By Rajendra V.Gandhi
On the early morning of January 11, Mr KM Philip passed away peacefully in Chennai at a matured age of 104. He lived a full life. He was considered as a father of the Indian rubber industry due to his unparalleled service to the cause of the rubber industry. It was under his leadership, his personal care, guidance spread over 5 decades that AIRIA has emerged as a formidable association representing the interest of the rubber manufacturing sectors, mainly non-tyre.
We all know Mr Philip was a devout Syrian Christian. I am a Jain who believe in karma. Hence, I can say proudly and yet with humility that it must be my past good karma that brought me in touch with this God-fearing, humble and yet a towering personality.
43 year-long association
In my association with Mr Philip spanning over 43 years, I have come to know and appreciate some aspects of his personality. I would like to share what I have learnt from him, while I worked under his guidance in GRP, as well as what I have observed while participating in numerous meetings of the Managing Committee of AIRIA, the Governing Council meetings of IRMRA and in various other industrial, social and family events.
I first met Mr Philip sometime in 1973 when I was exploring various options to set up a new venture. I went to see him with my late father Vadilal C Gandhi. In that very first meeting, I developed enormous respect for him. Mr Philip encouraged me to set up a reclaim rubber plant.
At the end of that meeting, my father conveyed to Mr Philip that he was handing over his son to him. It was indeed a true handover. Just three years later my father passed away, and thereafter, till his last breadth, I have enjoyed with privilege the blessings and guidance of this father, “Papa”.
Birth of GRP
With Mr Philip’s encouragement and blessings, Gujarat Reclaim & Rubber Products Ltd (now known as GRP) was born (incorporated) in 1974. At my father’s invitation, Mr Philip readily agreed to become the Chairman of GRP Ltd. Mr W G Desai was appointed as Managing Director. I became the Joint Managing Director.
GRP decided to set up the first plant in Ankleshwar, Gujarat. In those days, machines required for reclaim rubber manufacturing were not indigenously made. One had to import these machines. For this import license was required from DGTD. I was not comfortable with the idea of “greasing palm” to get import license. In one of our conversions, Mr W G Desai proposed that if the promoters were ready he had the knowledge and experience to design and build the entire plant indigenously. When Mr Philip said he had faith in Mr Desai’s ability, I decided to take the plunge.
There were many challenges in the initial period of the company. There were times when I was quite frustrated and desperate. Mr Philip’s advice on such occasions was very useful. When chips were down he never showed his displeasure. Instead there were words of encouragement and practical advice.
At a point, due to financial over-run and project delay, there was a trust deficit with financial institutions in Gujarat. On one occasion the lenders asked Mr Philip to come to Ahmadabad to explain the situation.
I was feeling extremely embarrassed. But Mr Philip agreed to travel with me overnight in a crowded train to meet the officials of the financial institutes to convince them about the viability of this project. This demonstrated his sense of unselfishness to help someone like me even at the cost of physical discomfort.
Inspite of my best efforts to make the company viable, the task looked too daunting for me. Things became more difficult due to severe difference of opinion with Mr W G Desai. So I decided to sell promoters shareholding. But at the last moment, negotiation collapsed. I was unsure whether Mr Philip with his reputation and stature, would like to continue to be the Chairman of such a sinking company.
I gathered courage to request him to continue as the Chairman for some time. He could have refused. Instead he chose to put faith in me and was willing to be patient. In addition, he offered to buy out the shares of Mr W G Desai when the later wanted to step down as Managing Director.
Lessons in management
Mr Philip’s positive thinking and trust in me gave me the strength to put my heart and soul into reviving the company. He made himself available at every step. He encouraged his son Dr Peter Philip to join the Board of GRP to guide and support me. The company survived the crisis under his guidance. I learnt several valuable lessons during this crisis which helped me to graduate from a typical family-controlled proprietary style of management to a professional participatory style of management
Under his Chairmanship, GRP has achieved commendable progress by becoming one of the largest reclaim rubber companies in the world. He attended every meeting of the Board of Directors till he reached the centenary year, and actively participated in the deliberations. When we shared this information with Limca Book of Records, they entered his name in their Book of Records as the longest serving and active Chairman of a public listed company.
During over 40 years, I have observed Mr Philip conducting and participating in various meetings — be they Board meetings, association or industry forum meetings, or even personal one-to-one informal meetings. His outstanding quality has been listening with empathy. With this quality, he could win the hearts of the young and the old, the ordinary as well as powerful and influential people.
At the helm of AIRIA
He was the co-founder of AIRIA and he became the President of AIRIA in 1949, 1950 and again in 1961. He was also instrumental in persuading AIRIA to form the Indian Rubber Manufacturers Research Association (IRMRA) in 1959 to provide much-needed testing and quality research for MSME industries in rubber manufacturing.
He had ceaselessly worked in so many public institutions without any ambition or selfish motive. He had held many influential and coveted positions but while holding these positions he had demonstrated another outstanding quality –i.e. humility and absence of pride and ego.
Just before he completed his centenary year, in one conversation with me he revealed another secret — willingness to forgive. He said then when you carry grudge against someone, you only suffer and not the other person. He said forgiving should be from the bottom of the heart, then only you will get peace within. For forgiving someone you need to have inner strength and that inner strength comes from regular prayers.
Although rolling in riches, he lived a very simple lifestyle. He ensured that all his children and grandchildren also had similar upbringing. Once while talking about contentment, he had said that contentment will not come all of a sudden, it takes years of reflection and introspection to achieve contentment.
When I asked him how at his advanced age he managed to be so alert and able to remember and recall so may precise facts, he revealed yet another insight i.e. regular exercise, his regular game of bridge in the evening and positive thinking. So one can see that between the time he finished his morning golf which kept him physically fit, and few games of bridge in the evening which kept him mentally alert, in the intervening hours, he had contributed so much for the well-being of his family, his community, the rubber industry and the nation as a whole.
Institution of K M Philip Award
When he completed 80 years, the industry (AIRIA) decided to celebrate the occasion. I was one of those who proposed that in recognition of the services rendered by Mr K M Philip to the rubber industry, a suitable award should be instituted in his name.
The Managing Committee of AIRIA kindly agreed to institute the award carrying a gold medal and a cheque of Rs 250,000 (now). Since the inception of this award, twelve distinguished individuals have been the recipients of this coveted honour.
Because of his selfless service during the last eight decades of his active life, Mr Philip had earned many honours, recognitions including Padma Shri and Hancock Medal. But more than that, he had earned the love, respect and gratitude of thousands of families whose lives had a positive impact directly or indirectly through his contributions.
I am personally so fortunate and grateful to have had Mr Philip as my mentor. GRP has also been so privileged to have had him as its Chairman for over forty years. May his soul rest in eternal peace.