Money & Careers

Ringing the ‘Bell'

She loves speed and her parents always advise her caution. Finally, both sides see each other's wisdom and experience vs restless spirit and innovation. At the end of the day, they do what works best for their business.

Bina and Vichitra Rajasingh are two key members of Sivakasi's first business family, popularly known as “the Bell Family”. Raised by Arthur Chelladhurai in the early 20th Century, it has integrated itself into Sivakasi's daily life. From pins and printing presses to bakery, restaurants and hotels, matches and fireworks, the empire was built with not just money-powered business in mind. Those running the show have also been hailed as visionaries who placed “excellence, compassion and charity at the core” of their work. Mother and daughter are busy and yet with clockwork precision and professionalism handle chat, calls and customers, showing their different styles of working and complementing each other's strengths. Vichitra got a head start at 20 when she took over the Bell Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology. Within three years, she became CEO of the Bell group of hotels and restaurants. At 25 today, armed with her own ideas on social development, she says: “My father showed me the world, took me to global food fairs and kitchens as a learning experience. But he ran his hotel as a family business. I was allowed to corporatize it but without losing the family's trademark hospitality. I was given the freedom to make mistakes and improve myself. My mother is active in every project, silently remote-controlling from one corner. I like the comfort of working with her…except when some embarrassing childhood stories reach the customers!”

Follows-up proud mom, Bina: “I love everything about working with my daughter and it is a rewarding experience. She is a bundle of ideas and puts a timeline to them. She is very focused and result-oriented. She keeps me connected and young. She has the drive to grow the business and works hard to make that happen.”

Vichitra's grandfather was one of 10 children of a dry fish seller educated up to class VIII, who worked in a match industry earning Rs. 10 a month. He ultimately ruled over a thriving multi-business family after educating himself in chemistry and pyrotechnics. With three partners, he started “Standard Fireworks” in 1942. Today, it is the largest fireworks manufacturer in the world, with 25 factories and 9,000 workers. When Arthur Chelladhurai passed away in 2001, his son C. Rajasingh, Vichitra's father, took over. “He had acquired hands-on experience, having grown up watching and learning from his father in the factories," says Bina of her industrialist husband. “It was a natural transition and he knows the business better than anyone.”

With son Vasanth already having established Bell Match, an exclusively export company, it was now for the daughter to take on an independent venture. “We divided work responsibilities to accommodate our unique styles. When my father started the Bell restaurant in 1992 with 20 employees, my parents could never delegate work and tried to run everything themselves beyond their capacity,” says Vichitra, recalling how as a seven-year-old she loved accompanying her father to taste different dishes.

“I am a foodie,” she laughs. “I was pampered and used to boss around telling the cooks whether an item was tasty or not. I always knew this is what I enjoyed doing.” Today, the Bell hotels have expanded to half-a-dozen locations in Tamil Nadu and Kerala with over 600 employees, and Vichitra commands respect from the same staff who fed her in their laps.

She is close to realizing bigger entrepreneurial dreams when Hotel Bell Central in Chennai starts its operations next month. “I am fast tracking on my father's dream to have a chain of 100 hotels and restaurants under the brand name Bell. We bought this 1932-built Everest Hotel opposite Rippon Building. The old world charm of the 600-feet-long property has been retained from outside while inside it has been modified into sheer luxury.” She will soon start a four-star hotel near Madurai airport, overhaul the decade-old Bell Hotel in Sivakasi and expand her bakery business under the name “Puppy's”. “Bakery exudes a feeling of warmth, celebration, happiness…it is all about cream and fun and a whole lot of pink!” she exclaims. Vichitra started the first bakery outlet in her hometown in 2006. It was launched to support the factory workers' children. Now she wants to take Puppy's bakery to the metros with 50 outlets in the next five years, including six by next year end in Madurai, where the first one was launched successfully six months ago. “It is always fun to work on a new project, but once it's commissioned, I feel bored and can't wait to start the next,” says the vivacious globetrotter and an avid reader of books on tourism, management, cuisine and modern Indian English writers. Her childhood was, of course, very different from her mom's. “My parents are very progressive and allow me to do what I want to do. I was always encouraged to be independent.”

But when Bina married into the Bell Family 35 years ago, she was over-protected by her family. Though she had her roots in Sivakasi, where her grandfather was the first ever medical doctor in early 1940s, she was raised in Delhi. “Still, I and my two sisters were not even allowed to speak to boys and at my in-laws' house, women were just spectators to the family business endeavours.”

She gradually made herself indispensible with her firsthand knowledge of stores, housekeeping, service, kitchens, human resource, and everything else that goes into the successful functioning of the hospitality industry. “The reward is always worth the struggle,” she says.

Arthur Chelladhurai may have left behind a legacy of flourishing businesses but, more important, he has also left a family which shares his passion and zeal. Vichitra reiterates his words, "With every good business, it is never just the business owners who prosper. In the end, it all goes back to the people."

To Bina Rajasingh’s credit

Setting up Sivakasi's first ever beauty parlour for women in 1986, and exclusive driving and swimming lessons, aerobics and fitness classes, dance classes from hip hop to salsa, walking and health programmes for women.

Constructing working women's hostel, four special schools for children of labourers, free crèche for children of women working in match factories, an old age home and free lending library for Christian literature.

Raising the highest fund for tsunami victims in the district as president of Inner Wheel Club of Sivakasi in 2004-05.

Serving as the Secretary of Women's Voluntary Service of Tamil Nadu, a social service organization, which was started by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1972, for all round improvement and development of underprivileged women and children.

Receiving the Outstanding Women Entrepreneur award from the National Jaycees at Hyderabad in 2007 and the Mahakavi Bharathiyar ‘Pudumai Penn' award from the Sivakasi Arts Club in 2010.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 5:52:10 AM |

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