K M Philip, the patriarch of the Indian rubber industry, is 100. His illustrious career is marked by pioneering contributions and visionary leadership to the industry at large.
A father figure of the Indian rubber industry, Philip’s leadership provided strength, stature and stability to the industry, especially in the initial years. His was indeed a glorious innings during which he guided many a young entrepreneur into successful rubber-related businesses. Hardly can we see any other in the industry having as close an association with it and an in-depth understanding of its complex problems as Philip.
Born on May 2, 1912 he has witnessed the ups and downs of the industry during the country’s pre-Independence and post-Independence periods. Philip championed the cause of the industry with unparalleled commitment and it may be recalled that during his eventful stint in the industry, he stood for the interests of both the growers and manufacturers with equal passion.
He has always been a sincere friend and well-wisher of Rubber Asia. On the eve of his 100th birth anniversary, we wish him good health, peace and happiness in the days ahead. We are happy to reproduce here excerpts of an exclusive interview Rubber Asia had with the industry doyen on the eve of his turning 100.
On the eve of turning 100, how do you feel?
Complete submission to the Almighty and thankfulness to the ever loving God Almighty
What is your best contribution to the Indian rubber industry?
I was dealing with problems associated with the industry all my working life; therefore it is difficult to decide my best contribution to the rubber industry. This has to be decided by others. However, two or three important subjects at that time do come to my mind.
Pre-War India had a miniscule rubber industry, mainly centred in Nagpur for making toy balloons. A professor, by name Paranjpai, then stated that toy balloons which were only imported till then could be made in India. It was in 1936, that Prof. Paranjpai showed a few traders in Nagpur how to make toy balloons locally and how it could be manufactured in a tiny room with an investment of a few thousand rupees. The latex was imported and they needed to have capital only to make wooden moulds.
The British were interested only in India growing natural rubber, not in making any rubber products in India. However, a few years later when the War broke out, the export of latex to India was banned by the British. Our tiny manufacturers were helpless and they did not know what to do. But soon they heard from their few Bombay friends that there was a man from Travancore State, who had come to Bombay and was selling tea from the South, who may be able to help. They approached me but I was an economist, and I was asked to supply ammoniated latex. I accepted the challenge and the success of manufacturing preserved latex with almost no knowledge must rank as one of my greatest achievements.
Secondly, I had the privilege of helping to evolve the first formula for a fair price for natural rubber. I was then able to negotiate an agreement on price between manufacturers and rubber plantation owners before the 1948. Tariff commission. This included the cost of raw materials, a reasonable margin of profit and an incentive for replanting and new plantations. This formula stood the test of time, and was in my opinion, probably the foundation stone for encouraging the explosive growth of rubber plantations from 15,000 hectares to what it is today. At the 1948 Tariff commission this basic pattern was agreed to instead of free export and import of rubber.
Yet another contribution was the effort to get licenses to start indigenous tyre factories after a bitter fight with the Government and foreign tyre manufactures between 1948 and 1958. The success of the fight brought in MRF, Premier and Incheck Tyre which were predominantly Indian-owned companies.
What is your advice to the new generation entrepreneurs?
New generation entrepreneurs, with their greater exposure to the opportunities that surround us, are far more knowledgeable, intelligent and forward looking. It is only important for them to understand and manage the risks inherent in entrepreneurial activities.
What is your advice to make family businesses successful?
To make a family business successful, give complete freedom to the members to develop and act, especially the younger members and be available for guidance and advice if consulted.
What is your daily routine and how do you keep yourself fit and engaged?
My daily routine was golf, office, Bridge (card game) at my club. Now for the last 2 years I am not able to play golf, which has been a great loss to my physical fitness.
Do you have any unfulfilled dream?
Not for myself personally, but for the future growth and wellbeing of the Indian rubber industry to achieve the premier status in the world.
What’s your message to the rubber industry?
Modernise the industry and produce only world-class goods.