This is the second and concluding part of TK Srinivas Chari’s review of my book. The review appeared in Madras Musings. The first part is here
In the 1930s, the seed for the giant Amalgamations Group was sown after S. Anantharamakrishnan, J to most people, became Company Secretary of Simpson’s. Among his achievements over the next 20 years were the setting up of India Pistons in July 1949, the first auto ancillary unit in India, founding Tractors and Farm Equipment (TAFE), and acquiring Addison’s, George Oakes, Higginbotham’s and Associated Printers.
In 1961, there came another acquisition. Control of T. Stanes & Co passed to the Amalgamations Group. But Eric Stanes continued as Chairman & Managing Director till March 1964. The take-over followed J’s visits to Stanes’ Coimbatore units and its Tudiyalur Manure Works. J assured both British and Indian employees in the company that their jobs would be safe. His promises were kept. In fact, the person who took J around the Tudiyalur Works, K.S. Hegde, is its Managing Director today.
J closely monitored the transition to see if his vision was being implemented, but did not live to become Chairman of Stanes. The hard work he had put in promoting South Indian industry took a toll of his health. After a heart attack in 1963, he passed away in April 1964. While M.V. Venkataraman, No. 2 in Amalgamations, became its Chairman, M.S. Ramaswamy, who had joined the Stanes Group in 1926 as an accountant, became the Chairman of Stanes. In 1940, he had been the first Indian to become a Director on the Board of Stanes.
On the business front, not losing focus on its growth during its transition, Stanes took up the dealership of the Jawa motorcycle in 1961. Jawa was being produced in Mysore under licence from Czechoslovakia. It was a vehicle ideally suited for estate managers in hilly terrains. Stanes also started focussing on distributing chemical fertilisers for food crops in addition to plantation crops. The start of the Green Revolution in the country motivated Stanes to use its vast dealer network and name to sell more fertilisers and distribute throughout Tamil Nadu pesticides imported and produced by CIBA Geigy and Indofil Chemicals (in Kerala and Karnataka). Later, Indofil marketed Stanes’ products in North-East India.
In 1966, J’s elder son, A. Sivasailam was inducted into the board of Stanes and was joined by his younger brother Krishnamoorthy in 1968. In 1975, Sivasailam became Chairman of Stanes.
The 1970s was the period when those in the Company’s higher echelons today joined the Company and witnessed its growth. P.S. Bopiah, Executive Director, Operations, recalls the tenure of the disciplinarian J.V.K. Rao, brought in from Indian Oil as Director and General Manager. Within a year of Rao joining, sales moved up from Rs.1 to 5 crore. Rao gave new entrant K. Sridharan (now Senior Vice President, Product Promotion and New Product Development) the task of expanding the dealer network. The expanding network saw Stanes moving into territories from Andhra to Haryana. It also saw the birth of the Consumer and Industrial Products Division. D. Johnson, now General Manager, Export Promotion, who joined in 1984, recalls then freelancing for Stanes because a good sales performer was rewarded with a Jawa motorcycle, a vehicle he longed for. Noticing that the farmers of Thanjavur were rarely to be seen in the fields because they were running businesses in nearby towns, he met them in the evenings and bagged orders. He not only succeeded in being taken on the Stanes’ payroll, but got his dream bike as well.
By the 1980s, Stanes could claim with justifiable pride that it brought to planters and farmers a wide range of trusted quality agricultural inputs and estate supplies, backed by friendly and expert service. It was a group within a group, for there were several constituent units. There was Stanes Motors, with its vehicle franchises and workshops, Stanes Amalgated Estates in coffee and tea, United Nilgiri Tea Estates in tea, Stanes Tyre and Rubber Products in tyre retreading, Stanes Tea and Coffee (the old United Coffee Supply having changed its name in 1986 to reflect the revised product mix), Indian Cashewnuts and Plantations (later named Stanes Agencies Limited) and, of course, T. Stanes & Co Ltd. distributing fertiliser mixture blends, pesticides and a whole range of consumer items. From 1977 to the 1990s, Stanes was also an exclusive dealer for Bata. Later, Stanes added other shoe brands when Bata took on more dealers.
In the 1980s, when the Government standardised fertiliser mixtures, many small companies entered the market, forcing big names to exit the business. Stanes, taking advantage of its mechanical mixing unit, stayed put. It also refused to reduce its prices. Its persistence paid off when the Government recommended that farmers could mix neem with urea for better results. Stanes quickly developed a pre-coated urea mixed with neem cake. This was branded ‘Amoga’ (amogham is Tamil for plenty and prosperity). Today, 70 per cent of the Company’s sales come from this brand.
Chairman Sivasailam gave a lot of importance to diversification and research and development. The shift from chemical products to organics and biologicals was a vital move the Company made. The creation of neem and botanical pesticides, micronutrient blends and biologicals to enrich the soil with nitrogen and phosphorous and control fungus, virus and bacterial diseases kept Stanes ahead of the competition and is the reason for the Company to lay claim to the title “Friends of the Earth”.
The Government of India also recognised Stanes’ R&D efforts in the development of ‘Nimbecidine’, a neem oil-based insecticide, with a national award from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Now, Stanes’ core business is bio-products. And for his contribution to this, Chairman Sivasailam was conferred a Doctor of Science (honoris causa) degree by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore. The credit also goes to him for spearheading the Herbal Tea and Indian Medicinal product range of the Company, which resulted from marrying, Stanes’ tea plantations and processing with modern technology. Iced tea, flavoured rose, chocolate, masala, cardamom, ginger-lime and lemon tea for the local market and 53 flavours for the export market are now available.
With the country reaching out to the world in the 1990s, so did Stanes, initially, to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A lucky break was the nod for Nimbecidine by the Environmental Protection Agency of USA. Today, Stanes exports its products to 30 countries, including Dubai, Vietnam, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya and even France where the chemical lobby is powerful.
Even as Stanes survived the vicissitudes of time, so have the Stanes schools started in 1862 (the Coonoor Stanes school was started in 1875 by Robert Stanes), thanks to the good relations they share with the management of the Company.
Initially, Robert made over some Company shares to the Trust of the schools to enable them to earn a regular income. Later, Eric Stanes, Sivasailam and others steered the schools in the right direction, with the help of good principals and teachers. In 2006, a statue for Robert Stanes was raised in the Coimbatore school.