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  • ‘I am always in quest of innovative endeavors’

    Published on August 22, 2010

    K  Balachandran Nair, the indomitable chairman and managing director of Universal Empire Group, is a natural-born mentor and a doggedly determined achiever.  Mr. Nair is certainly among the most reverentially talked about and regarded-with-awe business leaders. This Kerala born mogul is one who thinks big and talks straight.  In a candid talk with our Chief Editor Suresh Unnithan the tycoon recollects from his past and explains the present.

    As an established business leader how would you recall the commencement of your career?

    I am a learner with great appetite. This could be one of the prime reasons; I am always in quest of innovative endeavors. You may be surprised, in 1978 when I was just a teenager; I opted for a basic job in Jordan. And within a few months I grabbed another assignment with a British Company, George Wimpy. Might be they were impressed with my progress; the company on its own deputed me for higher studies.

    Back from my studies, in 1981 I joined them back as a chief engineer and later joined as project manager with Gondwana SPA, an Italian company.

    I can never forget Mr Mario Tripepi, then a director of  Gondwana.  He, like a blood brother encouraged and guided me in all respects and I always remember him with  gratitude .

    There, I came closer with the then ruler of Iraq Mr. Saddam Hussein and family.  You can say I was almost like a man in their family. I had free access to the Palace anytime.

    What was your first independent business venture?

    While in Iraq I was pondering the possibility of initiating a venture because I could sense the growing economy spreading the wings beyond boundaries and across the global spheres. I firmly believed, those who moved ahead with never-say-die-attitude would conquer the future. To exploit the emerging situation,  in 1986 keystone for Thaamath International, my first independent venture, was laid.  Thaamath is my family name.

    Thaamath International was basically into construction contracts- civil, electrical and mechanical.  It is a matter of pride for us,  we had the rare opportunity to work with the world renowned Asno Engineering Company of Japan for their Television Station project in Iraq.  With our goodwill and competence, we could establish ourselves as a compact company and  could executed some of the premium contracts in association with global majors like Hitachi Corporation of Japan.  In fact,Thaamath headed a consortium consisting global majors like Hitachi Zosen and Kellog UK to build the fertilizer plant no.4 at Baiji in Iraq. The saga of success continued unabated till 1990, when the unfortunate Gulf war affected the fortunes of many in the Arab countries.

    The war was indeed a setback.  I was forced to come back to India, with over 2000 employees.  But for a more confident return. I seldom allow any unpleasant incidents to overpower me and that could be the reason for my uninterrupted onward journey.

    In 1992, after the war, we returned. But this time to the war -torn Kuwait, with a firm resolve. The Kuwait administration seeing our track record awarded us with one of the major contracts of that time, Electrical maintenance of the country.  From then onwards I have never looked back.

    Nair never misses a chance to meet his school teachers

    Could you call to mind the turning point in your business life?

    I believe, setting up of Universal College of Medical Science & Teaching Hospital in Nepal, in the year 1997, provided the real breakthrough for me in my business life.  In fact, when started this venture it was just another project for me.  But now education is my prime passion.  Apart from this our group runs a complete school in Ambalapuzha, my home town and a community college under Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).  We also had established a complete medical college in the state of Agartala which was handed over to the government recently.

    Now I have a host of projects to work on. In Maldives, Sri Lanka and Uganda. In Maldives we are assisting the government to establish a state of the art education system.

    Back in India we have established an Aviation Institute to train quality professionals for the aviation industry.

    From my experience I am forced to admit that, the current education system in the country is unable to mould enough number of skilled employees. Our universities sent out graduates and post graduates who possess hardly any skill in any given field  Instead of this general education we have to impart need based skilled education. Such an approach could effectively solve the ever increasing unemployment problem in the country.  So, I prefer to give due significance to skill oriented education.

    What is the key to your success?

    My hard work and a competent team are the prime factors.  I always lead them from the front.  I believe in innovation.

    You might have heard of Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric. He has said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”  I believe in that.  As a leader my emphasis is more on deeds than words. I only appreciate quiet resolve and stellar achievement. Not any contrived conjecture.

    Like Mr. Scott Allen I also believe, a project is complete when it starts working for you, rather than you working for it. In my team mates are expected to possess a real knowledge of the company, empathy for its mission, and a genuine commitment to its goals and values.  I believe all my members have this minimum qualification.

    Have you any set goal?

    Yes. I do have.  In the next ten years I wish to see my group grows beyond boundaries. We need to become a model business house across the globe.  In our organization we create the right work culture. I am an elder brother to all of them.  As I said I lead them from front and they give in their maximum.  With this pace we will be able to achieve our set goal.

    Further I wish to contribute to the development of the agriculture sector in general and growers and peasants in particularly. Three fourth of our population depends on agriculture. I am seriously thinking of a project that can contribute to the farmers and farming sector.

    In the near future itself I see the possibility for a quantum jump in Indian economy and the agriculture sector will have a sizable contribution. I also feel India is soon to overtake all its rivals in the agriculture sector.

    Who would you consider your role model?

    No second thought, my father. He was such an impeccable human being with full of love and affection towards all.  In business I consider TATA as my favorite, thanks to their organized professional approach to details. They amassed their wealth from this country and was magnanimous enough to give it back to the nation in terms of a vast network of Hospitals, Educational institutions and charitable organizations.

    A happy Nair with the school officials: Well at home

    What about your likes and dislikes, strength and weakness?

    I hate gossip and eulogizing and  love people who point out my mistakes and shortcomings, not those who are waxing lyrical.

    I consider my network (network of friends) as my networth (asset).  They are  my real strength. I have, strong  and dependable friends across the spectrum, whether be it in politics, bureaucracy or business.   I cannot be harsh to anyone and that you can consider that as  my weakness.

    Being a globe trotter which country you prefer to spend your leisure time?

    I am fond of my native village,  Ambalapuzha. It is a coastal village with lots of natural beauty and for me this is the heaven on earth.  It is my ultimate destination when I think of taking rest or holidaying.

    What is your favourite cuisine?

    I love to eat from my home. The usual iddli, dosa, sambar, vada and other Kerala delicacies. I prefer to have simple and natural food.  I am a Malayalee in all sense.

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