Family-run group has iconic presence among automobile enthusiasts

The VST Group, a family-run company, which has an iconic presence in Bangalore among automobile enthusiasts, celebrated its centenary in a quiet way on Monday. Interestingly, for a company that is so much a part of Bangalore, the V in the VST actually stands for Vellore because that is where the family migrated from four generations before V.S. Thiruvengadaswamy Mudaliar founded the company in 1911.

Modest beginnings

VST, as Thiruvengadaswamy Mudaliar was known, started off as a sub-agent of the Asiatic Petroleum Company. V.K. Surendra, grandson of the founder and now managing director of VST Motors and chairman of the group, recalls that VST and his associates would make their delivery rounds on bicycles, selling petroleum products in the Cantonment area.

By the early 1930s VST had established a chain of more than 10 petrol pumps in and around Bangalore. “Distributing petroleum products was a difficult business in those days,” recalls Mr. Surendra. “With the war looming, petrol was rationed by the Government,” he said.

The war effect

But VST was quick to see the opportunities offered by the war machine that the British Government was preparing. His first foray into diversification was into the construction business, building structures for the British Army — within the Cantonment area in the city as well as outside Bangalore.

In the early 1940s, VST established his automobile dealer network, which not only turned out to be its mainstay but the group's best known face. The company first started selling the Austin, from its India Garage showroom on St. Mark's Road. Later, it started selling the Studebaker, the ‘Baby' Hindustan of Hindustan Motors and then the Bedford truck. By the 1950s, the group had started selling the Jeep, manufactured by Mahindra, and the Ambassador, by Hindustan Motors.

Tillers, tractors

The group made its first foray into manufacturing in the late 1960s, when it established VST Tillers Tractors Ltd., producing power tillers from a factory in Bangalore. This is the only company that has issued shares to the public — the rest remains privately held. This company, in which the family holds majority stake, is building a new facility in Hosur, which will be ready in a year, Mr. Surendra said.

Outreach activities

In order to promote education for girls, VST established the Shrimati Kamala Bai Educational Institution in the city, named after his wife, in 1931. Its eight-acre campus now houses a school, pre-university college and a degree college. In 1948, VST established a hospital, Unammal Maternity Home, named after VST's mother.

It is now run by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike.

Today, the group is a dealer for several automobile manufacturers — Ford, Volkswagen, Mahindra and the two-wheeler manufacturers Honda and Bajaj. How does the family-managed company cope with the pressures of the market? “The old virtues of providing quality service remains relevant,” says Mr. Surendra.

The group now offers technical education scholarships to boys and girls. It also offers scholarships to female children of employees “at the lowest level”.

The group, which made a turnover of more than Rs. 3,000 crore in 2010-11, has been doubling its turnover every four years during the last decade, says Mr. Surendra.

  • The firm first started selling the Austin, from its India Garage showroom on St. Mark's Road
  • Today, the group is a dealer for many automobile manufacturers of four-wheelers and two-wheelers