The Biking Aficionado – T.T Varadarajan

Men Who Mean Business

They’re a cut above the rest – more driven, more committed, more zealous and hence more successful. While Harish Bijoor is a brand guru who enjoys connecting culture with marketing genius, TT Varadarajan is a man known for his tenacity, business acumen and his passion for bikes. RITZ meets these successful CEOs from the South in an effort to gain a bit more insight their psyche and understand what makes them tick.

The Biking Aficionado

T.T Varadarajan’s name is synonymous with two things in India – super bikes and kitchen appliances. The former is his passion, the latter his business. The Maya brand of appliances has played a big part in modernising kitchens across the country. A 30-year-old brand today, the company was founded in 1978 and the first Preethi mixer rolled out in 1980. We catch up with the passionate biker and dynamic businessman.

He’s 60 plus, but so fit, dashing and young at heart that he can rival any young turk today with his high-level business acumen and penchant for adrenaline rushes. The grandson of the legendary TT Krishnamachari, former Finance Minister of India, TT Varadarajan has been a maverick most of his life and he has no qualms in openly admitting that when he started his company Maya Appliances in 1978 he knew next to nothing about mixers and grinders. He says: “I just went through all the mixers and grinders available in the market, understood their best features and packaged them all into one machine.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Maya Appliances began its journey out of a 300-sq ft shed in Armenian Street (Chennai’s old economy commercial hub so to say) in 1978, with a 5-member team and a start-up capital raised by the promoter by pledging his and his wife’s insurance policies. For the next five years, the company’s products were marketed by TTK Industries, using the nationally-known brand ‘Prestige’ for exports and for the domestic market.

Looking back Varadarajan says, “l was keen to continue creating and innovating products and start an industry that offers livelihood and builds careers in the process. Appliances being the area where we had the network strength and experience seemed a logical place to start! In the mid-nineties, when all was seemingly going well, we had a huge set back in our business when our factory burnt down to the ground due to a short circuit in the electrical line. This was in December 1996 – just a week short of the biggest selling season of Christmas and New Year. While we lost almost everything, we did not let that affect our resolve. The business was resurrected with the unstinting effort of our employees, vendors and dealer and distributor partners who pitched in with support, finances and encouragement and got us back on our feet in no time!” After this Varadarajan says he realised that with hard work was the key to his success.

One of the most definitive moments for the business was when Varadarajan decided to unlock the value of the business he had built for over three decades in the sale process over 6 months in 2010. Post this was a period of reflection and resolve following which he felt the need to take the plunge again! “The brand Vidiem was born in 2013, when we were keen to re-enter the appliance business after a two year hiatus, having successfully migrated the earlier business in Kitchen Appliances to Royal Dutch Philips,” he explains.

While his business has kept him on his feet he’s still doing a lot in his free time.  He says, “I enjoy finding new routes to ride motorcycles across the world, and when in town, take off for track days on Sunday at the MMSC race track.”

His company was instrumental in bringing California Superbike School to India in 2010. Founded by world-renowned motorcycle instructor Keith Code, the California-based CSS runs track schools in several countries around the world. Code has trained numerous motorcycle world champions around the globe in racing. India saw its first CSS programme in 2010, with the help of Preethi, the then leading mixer-grinder brand.

The school is dedicated to the improvement of riding skills for racing and street riding. “We run a camp every year in India around January / February. The Vidiem California Superbike School (as it is now called) has a larger objective of using revenues earned to support the discovery, mobilisation and training of talented youngsters who cannot otherwise afford to pay for training and track time. We also seek to improve the riding skills of every motorcycle rider to make him/her conscious of safe and skilled riding practices.”

He also adds, “I like working on greening and eco-conservation projects and much of it is focused in and around my factory and at my Kodaikanal home.”

His advice for young entrepreneurs – ‘If you back what you believe in, with smart work and persistence, rewards will follow.’