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Updated: June 6, 2013 14:32 IST

A man who dreamt big, lived bigger

Sriram V.
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Given that the landscape of Chennai symbolises the success stories of several entrepreneurs who dreamt big, I wonder why we keep reading western books on management for inspiration.

Last week marked the birth centenary of TS Santhanam, former managing director and later vice chairman of TV Sundaram Iyengar and Sons. He was one of the four TVS brothers (a fifth having passed away just as industrialisation dawned) who oversaw the transformation of the group from a Madurai-based transport business to a full-fledged automotive component conglomerate.

Santhanam moved early to Madras, his first assignment being with Madras Auto Services (MAS), a creation of AK Ramachandra Iyer, which was acquired in 1936 by the TVS Group. From then on, till his retirement, automobile spares and components were to be a passion.

Santhanam was to be involved in Sundaram Motors, which was founded in 1945 to handle the group’s burgeoning vehicle dealerships. MAS and Sundaram Motors stand side by side even today on Mount Road, both located on what was once Gopal Bagh, the residence of the Maharajah of Bobbili who was Prime Minister of Madras. The art-deco façade of MAS is a delight.

In 1954, Santhanam was instrumental in the setting up of the third TVS company that dealt with motor spares and later vehicles – Indian Motor Parts and Accessories Limited, now IMPAL. And as the TVS group moved rapidly into manufacturing in the 1960s, he was to be actively involved in the setting up of the Padi units. He was chairman of Brakes India and Wheels India Limited until the end of his life. Given his wide-ranging interests in the automotive sector, he headed trade bodies and several committees at the national level too.

Santhanam, in keeping with his image of a financial man, built lasting businesses in that sector too. Madras Motor Insurance (later Madras Motor and General Insurance – MMGI) was one and remained under his control till its nationalisation in 1972. Responding to a transport operator’s comment that the TVS Group was into every aspect of automobiles except the financing, Santhanam set up Sundaram Finance as a subsidiary of MMGI in 1954. Later spun off as an independent entity, it is today one of the country’s leading non-banking finance companies.

Not so well documented perhaps, is Santhanam’s involvement in sports and charitable causes. A passionate tennis player, the tennis court at his house on D’ Silva Road was well known. In the 1940s, he promoted TVS Greens which had several national-level football players. Veteran tennis star Ramanathan Krishnan remembers Santhanam being a fixture at Wimbledon, and Forest Hills, cheering him on to do his best. The Krishnamurthy Foundation of India and the Cancer Institute, Adyar were two institutions he was involved with. Sundaram Medical Foundation in Anna Nagar was one of his projects too though today it is more a memorial to his son, Dr Rangarajan.

Clearly, he was a man of many parts.


Thanks for a brief but vivid portrayal of Shri TS Santhanam. I fully
share your angst about the lack of material about our home-grown
entrepreneurs, especially of the notable ones like the TVS family. It will be
great if you can write a series of biographies in The Hindu and make
them available as a book for aspiring entrepreneurs.

from:  Badri
Posted on: Nov 14, 2012 at 07:31 IST

The readers would be interested to know about the comments by M.G.R,
about Sri.santhanam , in Sriperumbudur,years ago.He was the chief minister at that time presiding over the Inaguration function of
Axles India, a TVS group manufacturing rear axles and components.The
Mid-day meals for the children a scheme introduced by MGR was famous at that time.On behalf of TVS a cheque was handed over by Sri T.S.santhanam
to MGR towards that scheme.While speaking the leader said these words
" donors who give even small amounts would like to be announced on the mike.But here is a great Man,Sri santhanam,who had donated a
cheque for Rs.5 lakhs,just sitting quietly and do not want me to
announce that.i cannot keep mum about this greatness of this simple man.What a great and humble heart." Honest words from this Thalaivar.

from:  T.S.Gopalakrishnan
Posted on: Nov 13, 2012 at 14:29 IST
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