CHENNAI: You need to come home now. The family business is collapsing, you have to come back and do something to save us.’ These unexpected words, uttered on a beautiful Spring day of 1972 by my father, at a restaurant in Ithaca, changed my life forever,” writes Indian Kitchen mogul TT Jagannathan in his recently released book, Disrupt And Conquer. The book, co-authored by Sandhya Mendonca, takes us through the journey of how the TTK Group, founded in 1928 in Chennai (then Madras) by TT Krishnamachari fought bankruptcy to become a successful company.
Jagannathan, who runs the 90-year-old conglomerate, recalls how his entry into the family business was not something he had envisioned. “I was in Cornell and was soon to get a Master’s degree in operations research. My parents had come to visit me and one night, when I sat with them for dinner, my father told me to come home and take over the business. I was unprepared and wasn’t given time to prepare either,” he shares.
Vividly describing the turn of events, he writes: “I refused. I had never taken any interest in the business. I had not visited even one of the twenty factories that we had. I told Father, ‘I cannot do that. I am an engineer. What do I know about business or marketing or finance? If you can’t solve the problems, how do you expect me to do it?’”
Engineers as managers are a disaster, he tells us. “Engineers look only at the product — not marketing, HR or finance. I had to learn everything the hard way, from scratch,” explains the ‘accidental king’ who worked towards an invention — the Gasket Release System (GRS), which saved Prestige pressure cookers.
“By then, I was about five years old in the company. I was with my dealers and they told me that the Prestige pressure cookers were bursting. They took me to the warehouse and showed me lines of burst pressure cookers,” he narrates. On further examination, Jagannathan found that they had spurious safety plugs. “You get spurious food and other spurious substances, but a safety device that’s spurious? I had to come up with a solution and this led to the invention of the GRS. If I had not invented it that time, there would have been no company,” he explains.
The TTK group became the pioneers of condom manufacturing in India and set up the first ever factory, in Pallavaram, as LRC India, in 1963. “My father believed that India would require condoms and this was before the era of family planning,” he shares. Interestingly, about 80 per cent of women working in the factory were women. Were there any backlashes that the group received from ‘conservative Madras’? “Surprisingly no…the women didn’t have any qualms in speaking up about where they worked or what they did,” he shares.
Similar to the business tycoon’s journey, the book was unplanned too. “I didn’t intend to write a book. At an occasion, I was invited to deliver a speech about the company. When I did, there were people who thought that it was worthy of a book. I refused offers from about four people, but it was Sandhya’s persistence that made the book see the light of the day,” he says. Jagannathan spent four hours with Sandhya, where she would ask him questions, and record his responses. “The sessions flowed really well,” he says.
While there are several anecdotes in the book, that would make anyone nostalgic, the kitchen king isn’t one to walk down the path of nostalgia. “While narrating the journey of the company, at no point did I feel nostalgic. I strictly live in the present,” he states.
His advice to budding entrepreneurs is to never give up even on the verge of facing the most difficult problems. “Also, use your common sense; it’s the most uncommon of all senses. It’s the most important thing when it comes to business,” he adds.
(‘Disrupt And Conquer’ is available on amazon.in)