An accidental businessman

Vinay Kamath | Updated on February 01, 2021

Kitchen king: TT Jagannathan, Chairman, TTK Prestige Ltd   -  Businessline

Back in 1972, when TT Jagannathan, a gold medallist from IIT Madras, was doing his PhD in operations research at Cornell University, with dreams of becoming an academic, his parents, TT Narasimhan and Padma, visited him in New York.

As he described to this writer in an interview in July 1986, that was a life-changing moment for him. The family business was collapsing and his father urged him to come back and save it. “It was a shock to me to discover that we might be in the poorhouse,” he recalled. At the time only three companies in the group were doing reasonably well. Sixteen companies were incurring a net loss of ₹80 lakh. “My father just said, ‘It’s your baby now’”. Jagannathan returned to Chennai in 1972 and turned around the TTK group “with a huge dose of common sense”, as he puts it.

If Jagannathan’s entry into business was accidental, years before, the TTK group’s foray into manufacturing, too, was serendipitous. As Jagannathan mentions in his book Disrupt and Conquer, TT Krishnamachari founded the group as a distributor of Lever products such as Sunlight and Lifebuoy soaps in 1928. Later, it added products of Beecham and Cadbury’s. By the mid-1940s, TTK & Co distributed over 150 products.

Meanwhile, Krishnamachari entered politics in 1939 and left the group in the hands of his son TT Narasimhan. In 1952, as minister for commerce and industry in PM Nehru’s Cabinet, one of his first acts was to ban the import of non-essential consumer products as the country was short of foreign exchange. In one fell swoop, his son’s distribution business was cut at the core. Narasimhan then decided that TTK would become a manufacturer of consumer goods. Waterman’s inks, Pond’s face powder, Woodward’s gripe water and Prestige pressure cookers were its first four products.

Published on February 01, 2021

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