Kochouseph Chittilappilly: The Wonder Man.
By Team KTE
"There's no greatness where there's no simplicity, goodness, and truth" -Leo Tolstoy
A highly successful self-made industrialist, businessman, serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, globe trotter and social activist, 69 year old Kochouseph Chittilappilly is a multifaceted personality, whose life is as intriguing as it is inspiring.
From V-Guard Electrical Appliances, Wonderla Amusement Parks & Resorts to Veegaland Homes, Chittilappilly has created winning enterprises with his razor-sharp business acumen, honest straight forward approach and an unwavering focus on quality.
With a net worth believed to be around USD 1.3 billion, he is an inspiration to every aspiring entrepreneur. In addition, his charitable deeds of voluntarily donating one of his kidneys at the age of 60, to a poor lorry driver caught attention of the world and has set a precedent in the field of organ donation.
Kerala Travel Explorer caught up for an interview with this man of affable demeanour who has led a life full of excitement, that shows no signs of slowing down. Excerpts:
On being a successful entrepreneur starting with V-Guard stabilizers in 1977.
When I started my business that was in 1977, it was a humble beginning. My intention was to start something of my own, since I was working in a small company at Trivandrum at that time, and that company was not doing so well, and my future had become a question mark.
So, I wanted to do something on my own, and I selected the voltage stabiliser as my first product. Initially, it was a very tiny setup with just two workers, but somehow people accepted my product, as it had some special features too. But, I cannot claim full credit for it, as you know the need for voltage stabilisers was mainly because of voltage fluctuations. So in a way, I think the electricity department of the government helped me; because of the never ending fluctuations, my business also started growing. So, that was the beginning (smiles).
On the concept of "Midas touch.
I believe there is no Midas touch. There were failures, there were definitely a number of failures and if I start talking about failures it will be a long list. But, of course, any of our successful enterprises, whether it is V-Guard or Wonderla or Veegaland, I believe our quality consciousness and the straight forward approach in our dealings with our customers, our raw material suppliers, our distributors, our stakeholders, and the kind of after sales service we provide - all matter, when it comes to being successful.
The story behind Wonderla
Wonderla was inaugurated in the year 2000 which was 23 years after starting V-Guard. In between, at V-Guard itself we introduced a number of products. We expanded our marketing to other states, first to Tamil Nadu and then to the entire south India. By then, we also had a number of managers and engineers, who were doing extremely well in their jobs. I always believed in people and their inherent strengths and gave a lot of freedom to my people, including our managers and engineers. So, even in my absence V-Guard was growing. That’s when I decided to diversify my business. I used to travel abroad once in a while and that time my children were young and school going. So for their sake, I used to take them to Disney Land, Universal Studios, and many other amusement parks abroad. After visiting these places, it struck me, why couldn’t we start something similar on a smaller scale at Kochi. That was the thought and it took around 3 years to fructify and Wonderla at Kochi was inaugurated in the year 2000. Now we have two more additions of Wonderla at Bangalore and Hyderabad also. At Bangalore we have a Wonderla Resort too.
“Whether it is V-Guard or Wonderla or Veegaland, I believe our quality consciousness and the straight forward approach in our dealings with our customers, our raw material suppliers, our distributors, our stakeholders, and the kind of after sales service we provide - all matter, when it comes to being successful.”
On implementing eco-sustainable practices at V-Guard corporate office.
Actually it is nothing much. But, since I was born and brought up in a village and studied in a village school, and since my parents were into agriculture, I lived my childhood days surrounded by greenery which I loved very much. So, when we decided to construct a corporate office, I was certain the building should have greenery. I thought, it would, be helpful, not only look wise, but also for the health of our staff members. So we planned it in such a way that all around there would be a veranda, with lot of small plants. And, I selected very ordinary plants which required very less maintenance. That was a big success. However, initially the architects were reluctant as they were apprehensive on its sustainability. If it was not sustainable, the whole building would look shabby. But, thankfully, it is more than 12 years now and V-Guard corporate office is still looking good and happy.
On donating his kidney.
It was around 10 years ago, when I took a decision to donate one of my kidneys. The reason was one of my distant relatives had this kidney problem, and observing from outside, I was aware of the complications and the family’s struggle to get a donor. The patient was a lady, her husband was a heart patient, so he could not donate. Her daughter was healthy, but their blood groups did not match. So, they were forced to look out for a donor from outside their family. I got affected by this happening and used to discuss it in my house with my family that I also wanted donate one of my kidneys to someone in need of it. My family was supportive and I consulted with some doctors, who said I was healthy and there could be nothing wrong in donating one of my kidneys. This made me happy and I thought I can donate one of my kidneys at least to prove to myself that I am healthy even at the age of 60.
Yes, I was 60 when I donated one of my kidneys to a truck driver and used to joke that it was a old 60 year old kidney. But, I am really happy, that the truck driver is still driving his truck with that old sparepart. I could convey the message to the society that donating kidneys was not a big issue and it was possible for any healthy individual. I have already completed 9 years after the donation and I am still healthy. I can do any type of work just like any other person. Medical science explains that nothing wrong in donating one of our kidneys. But, people are still reluctant to, because of unwarranted fear. So, with my donation, I could set an example and send out a positive message to all of them.
"Yes, I was 60 when I donated one of my kidneys to a truck driver and used to joke that it was a old 60 year old kidney. But, I am really happy, that the truck driver is still driving his truck with that old spare part. I could convey the message to the society that
On becoming an author.
To be frank, when I was in my school as well as in my college, languages were not my favourite subjects. I was more into technology. Languages were always my fear; in the sense, my grammar and my phrases would be always wrong. So the beginning was, when I started to write a column in our V-Guard in-house magazine, every time the HR manager requested me to write one. Then after many years he came to me saying: ‘Sir you have written and we have published so many articles by you - why don’t we publish it as a book?’. By that time five years
were already over, so they actually compiled it, edited it, polished it, added some caricature and finally brought it out as the first edition of ‘Practical Wisdom’.
Again I was writing in the in-house magazine and again after 5 years they found a set of articles by me and the second edition of ‘Practical Wisdom’ was brought out with 16 of my articles. In between, I got a person to help me in writing my biography too, which was orally narrated to him, and which he recorded, converted to text and brought to me as print out for editing, after which it came out as ‘ ‘Ormakkilivathil’. It has a second part too titled ‘Ormakalilekkoru Yathra’. Then finally, after my kidney donation, I authored one more book ‘The Gift’, which was in English. Somebody else helped me to write it. I only narrated it orally. It was recorded then transcribed into words and brought out as a book. If you go through any of my books, whether written in English or Malayalam you will find my language is very simple, because I do not possess much vocabulary, nor am I familiar with fancy literary terms, in either of the languages.
"At K Chittilappilly foundation we have started ‘Vijayee Bhava’ which is a training programme for young aspiring entrepreneurs. The idea which it shares is how to bring your company to the next level.
On K Chittilappilly Foundation - the notforprofit charitable organisation. Actually, years back I decided to start K Chittilappilly Foundation as a not-forprofit organisation, to help needy people.
We are mainly giving thrust to poor people for medical support. I believe that if a whole family is being healthy, it is easy to earn their livelihood. Because, in Kerala, as of now, daily wage earners are paid between Rs. 600 to Rs. 800 per day, for a normal jobs. So if both of them are working, definitely you need not support them. At the same time, if any one of them is sick, then there is a question mark. So we are supporting a number of people, especially who are in the below poverty line category. We are giving them medical support and support to their
children for their education. We are also providing housing support for a number of homeless people. I am happy to say all these activities are going on satisfactorily.
"It is fine to be an animal lover, but whether it is in USA or Europe, nowhere can you see stray dogs in public places. I am also an animal lover, and I am the one born and brought up in a village, but I don’t want the stray dogs in public places, I don’t want them biting ordinary people.
On Stray Dog Free movement.
Years back, our K Chittilappilly foundation was getting many applications requesting for medical help. When we went through the application details, we found many related to stray dog biting cases, and accident cases by caused by hitting stray dogs. So, that disturbed me, in the sense that why it was happening here in our country, why it was happening in Kerala. Whenever you go abroad you can never see stray dogs in public places. It is fine to be an animal lover, but whether it is in USA or Europe, nowhere can you see stray dogs in public places. I am also an animal lover, and I am the one born and brought up in a village, but I don’t want the stray dogs in public places, I don’t want them biting ordinary people, and those who do not have proper compound walls to protect them from the stray dogs biting their children, or cattle in their farms. Nobody was raising any voice against this particular menace and so I started propagating this message. But, sad to say, so far there is not much progress in this issue.
When I analysed it, I found in our country we have a law to protect stray dogs, and not those bitten by it. I believe it quite absurd, as it is only helping the interests of some pharmaceutical companies that manufacture rabies vaccine. India is place where maximum quantity of rabies vaccines are sold, because of the huge population of stray dogs. You will also find all these pharmaceutical companies that manufacture rabies vaccine are funding some agencies and obviously want the population of stray dogs to grow, and more people get bitten. So, you see it is a very complex issue. We fought against it through many ways, but unfortunately we have not yet succeeded.
A typical working day .
During the early years of starting my business, I was only 27 years old and full of energy. I used to spend lot of time for the business both in the office and in the factory. I would to reach the office by 9 ‘o’ clock in the morning to start my day. But now, time has passed. As I said earlier I have a number of managers, and engineers and I am able to delegate to the maximum level. That leaves me with enough time to do some charity works and social activities. But, my principle is, I have to be active as long as I am healthy and this year I will be completing 69 years of age. Thankfully, I am still healthy, productive, and spending my time very fruitfully.
All of my family members are active into business. My wife is active in another business division called V-Star creations. She is in charge of that. I have no role in carrying that business, because I don’t have any idea about fashion and such things. So she is managing that. V-Guard is being managed by my second son Mithun and Wonderla is being managed by Arun, my elder son. Their wives are also active into their respective businesses. So in my family all of them are engaged in some businesses, one way or the other. I have two grand children - one each from Arun and Mithun. I believe that everybody must be engaged, so there will not be any time for idle gossiping (smiles).
Kerala is a blessed place, because we have backwaters, we have beaches, hill stations all very close to each other. From anywhere in Kerala, we can reach the beaches, backwaters, or hill stations within a few hours or a few minutes. I never experienced such a beautiful state like Kerala, where everything exists close by.
Success-mantras to for aspiring entrepreneurs
Well, it cannot be told in a single sentence. At K Chittilappilly foundation we have started ‘Vijayee Bhava’ which is a training programme for young aspiring entrepreneurs. The idea which it shares is how to bring your company to the next level. So what we are giving is, some tips. If you need to be successful, there are some
tips not only from my experiences, but also from the experiences of some of my friends who are successful in their businesses. They also interact with the aspirants who undergo this programme. We also bring some leading consultants for them to share their experiences, and some effective trainers to teach them some new skills. It’s my firm belief that with knowledge and skills only can one take any business to the next level. For example, I changed a lot after starting my company. I came to know that, I had to improve myself and only then could I take my company to the next level. So, with this objective in mind, I have attended many number of seminars and training programmes in my early days. And, now I am trying to give back and share some of these ideas to the youngsters who register for this ‘Vijayee Bhava’ training programme.
Nothing much. You know, I have to retire, but I must be engaged. That’s why I started our fourth division of construction called Veegaland Developers. Now I am more involved in it, only to keep myself engaged (smiles). On planning any new forays. That I can’t disclose to you (smiles). I cannot sit idle and I need to spend my time in a productive manner. I give directions
to each of my divisions when needed. For example, at Wonderla or V-Guard, I never involve myself in the day to day activities of the companies any longer. The technology and all that has changed a lot from the time I started my business. So, I share something when they need any clarifications from my knowledge sphere. I am of the view that if you want to take your company to the next level, it is essential to inject information technology in every aspect of the company, be it in marketing, production, sales, HR or any other. We must also be on our toes all the time. It’s like being on a treadmill. The treadmill is always moving, it is sometimes not in our control, and if it is moving fast, we also have to move fast, lest we fall down.
On social media activism
Very recently only my facebook posts became so popular. I have around 7 lakh followers on Facebook. In the initial days, I was not that much active on Facebook. But later on, I decided that it is a good way to communicate a message to a large number of people and it’s a better forum to post my views on particular issues. Whether it is social, political or any other subject, it is possible to let others know my views within a short time frame. Now it is a commitment, I have to give my ideas on and off. But I have never used it talk about my personal life, moments or anything.
Agreed, we are far better than some parts of northern India. But still our beaches and backwaters, are not so clean. When we claim to be hundred percent literates, our civic sense, road discipline, etc calls for drastic improvement. The garbage disposal mechanism too, needs to be addressed more seriously. Our government needs to be more focussed on these things and needs to take initiative that individuals cannot.
On being a globe trotter.
For your information, I have an YouTube channel to share my travel videos and travelogues. A 15 to 20 minutes long video of every journey is posted on YouTube. If you ask me which is my favourite destination, I believe all the places are good. All the places are different. Whenever you go to any country you can learn or you can experience something different from other places, including their culture, their philosophy, their attitude, etc. That way we can enhance our knowledge too. That’s why I like travelling very much.
Favourite get-aways in Kerala.
In Kerala, because of its proximity from Kochi, I to travel to Munnar very frequently. Kerala is a blessed place, because we have backwaters, we have beaches, hill stations all very close to each other. From anywhere in Kerala, we can reach the beaches, backwaters, or hill stations within a few hours or a few minutes. I never experienced such a beautiful state like Kerala, where everything exists close by.
On developing the potential of Kerala Tourism.
There is progress in tourism. However, the problem is we are not utilising it properly. In every forum, I have given advice and my opinion on this. What we need to do badly is create proper infrastructure. Whenever you visit countries abroad, you can notice that the infrastructure is quite important. Look at our roads, and the traffic congestions. Unfortunately, in Kerala we have no good roads and we can’t reach any place fast. The other aspect is cleanliness. Agreed, we are far better than some parts of northern India. But still our beaches and backwaters, are
not so clean. When we claim to be hundred percent literates, our civic sense, road discipline, etc calls for drastic improvement. The garbage disposal mechanism too, needs to be addressed more seriously. Our government needs to be more focussed on these things and needs to take initiative that individuals cannot.