By Kurian Abraham:
I first met John more than 30 years ago at his beautiful and spacious Bandra flat overlooking the sea in Mumbai. This was soon after I launched Rubber Asia, India’s first global rubber magazine. A friend of mine in the Rubber Board had told me: “There is a successful rubber businessman from Kerala in Mumbai. Why don’t you meet him?” So I went and met him.
I found him friendly, vibrant and witty, but a tough negotiator. Before I left, John managed to get from me six back cover advertisements at rock bottom rates. He also said one thing: “I am coming to Cochin. I will get you some more advertisements.”
Our relationship grew and flourished when we joined together with a few friends to launch Dhanam, Kerala’s first business magazine in Malayalam, under the banner Dhanam Publications. Rubber Asia was brought under this for more focus and convenience. I focussed on the editorial part while John managed the national and global marketing. Dr. RK Matthan, an eminent rubber industry expert, once commented: “You and John have made a good team and have brought respect and honour by serving the rubber, allied and ancillary and downstream industries with an eminently worthy magazine.”
The great relationship spanning more than three decades also saw the emergence of two other world-class magazines from the group – Tyre Asia, a tyre magazine exclusively devoted to the tyre and allied industries, and AutoParts Asia, a global magazine for the auto parts industry.
John was a multi-faceted personality. His end was quite sudden and unexpected. The news that he was stricken with cancer came as a big blow to all of us. His discipline and passion for keeping the best practices in physical fitness and food habits had inspired many of us. We all expected him to come out of his illness with his never-say-die spirit. But that was not so. He departed quietly leaving a huge void in our group and in the global rubber industry at large.
John’s was a unique personality without parallels. I have not seen anyone like him in my career in India or abroad who could handle positives and negatives with such balance of outlook. As John himself used to say: “There is only one and only one John Powath in this world.” I am sure many will vouch for it.
What made him and his life unique?
His enthusiasm and energy was infectious. With an ever beaming and confident face and brilliant sense of humour, he enlivened any gathering. He has positively impacted the lives of many.
A close observation of his life and times brings to light many unique traits that propelled him to enviable heights in business and career. The vision, the discipline and the passion and commitment to the causes he stood for are worth studying and emulating. Here are a few traits which I feel I must share.
Give first before you take
He followed this principle meticulously. When he met a new person he always used to offer all help without any strings. This trait endeared him to many. He knew and used to tell his confidants that when you help a person, it will bring benefit to you in one way or the other.
Discipline and punctuality
Disciplined and punctual to the core, he hated any delay and indecision. Before a travel in India or abroad he will fix all appointments in advance. Whether it’s a trip to Kochi, Chennai, Beijing or the US, the entire itinerary will be ready before weeks. For him every minute was precious. Same was the case with money. He will not spend even one rupee unnecessarily. Long-term planning was a way of life for him. In fact, I became more punctual after associating with him.
Focus on health
This was one thing which he passionately pursued for himself and others. He firmly believed in keeping the body and mind fit, and religiously followed good practices and also advised all his friends to follow the best practices in physical fitness and food habits.
His initial stint in merchant shipping and global trade ingrained in him a global outlook and he firmly believed and showed all that with a good product anybody can tap the global market effectively. The real globalization of Rubber Asia, which was focusing on India and Asia initially, was driven by him. Like the renowned scientist late Tan Sri. Dr. B C Sekhar, he believed in handling foreigners on equal terms and did not tolerate any signs of arrogance or superiority.
The word ‘impossible’ was not in his dictionary. His smart, well-calculated strategies and persuasive skills often resulted in fast closing of deals. He never accepted a ‘no’ and was willing to pursue his goal indefinitely and wait for years. His principle was try and try and try till you get it. But he always emphasised good homework is a must before you meet your potential customers.
John’s extraordinary networking capabilities was a great boon to our magazines as I could fully focus on the editorial side.
A great travel companion
It was a pleasure to travel with him. He loved taking the full responsibility of all travel formalities and will leave his companions totally free. His popular ‘Travel Tips’ column, featured in Rubber Asia years ago, is a must read for global travellers.
Great connectivity with people
Once a person enters his radar, he maintains constant touch with him regularly. He calls, writes and even meets him or her to maintain that relationship. If he visits an office, he entertains everybody including the receptionist with his smart talk and humour. No wonder he had friends in all parts of the world and he used to keep in touch with them regularly. He wishes everybody on their birthdays with amazing regularity and sometimes even to the embarrassment of the person himself!
Passion for rubber and tyre industry
He loved everyone who had some connection with rubber. His active association with All India Rubber Industries Association (AIRIA) and its Expo resulted in the entry of many global companies to India. His extensive contacts in global rubber trade helped Rubber Asia immensely in highlighting global players and also in taking the Indian rubber industry to global rubber centres. At many times he has acted as the connecting link. In fact, he was instrumental in bringing in many global associations and business leaders to India and in taking many Indian rubber industry leaders to global expos and conferences facilitating their global business expansion.
An optimist to the core
An optimist always, John was, however, worried about the poor infrastructure and slow development works in the country and also in Kerala, despite the advantages of vast resources and skilled labour. “Why not we do in India what other countries with less resources and people with less calibre are doing? Why are we backward despite our superior human and material resources?” He used to ask always whenever we went abroad and saw the good things taking place there. But he was never deterred by the problems. In fact, he looked at them as opportunities.
He had impacted the lives and careers of many with his charm, knowledge, wit and wisdom. These included senior Rubber Board officials, global rubber association leaders and industry leaders including tyre company CEOs, senior executives, research scientists and even junior executives in the industry. He had an amazing quality to admire and appreciate good things in people and places and this really endeared himself to many. When he found something lacking in somebody, he quietly conveyed it to the person so that he could improve or rectify the mistakes.
Yes John, you brought energy, humour and happiness to those who came your way. You illumined the lives of many. Your mission to make a positive difference in society will inspire us all in the days to come. It is for us to practise the good things that you have taught us. That will be the best thing we can do to perpetuate John’s memory.
But John, we will miss your wit and wisdom, your daring and dashing initiatives, and your inspiring and infectious enthusiasm as there is only one and only John Powath who can give all this