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Eminent industrialist T.S. Santhanam passes away

Special Correspondent

For him it was a lifetime involvement in automobiles, finance and philanthropy

CHENNAI: T.S. Santhanam, founder and chairman of Sundaram Finance, passed away in Chennai on Friday aged 92.

He is survived by wife, Padma, two sons, S. Ram, chairman, Wheels India, and S. Viji, Managing Director, Brakes India, and daughter, Prema Ramanujam.

Born on November 8, 1912 to T.V. Sundram Iyengar, founder of the TVS Group of Companies, and Lakshmi Ammal, Mr. Santhanam had his education in Madurai. In 1930 he joined his father in business, and thus began a life-time involvement in automobile and finance.

He moved to Chennai in 1936, and served the parent company, T.V. Sundram Iyengar & Sons, in various capacities, gaining rich experience in road transport, marketing of automobiles, manufacture of automobile components, general insurance, banking and finance. In 1954, he founded Sundaram Finance, which together with its subsidiaries, now has an asset base of about Rs. 6,000 crore.

He played a crucial role in the establishment of several auto component units in the TVS Group, prominent among which were Wheels India, Brakes India, Sundaram Clayton and Lucas-TVS. He also promoted Madras Motor General Insurance Company, which later merged into the United India Insurance Company. He was Managing Director of the T.V. Sundram Iyengar & Sons for nearly a decade before becoming its vice-chairman, a position he held till his death.

He was not only deeply involved in negotiations with foreign collaborators for the manufacture of quality auto components, but also in financial planning and project financing. His financial acumen was always regarded highly, not just in the TVS group, but outside as well. He served on the Government's Direct Taxes Advisory Committee, and the Study Group on Road Transport Financing among others.

For Mr. Santhanam, quality was paramount. He ensured that his auto component distribution companies provided transport operators genuine and quality products at fair prices.

He was also the founder-chairman of trade associations such as the Federation of Automobile Dealers' Association and the South India Hire Purchase Association.

He was an ardent supporter of sports, especially, football, cricket and tennis. In the late 1940s he promoted TVS Greens, which had several leading national football players. A keen tennis player himself, he supported several leading players during the early stages of their career. He was often spotted at Wimbledon during the tennis fortnight cheering on India's maestro, Ramanathan Krishnan.

He supported educational, religious and charitable causes and was instrumental in donating large sums of money from the companies with which he was associated.

T.S. Surendran, Vice-Chairman of Sankara Nethralaya, said Mr. Santhanam had contributed liberally to "the cause of our foundation." He was associated with the foundation for over 25 years. The Sundaram Medical Foundation and the hospital managed by it stand testimony to his keen interest in charitable causes.

"Work was worship for him," according to officials in the TVS Group. "His number sense was incredible," said a ranking official of Sundaram Finance, who had worked with him closely. He knew his principal employees by name and qualification. He kept himself updated on the happenings in the group companies and attended meetings of the Sundaram Finance Board till recently.

Mr. Santhanam, according to T.T.Srinivasaraghavan, Managing Director of Sundaram Finance, was a "visionary." Even in early 1950s, he had understood the need for a good road infrastructure. "He tirelessly worked for the uplift of transport operators," Mr. Srinivasaraghavan said, and pointed to the travels Mr. Santhanam had undertaken across the country often sipping tea with the drivers. Mr. Santhanam brought to bear such involvement in the non-banking finance business, encouraging small players to become corporate entities. "He never saw anyone as a competitor," he said.

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