This is a rare business book that follows the same narrative arc as Cinderella. I was familiar with TTK Road in Chennai – named after TT Krishnamachari, the founder of the firm. I had assumed that this firm, like many pre-Independence businesses, had grown from small to big with the occasional hiccup. Well, no, in the case of TTK Prestige, nothing seems to have been easy or simple.
The TTK Group was founded in 1928 as an indenting agency, and Krishnamachari introduced organised distribution in India. He set up distribution for brands such as Cadbury’s, Brylcreem, Kellogg’s, Ovaltine, Horlicks, Sheaffer’s, Waterman’s and many more. But he left the business to his sons and joined politics, going on to be India’s finance, industries and commerce minister under Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri in the 1950s. In this role, he not only distanced himself from the firm he founded, but actively framed socialist policies that hampered the firm.
The author’s uncle, TT Vasu seems to have been a visionary, bringing products as diverse as condoms, maps and pressure cookers to India. The book narrates the difficulties of both bringing these brands into socialist India and then marketing them to an unready audience. However, though he was great at spotting opportunity, a lack of operational and financial acumen left the firm floundering on the verge of bankruptcy. Enter TT Jagannathan who was hauled back from Cornell University to restore family fortunes, as his parents did not want to walk away from the small investors who had entrusted them with their life savings.
Despite the high profile background and wealth, the story is endearingly middle-class in its values. TT Jagannathan mentions his gold medal from IIT Madras with great pride, multiple times. Scheming senior executives, alcoholism, resistance to change – all make their appearance as villains.
He wears his engineering credentials on his sleeve, stepping on to the factory floor to innovate. Necessity is certainly the mother of invention – read the book to find out how constant product innovation was a part of an Indian business long before product management became a trendy job. Even though the firm was founded to distribute foreign brands, it soon began to modify the products to suit the Indian market. There was also an early realisation that it is better to own than to distribute and they bought the rights to brands such as Woodwards Gripe Water and of course their flagship brand, Prestige. The firm has created successful brands from scratch too, and became global successfully, buying reputed brands.
The book is ideal for those who are interested in Indian businesses and entrepreneurs, marketing, brand-building and product savvy. It also reiterates that persistence can deliver success. The company rises from the ashes more than once. While the story is TT Jagannathan’s, his co-author, Sandhya Mendonca does a great job of making the narrative an easy, enjoyable read.