Remembering the Visionary Who Became Part of Folklore

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‘’Johnie, I would like to get an hour of your valuable time for an interview, planned as the page 1 ‘Interview of the Month’ scheduled for Destination Kerala’s March 2003 issue. When shall we meet?”
Thomas John Muthoot (presently head of the Muthoot Pappachan Group), affectionately addressed as Johnie by friends and relatives, was quick with his response to my call sometime in January 2003.
“Certainly, I would be delighted and honoured. But, I would like to yield the honour to a person who deserves it the most, and he is none other than our beloved father, Muthoot Pappachan, but for whose imagination and foresight there would have been no group for you to write about!”
I was amazed by the noble gesture from a devoted son to his loving father. It is seldom that dynastic offspring step aside for their long-past-the-prime patriarch to enjoy the limelight, particularly so in the Indian corporate jungle.
But the Muthoot clan is different. I used to be in regular contact with Johnie, his twin brother Georgie (Thomas George Muthoot) and their kid brother Kunju (Thomas Muthoot) ever since their group entered the hospitality industry with the launch of The Muthoot Plaza in Thiruvananthapuram in 2000. Their team spirit, sibling synergy and the unflinching dedication to the principles laid down by their founder-father, Muthoot Pappachan (Pappachaayan to all and sundry) stirred my curiosity to know more about them.
The interview with the 76-year-old patriarch was held in the lobby of The Muthoot Plaza. Asked to define in one sentence the formula behind the huge successes in his life and career, Pappachan attributed it, without batting an eyelid, to the unflagging faith in the Almighty, humility as also his unshakable determination to face and overcome challenges.
“Those who employ this formula can never fail,” he asserted. Pappachan described himself as essentially a ‘figures man’, piloting even in that state of semi-retirement the day-to-day figure crunching exercises of the empire-in-the-making. He would retire for the night only after pouring over countless statements and reports from many locations far and near, which reach him online through the day.
He reminisced about the World War years of deprivation and semi-starvation that oppressed the people of Central Travancore through the 1940s. He spoke about the chit fund business he had launched then in collaboration with his brothers. The objective was to provide a trustworthy avenue for the poor and the middle class to avail short-term small loans at reasonable interest and to save up their tiny surpluses.
“We grew into Kerala’s largest chit fund company, and then moved on to take up pole position as the most dynamic non-banking finance company (NBFC) in our State”. It’s a long story. Exactly in the manner that he took over the fledgling village provision store in Kozhencherry from his father, Pappachan’s sons took over the NBFC, rechristening it as Muthoot Pappachan Group, launching and nurturing mega enterprises in areas as diverse as Finance, Hospitality, IT, Non-conventional energy, Real Estate, Automobiles, Entertainment, Flight Catering, Ceramics… you name it!
When time finally caught up with him, Mathew M Thomas, as he is officially known, passed away on April 13, 2004, his roles as the pioneer of village-level banking in Travancore and the saviour of many a farming family in the area were already part of the local folklore. Destination Kerala carried an edit page obituary in homage to the path breaker whose progeny was firmly entrenched at the forefront of Kerala’s economy-oriented forward march. We titled the article, ‘A visionary ahead of his times’.