TV Sundaram Iyengar: a business leader with a socialist vision

The formalization of the agreement to divide the $ 8.5 billion TV Sundaram Iyengar and Sons Ltd, popularly known as the TVS Group, into a group of free independent holding companies marks the end of an era for one of the companies oldest and most important in India. preeminent business families.

In 1911, Patriarch Thirukkurungudi Vengaram Sundaram Iyengar laid the foundations for the group that would become an industrial power in independent India.

As a young timber merchant in Madurai, Sundaram Iyengar was fascinated by the shiny new cars that used to pass his yard at what seemed like a magical speed of 12 miles per hour.

He decided to import a couple of buses that could offer a greater number of people the experience of traveling by road at lightning speed. With two Dennis and Commer buses equipped with a chain drive that needed frequent overhauling and a top speed of 15 miles per hour, TVS started in 1912 what was perhaps the first passenger bus service in the country, between Madurai and Devakottai. The 64-mile journey cost a princely ₹ 4, but it came with a free meal.

In the days leading up to permits from the Regional Transportation Authorities and the Central Road Traffic Board, all that was needed to start a bus service was a complaint from a local police officer.

Within a year, passenger bus travel had become so popular that several new operators rushed and lowered fares to such an extent that TVS had to halt operations and switch to a new route, between Pudukottai and Thanjavur.

First diversification

This required TVS’s first commercial diversification. Since the roads were not built for vehicular traffic, the buses would wear out quickly. To reduce their maintenance cost, the only option was for the bus operator to double down as a highway contractor. By 1916, Sundaram Iyengar had begun importing and distributing Firestone tires and Ford and Graford truck components. In 1923, he became a sub-dealer of Chevrolet and that’s when TV Sundaram Iyengar and Sons was established.

In 1929, TVS secured a direct General Motors dealer for the Madurai, Tirunelveli, Ramnad, and Pudukottai regions. Despite the economic depression, sales beat expectations.

Sundaram Iyengar’s four sons joined the family business before they even finished school.

Of her three daughters, TS Soundram, a gynecologist, was a renowned Gandhian activist whose legacy lives on in southern Tamil Nadu. In 1947, Soundram and her Gandhian Dalit husband G Ramachandran started the model rural settlement, Gandhigram, based on the social and economic vision of Mahatma, near Dindugul.

Engineering culture

World War II required industrial innovations at TVS and sparked an engineering culture that would help the group win accolades such as the Deming Prize more than half a century later.

As gasoline freaked out during the war years, Sundaram Iyengar’s son TS Krishna (father of Sundram Fasteners President Suresh Krishna) designed and developed a gas plant to help power the vehicles with charcoal gas. instead of precious gasoline. At the time, TVS sold a whopping 12,000 units from the gas plant.

Similarly, to overcome a rubber shortage and cut its fleet’s tire bills, TVS opened a retreading factory in Pudukottai that would also make belts for Ford and Chevrolet. That business marked the beginning of Sundaram Industries.

Ethical business

The reputation of TVS transportation services was such that their punctuality became the gold standard for a nascent industry, as did Sundaram Iyengar’s ethical business practices and employee wellness programs.

Means and ends

Unsurprisingly, when TVS opened its new headquarters in Madurai on Janmashtami day in 1953, C Rajagopalachari, the then Chief Minister of the State of Madras, the Head of Congress of Tamil Nadu, K Kamaraj, and the Minister of Finance were present C Subramaniam.

Speaking of Sundaram Iyengar at the opening, CP Ramaswami, former Travancore Diwan, said: “Industrialists could be divided into two categories: those who were seeking dividends and saw industry as a means to an end, namely the accumulation of more. money, and those who viewed industry as a means and an end poured capital into industry and made it truly important to the country as a whole. Sundaram Iyengar, I confidently affirm, belongs to the latter category. “