Work

Sabu Jacob: Weaving a change in the garment industry and beyond

V Sajeev Kumar | Updated on July 19, 2021

Building an empire: Sabu Jacob’s venture Kitex Garments, a 100 per cent exports oriented unit has now become the world’s second largest manufacturer of kids’ apparel employing 11,000 workers

His father taught him to be a good human being first and realise the importance of work. Sabu Jacob opens up about his success as an entrepreneur, passions beyond work and moving his business out of Kerala

* The late M C Jacob, who founded Anna Aluminium, gave him his first assignment at the family enterprise. He asked him to clean the toilets used by the 300-odd workers in the factory

* In 2015, Jacob made everyone sit up when he formed Twenty20, a non-profit charitable organization that he announced would fight the panchayat elections

* Ask Jacob who has now been a businessman for 26 years the qualities of a successful entrepreneur and he says, “My success is discipline and I will not compromise on it.

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Sabu Jacob, chairman of the Kitex Group, who staged a stormy exit from Kerala, has always tried to challenge the status quo. Perhaps it is to do with his unusual upbringing. He was in Class VIII when his father, the late M C Jacob, who founded Anna Aluminium, gave him his first assignment at the family enterprise. He asked him to clean the toilets used by the 300-odd workers in the factory.

"My second assignment was to sweep the floors of the factory and later to work on the construction site of the textile unit of Kitex. From the construction site, I moved to the factory as a mechanic, progressing as a weaver then supervisor in fabric making. This enabled me to become a weaving master,” says Jacob.

Practical Person

His father taught him to be a good human being first and realise the importance of work, says Jacob, who schooled at Kizhakkambalam village in Ernakulam district, and then acquired a degree in Economics from UC College, Aluva.

“More than an academic, I am a practical person, and very much indebted to my father for showing the greatness of each and every job. I continue to stick to his teachings even today,” he told BLink while recalling the journey of setting up Kitex Garments.

In 1995, Sabu Jacob branched out and started his own venture Kitex Garments, a 100 per cent exports oriented unit, that has now become the world’s second largest manufacturer of kids’ apparel employing 11,000 workers. The products find a market in the US and Europe. Kitex is a major supplier to Gerber Childrenswear, Walmart, Target, The Children’s Place among others.

In 2015, Jacob made everyone sit up when he formed Twenty20, a non-profit charitable organization that he announced would fight the panchayat elections, because he had got tired of the apathy of political parties.

Twenty20 swept the panchayat polls in his native Kizhakkambalam winning 19 wards. Last year, Twenty20 added three more wards to its tally but he could not replicate the success in the assembly elections.

Discipline is key

The charitable assistance given by his political initiative Twenty20 to the areas surrounding his company, was a large contributing factor to his becoming a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur award in 2015. “We have ensured drinking water, housing, infrastructure, development, food security and medical facilities for the people in the region,” says Jacob again crediting his father’s vision for this. He wanted to ensure sustainable growth in the surroundings of the company to bring prosperity to all, he says.

Ask Jacob who has now been a businessman for 26 years the qualities of a successful entrepreneur and he says, “My success is discipline and I will not compromise on it. It is not by force, but system driven,” he says. He points out how in his garment units you will not hear anything else other than the sound of machines.

Jacob, whose passion is deep sea fishing and has a collection of around 50 fishing rods, also enjoys long drives. “But not in India — in the US and Europe,” he clarifies. He finds relaxation in spending time with his family — it is a joint family setup.

He rues that Kerala is not business-friendly. “I never wanted to leave Kerala. But how long can one bear abuses and torture? The biggest thing one needs is peace of mind and I have lost it. I am not leaving Kerala, they are kicking me out,” Jacob had told reporters before boarding the flight to Telangana, which wooed him assiduously.

He said that he tried his level best to stay in Kerala but was forced to make the tough decision as the harassment was increasing day-by-day.

Ever since his political interventions, a slew of state government departments conducted raids in his garment unit alleging that various laws including environment and labour were being flouted.

“If it (Kitex) was in any other state, I would have achieved 10 times more than this,” he says, pointing out how it is a professionally run set up with multicultural employees. A Swiss heads the marketing, while a Punjabi is VP Business Operations. “We are specialists in making garments for newborns to two-year-olds,” says Jacob, adding that Kitex ships a million pieces everyday to the US market. “You will not find a single baby born in the US that doesn’t wear Kitex garments”. Besides, we have a license to sell lifestyle brands in the US market called Lamaze and Little Star.

Now, with the move to Telangana, he has a chance to catch up on growth.

V Sajeev Kumar

Published on July 19, 2021

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