be they raw material problems, supply of power, delay in approvals, political interference or economic upheaval. Grit, focus and self-belief played a role in seeing these through, time and again.

Of interest is the story of its Cuddalore plant in Tamil Nadu. The group chose the location — declared an industrial area — to expand its PVC (polyvinyl chloride) capacity. When word got out regarding its plans, a rival group — that had wanted to set up a thermal plant 20 years prior, but which did not take off — made life difficult, the book says. The group had to deal with local mobs ‘threatening life and limb.’ “Politicians, civil servants, bankers, lawyers, people whose company we do not court normally, all came into play.”

At one point, a ship with imported raw material arrived but had to wait at sea for months. The group believed enough in the opportunity and spent ₹17.50 crore per month on this, till issues were resolved.

In all, a must-read for entrepreneurs who believe technology alone can solve all of the world’s problems.


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