I, Karthi Easwaramoorthy, sat with Naturals CK Kumaravel one fine evening for more than an hour just to have a casual conversation. He explained his journey from his childhood till his recent entry to politics. It was so moving and got the feeling of watching a biopic film. Big thanks to Mr. Kumaravel for sharing his insights on NGO, entrepreneurship, society and politics.
The below is from the conversation I had with him.
CK Kumaravel, who has never even written a resume, is a successful entrepreneur and a current politician, who caught my attention because his victories seemed to have an inside story that I wanted to know. Even at the slightest chance, I very well knew that his story would motivate me and I’m very sure it will inspire all of you (my readers) too.
“Life can be defined by a series of defining moments.”
Kumaravel, born and brought up in Cuddalore, strongly believed in the above saying because of his personal experiences. The first spark that ignited his business mind came when his father, Mr Chinnikrishnan, sowed the thought that all his three sons must be job providers and not job seekers. Kumaravel, the last of the three, took his father’s words seriously and prepared himself for it.
THE FIRST DEFINING MOMENT
“My father told me that the success of a business and English are related, and this defined my future life instantly.” He started while we were having a conversation.
As Kumaravel, a 7th standard Tamil-medium student, heard his father say that English is the most important language, he had fear pricking his confidence. However, he never gave up because of what his father had achieved and not achieved in his life.
We all know that Mr Chinnikrishnan, someone who did a lot of business especially in the field of Pharma products, is the founder of Velvette International Pharma Products. But how and why did he do it? I got the answers from his third son, Kumaravel, who said, “my father was travelling to Singapore on a business tour and on that tour he sought the first grain to start a shampoo business. One day, the shampoo bottle he had carried in his suitcase broke and this motivated him to introduce shampoo sachets, similar to how he sold the other pharma products. He bought the required raw materials, including machineries and started to invent a whole new brand of shampoo at the age of 45. Different combinations of shampoos were tried on our hair and finally, he found one and packed it into several small sachets with a brand named Velvette.”
Kumaravel added, “After my father founded Velvette, he looked at his whole family, us, and said that this will upgrade the level of our living. At that moment I knew that this was a changing point for my father and us.”
“You can count the number of seeds within a apple but you can never count the number of apples produced from an apple seed.” He said. Excellent thought process.
Chinnikrishnan considered himself as a “failure”, his family and the entire world thought the same when he passed away at the age of 48, as nobody knew that his apple had so many seeds of success in it. After his death, his idea sprouted out to be one of the biggest shampoo brands in the world.
Though Velvette stood deep-rooted on its own, its founder was still a failure according to him. This created an impact in Kumaravel and boosted his determination to live his dreams in the life he has. Kumaravel was 13 years old when his father passed away and his mother came up to him and his siblings, and said, “From now on, I’m your mother and father.” Kumaravel could not fathom the actual meaning behind his mother’s words but he understood that his family was in bad shape. This again defined him the actual life and the harsh realities that he needed to face.
SECOND DEFINING MOMENT
Kumaravel grew up and pursued his Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at P.S.G. College of Arts and Science. He hung out with a decent group of friends and attended various conferences and events at college. Once, he listened to M.S. Udayamurthy’s speech as he sat on one of those fine auditorium chairs in his college and experienced his second defining moment. Kumaravel stated, “Udayamurthy talked about Gandhi and about how a single man can make a difference. This altered my thinking from ‘how can one man make a difference?’ to ‘I’m that one who’ll make a difference.’”
After this inspiring incident, Kumaravel started collecting pebbles to build the bridge to success with more self-confidence, strength, determination and will. Another person who inspired him in the course of his success story was one of his professors, Mr Thyagarajan, who never carried a textbook along with him, not even inside the classrooms. His style transformed Kumaravel and moulded him into the great reader and speaker he is now. Once, Kumaravel was prompted to read Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” as Mr Thyagarajan had mentioned about it in one of his speeches. Though the book was lying in the hands of Kumaravel, he could not read more than half a page a day because English was a barrier. However, at times like these, he only let the thought of what his father told him about English linger in his mind as that was the main factor that kept him going.
THE THIRD DEFINING MOMENT
Kumaravel left to Chennai after his graduation and found himself discovering Landmark bookshop. He bought “Innovative Secrets of Success”, thinking it was a motivational book but later found that it was an audio cassette. So he brought home a walkman and started listening to the audio, which was easily comprehendible for a Tamil-guy like him. This inspired his spirits altogether and made him listen to it regularly.
“We never read a book twice but we listen to a song a hundred times.” said Kumaravel. He developed the habit of audio learning. He utilized his walking, driving and waiting time listening to such motivational speeches and thoughts, and slowly this habit engulfed his subconscious mind. He said, “This aided me in my toughest paths by guiding me in decision making, and enlightened me about the ways through which other great men and women faced certain struggles. It also helped my conscious mind on what and how to think in different scenarios. I became a wise man after developing the audio learning habit.”
However, Kumaravel stopped this fruitful practice for around two years due to his sister calling it a waste of time and money. But during those days he understood that “when your mind is not kept positive that vacuum will be filled by all kinds of negative thoughts.”
“Motivation is like taking a bath, which is why one should do it every day.” Kumaravel quoted.
Due to all these consequential factors, he resumed the habit of audio learning and reformed himself to the person he is now.
THE ANTHOLOGY OF HIS SUCCESS STORIES
Kumaravel seemed to be the man who had known life a bit better than any of his contemporaries due to his adherent interest and the ability to be mindful at all times.
“There was in fact a poster in my eldest brother’s room”, he said, “that read ‘A ship in a harbour is safe, but that’s not why it’s built for.’”
This further motivated him to join his brother in the business world rather than following the rat race that led to the centres of higher education.
In 1991, he shook hands with his eldest brother and looked after his business. However, by the end of the year, he left that working space and joined the business forum administered by his second brother, Mr C.K. Ranganathan. Till 1993, he worked with CKR. However, by the start of 1993, Kumaravel started doubting his own abilities as he saw his reflection fade away. He also apprehended that his words had no meaning and that he had no independent stand, which made him come out of the cocoon with wings that would make him fly.
In 1993, Kumaravel started his own business called Raga Herbal Powder, to seal his own identity in the business world. The first three years led his business to the hilltop with strong advertisements on TV and the best administrative practices, while the next two years were severe downhill, which instilled a sense of fear in him. Due to all of these complications, he handed over his business to CKR, which was when Kumaravel’s wife decided to start a business in the Salon industry called Naturals.
“A salon business was a taboo back then and many objected to it. Even my mom wanted me to join my brothers and lead a comfortable life handling their businesses. However, at that point, I had two choices in my hand: i) to lead a comfortable life or ii) to lead an exciting life on my own terms. I, indefinitely, wanted to lead my life on my own grounds and that is the reason my wife and I started a business and now it is the No.1 salon in South India.” Kumaravel commented.
He also said that “Parents are the well-meaning negative thinkers, who want their children to succeed without any failure, hardships or hurt. It is this fear that protects a child but also plucks away success from them. But I stood against my mom’s wishes and decided to take the tough road. However, during the initial stage, I was looking for a business that required fewer advertisements, small-scaled operations and scalability for me to join the company after some time. Considering all these factors, my wife and I went ahead with Naturals in Chennai.”
Now, Naturals is a 20-year old brand which makes a yearly turnover of Rs.350 crores with 480 franchises across India and Sri Lanka, among which 400 are women franchise partners.
“It took 20 years to become an overnight success.” Kumaravel stated. He also said that “Planned and accidental decisions shape one’s life”.
BUT WHY POLITICS AND HOW?
Kumaravel spoke, “After a certain point in my life, I reflected back and understood that I’ve offered a great life for my kids and created a successful brand for livelihood. Now, I wasn’t favouring the idea of adding another zero to my bank balance, instead decided to help reform my surroundings and community.”
When I asked him the source of motivation for his sudden change in thought, he said, “I once attended an award function hosted by Ananda Vikatan and that’s when Tamil Nadu’s No.2 group (Murugappa) stated that he has moved out 65% of his business operations outside Tamil Nadu in the past 16 years, due to political pressures. That’s when I started to think about what will happen to moderate entrepreneurs like me and the other common business population. This was when I decided to be the change that I wanted to have.”
Kumaravel said, “There’s no point in going to the Apollo hospital in a Mercedes Benz”, to explain how he wanted to lead a healthy and happy life rather than a luxurious and money-minded life as “money is like fuel or a car, it is neither the journey nor the destination. It is just a part of the transportation system.” This changed his course of action as he wanted to develop and nurture society rather than adding more gold to his bank lockers.
“Only when you have money for your needs, it has value. When you have it for greed, then it becomes meaningless. To live in a palace while others live in slums is not called a decent life, according to me, which was why I left the money-making prospect and decided to join politics.” Kumaravel spoke out.
Just when Kumaravel was about to join politics, he had a friend who told him, “The heart of an NGO plus the reach of the government plus the efficiency of an entrepreneur, combined together, alone can create miracles.”
This inspired Kumaravel to fill his future days with acts of fabricating a civilized society that creates, safeguards and transfers a safe, resourceful and beautiful society to its future generations, just like how Kamarajar did.
He also wished to chase what he wanted to achieve in his life, rather than filling his death-bed situation with regrets, just like his father. But at the same time, he desired to do what his father did, to sow seeds that brought a revolution in society.
TOGETHER, LET’S MAKE A DIFFERENCE
When I said I wanted to join politics to bring about a change, he said, “Yes, do come because politics is a taboo in India and only as a group, we can win over this sick situation. Money and power will make a person a slave, which is why we need to step inside the game of politics as a group and change the course of the existing political scenario.”
When I asked him for one last time about how he is so determined in his new dream of generating a beautiful society for the next generations, he said, “Our parents live through us and we live through our kids, so only when our kids lead a healthy, comfortable and safe life, we can succeed, else there’s no point. Right?”
“Right!” I said and cut the call but the thoughts he instilled in me are still echoing in my conscious mind and now I’m all set to right all the wrongs in me and the society. Now, it is your turn to reflect on the philosophies and life lessons that Kumaravel has taught and shared with all of us. Together, let’s make our society a better place to live in, especially for our kids.
“When you don’t see a future then what’s the point of the present?”
Read about other personalities here.