The rags-to-riches journey of GR Shanmugappa

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on February 13, 2020

G R Shanmugappa. Photo: GRN Somashekar

Starting out as a porter at Bengaluru railway station, this entrepreneur, who has interests in trucking, coffee, agriculture and dairy farming, now has revenues of nearly ₹150 crore a year

India has produced many rags-to-riches personalities. One such is Bengaluru-based trucker-cum-entrepreneur GR Shanmugappa, who started his career as a porter in Bengaluru railway station. In fact, he had even inspired former President APJ Abdul Kalam, who hailed him as one of the ‘creative leaders’ of the country, at a function in Assam in 2006.

One of seven siblings born to a father selling beedi and tobacco, Shanmugappa, a Class X drop out, overcame poverty to become an entrepreneur with annual earnings of nearly ₹150 crore. He owns a fleet of trucks, runs a coffee business, does agriculture and also dairy farming.

In fact, in 2011-12 Shanmugappa became President of the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), the apex body representing nearly two crore transporters.

“When Shanmugappa was president of AIMTC, it was the Golden age; Gupta period of Indian industry," said AIMTC General Secretary Naveen Kumar Gupta.

During this period, he ensured that the National Permit fee was slashed to a tenth at ₹15,000. “Now, I am on a mission to make India toll-free,” Shanmugappa told BusinessLine. He is now General Secretary of the South India Motor Transport Association.

It was a four-decade-long struggle for Shanmugappa to reach where he is today. Hailing from Pudupettai village in Tirupattur in Tamil Nadu, Shanmugappa’s family struggled for a living. He studied in a government school but failed in Class X. Not to burden his father, one day he left home, walked 30 km to Krishnagiri and boarded a truck, which dropped him at the Bengaluru railway station; and there started his tough journey.

In 1971, as a porter, he earned 50 paise or ₹1 to carry a gunny bag at the railway goods yard. After a few days, he was sent to load and unload products at the Brooke Bond yard in Whitefield in Bengaluru’s outskirts. “I was desperate for food, which was good there,” he recalls. In 1972, he returned to the city to join Sasikala Transport along with his brother.

The first big step in his career was the decision to buy a second-hand military truck with his savings of nearly ₹4,000. He got the truck repaired. Then, with his brother as driver and he as the cleaner, the truck started picking up loads at the railway goods shed. He sold the vehicle for ₹22,000, and bought a truck for ₹40,000 to run a shuttle service between Bengaluru and Salem.

With trucking being his passion, in 1976, with savings of nearly ₹1 lakh, he bought a new truck costing ₹2 lakh with the help of a bank loan. “I decided that only after repaying the entire due, will I buy another vehicle to avoid additional burden. By 1985, we had six trucks,” he said.

In 1986, Shanmugappa started tea blending for Brooke Bond. From 50 kg, the quantity was increased to 100 tonnes a day over a period of time. However, to his bad luck, the factory had to be closed abruptly and shifted to Dharwad for tax exemptions, he added.

Brooke Bond, however, gave 10-15 kg of coffee for conversion into Bru coffee packets. Starting with 35 packets per minute, Shanmugappa’s company ― Rohini Packers ― gathered momentum and today packs 600 packets a minute. These packets are then distributed across the country. Started with just four employees, the coffee unit at Basapura now has 400 staff, he said.

Four decades ago, Shanmugappa did not have a penny in his pocket. However, today his annual revenue is over ₹150 crore. He provides employment to nearly 1,000 people across his business units. “This growth is all because of hard work,” he adds.

Published on February 13, 2020

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