‘I sleep just four-five hours a day’

M Karunakaran, MD, Teak n Oak, is not just a workaholic but a traveller, who wants to be in five places at a time

CHENNAI: Switching between two perpetually ringing mobile phones, M Karunakaran is having the busy weekday morning, just like any other businessman would have. The MD of Teak n Oak has quite an interesting turn of life, finishing a degree in catering and working with a furniture export company as manager of production till 2003, when he realised that Chennai needed its own furniture-making chain. He and his partner, K Balaji started Teak n Oak in 2007, and now 10 years and five branches later, they are the pioneering design force of furniture in the city. Here’s Karunakaran talking about his life-work balance, his Chinese food experiences and his plans for the future.

Sunish P Surendran
Sunish P Surendran

What is the most difficult part of managing a furniture business?
There are so many factors to consider as we are also manufacturing furniture. There is production, raw materials, sales and advertisements — the list goes on! I handle the production side of things — quality, design and everything else. We specialise in teak wood, the strongest wood in India, and sometimes also rubber wood from Malaysia.

What’s a day in your life like?
I work almost 24 hours a day! I start out of home at four or five am, visit all the factories and showrooms, and check if materials arrived, designs are on-going. I manage the 150 people working with me. It is almost 11 pm by the time I get back home. In fact, I attend customer calls too; from sales to doubts, and sometimes customers call even at 11 pm! That leaves me time to sleep for just four to five hours every day (laughs).

What do you do to relax?
I took yoga classes at Isha yoga in Coimbatore and now practise at home daily. The main thing is to relax, so I don’t believe in going to the gym. Whenever anything goes wrong with work, for instance a new design that didn’t turn out very well, I practise yoga to relax and think straight. I have also attended Infinitheism classes by Mahatria, which involves yoga and also self-improvement and introspection. I travel with my family at least once a year. I have a daughter and a son. During the holidays, we go to Malaysia or Singapore where we have relatives. We went to Mauritius, last year.

Favourite destination?
No favourite per say. But I found the food in China very interesting. Even as a non-vegetarian, some of the dishes available are really crazy! They consider the water snakes as fish, actually. And have so many varieties of pork. I have never tried eating any of that. It’s quite hard to adjust, actually (laughs). I sometimes survive only on fruits and juices, or take Haldirams mixes from here.

What is your belief in God?
God is the prime force of life. Without him, nothing would have been possible. We started our business in 2007 and we have progressed quickly in the past 10 years. I make it a point to visit Sabarimala once every year.
Success mantra?
Hard work is very important. Difficulties and challenges are common in business life, and not only in the beginning; it gets more challenging as the business grows. Adapting to the market is important. Nowadays online furniture stores are also coming up. Online sales won’t work for us, as we can’t handle the amount of production to cater to online sales as well, in addition to showroom sales. And also, I don’t believe in online sale of furniture. Because you need to see the furniture to know how it will fit in your house­ — the size and texture and feel of it. Though many find it easier and prefer it, it will mostly end up unsatisfactory.

Aim in your life?
We want to open more branches in Chennai. There are plans for Coimbatore we’re testing the market and time schedule planning now. We’ve made it an aim to start one store every two years, at the least.

If you were given a  superpower, what would you choose?
I don’t know, maybe a power to be in five places at the same time.

Inspiration?
Myself. (Laughs) I am a self-made man, and I focus only on how to improve myself further. If I want to do something, I will do it with full involvement and somehow accomplish it.
 
Anyone you would be grateful
for support?
My staff who have been with me from the beginning — that’s 10 years of loyalty and commitment.

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