Man With The Midas Touch – T S Kalyanaraman
There have been a lot of firsts in the story of Mr T S Kalyanaraman, Founder and Chairman of Kalyan Jewellers. The 68-year-old billionaire, founded, what his company likes to call the country’s first ‘gold supermarket’, and has the unique position of having some of the country’s top Bollywood stars as its brand ambassadors (read the entire Bachchan family!). Kalyan is also the first jewellery company from the country to have attracted Warburg Pincus to claim a 20% stake ($200 million) in what has been seen as the largest investment by a private equity firm in the country’s jewellery sector.
RITZ meets the humble owner of one of the country’s largest jewellery brands, the 84th richest man in the country, as of 2015, with his company’s a net worth being declared at around $ 1 billion
He inherited a textile shop from his father and created a empire in gold from it. Staunchly religious, rigorously regimental and simple to the core, if not for his helicopter and fancy cars, one wouldn’t know that T S Kalyanaraman was the 84th richest Indian, whose company boasts a net worth of more than $ I billion (or Rs. 10,000 crore). He operates his jewellery business that is spread wide across India and the Middle East from the small town of Thrissur.
He hails from a family of temple priests and chooses to maintain the simple and devout lifestyle that his forefathers did before him. His wealth has brought him luxuries, actually necessities to maintain his hectic lifestyle in the form of a personal helicopter and luxury cars like the Rolls Royce Phantom he is driven around in. They are simple means of quick and comfortable transport for the Chairman and Managing Director of Kalyan Jewellers, one of the country’s most wide-spread and reputed jewellery chains.
Says the 68-year-old doyen of the company, “We believe honesty and trust are hallmarks that set us apart. When we entered the jewellery industry in 1993, we decided to bring in transparency in an opaque and largely unorganised sector. We focussed our attention on educating customers on how they could extract value from their purchase. We introduced detailed price tags, a practice that was unheard of at that time. We were also one of the first to introduce BIS certification of gold jewellery. This held us in good stead and people started bestowing their trust in us. Today, Kalyan has emerged as one of India’s leading and most trusted brands. We continue to adhere to the founding principles of our forefathers of pursuing fair and ethical business practices.”
Since its inception Kalyan Jewellers has set industry-level benchmarks on customer experience, innovation and transparent pricing. Kalyan’s leadership position in the industry is defined by its customer-centric business model that includes many “firsts”.
They list some of their hallmarks
- the first to introduce BIS certification of gold jewellery
- the first to introduce a customer loyalty program, which today has more than two million members
- the first to pioneer the use of detailed price tags, thus demystifying making charges and providing increased transparency to customers, which has become a best practice in the industry
- the first to introduce the concept of neighbourhood customer service centers in the jewellery industry under the “My Kalyan” brand.
- the first to introduce male brand ambassadors in a woman dominated category.
- the first brand to introduce multiple-showroom launches in a city on the same day
Mr. Kalyanaraman explains how he diversified from his family owned textile business, which he inherited from his father, into a field so unknown to him that people sometimes still wonder at his Midas Touch. “I diversified into jewellery in keeping with the wishes of our customers who suggested that we should also sell jewellery along with textiles. This was an inflection point for us. We began by sourcing jewellery and selling it at the showroom in Thrissur with an initial investment of Rs 75 lakh of which Rs. 50 lakh was raised through a bank loan. From there, the brand has grown to what it is today, and I am thankful to God and my family for standing by my side. Kalyan Jewellers is undoubtedly my crowning glory,” he states with pride.
Despite his wealth and much talked about success, the family chooses to make keep his home base in Thrissur, where Kalyanaraman’s forefathers were temple priests at the Sitarama Temple. His sons – Rajesh and Ramesh – flank his side at home and in the business. “When we were in school my father used to take me and my brothers to the store during vacations. That was our first initiation into the world of business. I would say, from that time, business became a part of my system. The same is true of my sons. They have been a part of Kalyan Jewellers from the very beginning and are committed to pursuing the guiding principles set by our forefathers. I am confident that the legacy will continue for a long time,” he tells.
A tea-totaler and vegetarian, Kalyanaraman is simple in mind and spirit and choses a wholistic way of life practicing yoga each morning and sticking to a simple and healthy diet. Every day and every action begins with an invocation to the Almighty. “I am a family man. We wind up work by 8 pm and don’t take any of our work home. We are a tight knit family, and we make it a point to have one meal together every day. When we are not travelling, we are home and our phones are kept away. I have 6 grandchildren, so it’s easy to not discuss work at home.
I consider business a pleasure. I don’t let it become a cause for stress. When I am not working, I like to be home with my family. In the morning, I do yoga and spend quality time with my grandchildren. During the weekends we get together, and go for movies or play games,” he tells. “On the personal front, spending time with my family and being surrounded by my grandchildren are some of the things that give me immense happiness and pleasure. When it comes to business, a satisfied customer helps me feel a sense of joy.”
Today, Kalyanaraman has expanded his business portfolio from textiles and jewellery into newer and more aggressively growing fields. “Our strategy is to consolidate our presence in core markets and enter new ones. Kalyan Jewellers plans to hit the 100 showroom mark by the end of the financial year by adding 14 new showrooms including 7 in India and 7 in West Asia before the end of this financial year. The company is investing Rs. 350 crore to expand its distribution capabilities, especially in the Northern and Eastern regions of the country and will spend another Rs. 250 crore for the proposed entry into Qatar, where we will launch 7 showrooms. Plans are on the anvil to enter Saudi Arabia in the next financial year with 5 showrooms. Apart from this, we will add another 5 showrooms in the UAE and 15 more in India.
We have a real estate division – Kalyan Developers. While I am the chairman of the company, my son-in-law Mr R Karthik is the Managing Director. The company has plans of investing Rs 300 crore in the Kerala market. Business has been part of the family’s tradition for over a century and both my sons and my daughter, like me, grew up in an environment where business was part of the lexicon. Over the years, my sons have found their calling within the company. Rajesh handles Purchase and Finance whereas Ramesh looks after Marketing and Human Resources. Transparency and trust are the guiding principles of our business. And there are no short cuts to success.
Companies are driven by their vision and purpose. Growth is inevitable as long as the company pursues a sound business strategy, backed by flawless execution and professionalism. Though ours is a family business model, we have a team of very dedicated professionals occupying key positions within the company.”
The Crowing Glory
Warburg Pincus, a private equity firm, invested $ 200 million or Rs.1200 crore in Kalyan Jewellers. This was the largest private equity deal carried out in the jewellery manufacturing segment. “In the last two years, we have expanded our distribution network by more than 30% and entered new markets including some overseas. In 2015, we made a very emphatic entry into Chennai, India’s biggest jewellery market, with the world’s largest jewellery collection at our flagship T-Nagar showroom. We made a foray into the Eastern region in Bhubaneswar, marking our presence in the Eastern part of the country.
Our customers can look forward to some more exquisite jewellery collections in 2016. We plan to offer more choices in the bespoke design segment and strengthen our ability to offer affordable studded jewellery to customers. Our philosophy is ‘Trust is Everything’ and the same is exemplified through our business practices. To us, it is not just another tagline but something we live by.”
And despite being one of the country’s richest men, titles are immaterial to Kalyanaraman. He tells, “Titles are but a reflection of the good work that we have done in this industry. We now have the added responsibility to do better and push ourselves harder to establish new benchmarks and focus on customer service excellence.”
His Contribution To Society
“For over 9 decades now, our families have been actively contributing to the welfare needs in the communities we operate. The initiative which is close to my heart is to provide housing for the underprivileged sections of society. We recently committed to build nearly 1,000 houses for the poor as part of our support to the Government’s ‘Housing For All’ programme.
We also instituted a platform called Kalyan Jewellers Golden Heart Awards to recognise and honour some of the extraordinary work of citizens to help their brethren during the floods in Chennai in December 2015. We will continue to work to bring people and communities together.”
“If you’re passionate about an idea and believe it will work, take the plunge. It is important to believe in your ability and in the power of your idea. Work hard and stay focused but embrace change if it makes you better. Always seek advice from elders and surround yourself with people who will inspire you. Then success will be yours. Shortcuts won’t take you far.”