M C Jacob, the Visionary Who Scripted a New Chapter in CSR

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Thiruvananthapuram: William O’Hare, the pre-eminent expert of family business wrote in his book, Centuries of Success: ‘Before the multi-national corporations, there was family business. Before the Industrial Revolution, there was family business. Before the enlightenment of Greece and the Empire of Rome, there was family business.’ In other words, the culture of business itself began within the four walls of the family, and spread out to other domains much later.

The story of family business dates back to the 6th century when Kongo Gumi, a construction company, was founded in Japan in AD 578. It took another century and half for the second family-run business to come up, again in Japan, namely Hoshi Riyokan in 718. It was a hot spring-side spa. Thousand-year-old family ventures that still thrive include Rothschild (Germany) and Rockefeller (USA).

Closer home, family businesses in India are comparatively younger, with the near-150-year-old Tata Group heading the list. Globally acclaimed Indian brands like the Ambanis, the Birlas, the Thapars, the Mahindras, the Wadias and
the Godrejs are all family enterprises.

Kerala occupies a special slot in the area of family businesses in that most of them originated, prospered and continue to thrive. The brands that come up instantly to mind are Muthoot, Eastern, V-Guard, CGH Earth, Anna-Kitex, NeST, Synthite, Kalyan, VKC and many more.

Striking out into a different sector with unique thinking and operational strategy was M C Jacob, an adventurer who never accepted no for an answer, establishing Anna Aluminium Company in the impoverished Kizhakkambalam village in 1968. In another seven years, he branched out into the garments sector with the launch of Kitex Garments, and later Saras Condiments, all of them based at Kizhakkambalam, today a prosperous town with zero unemployment, mostly inhabited by families who work for a living
under the triple Anna-Kitex-Saras brand.

I can still vividly recall the golden hour of conversation with Jacobettan (M C Jacob) in his office a couple of years before his demise, on topics ranging from global politics to the trade union menace in Kerala. The visionary in him came through in his comments on why we should avoid confrontations and, instead, resort to the art of the possible to solve problems, something Sabu M Jacob and Boby M Jacob are practicing in their Twenty20 venture these days!

It was risky to start an industry in Kerala those days, what with the political turmoil created by militant trade unionism preventing entrepreneurship of any kind. M C Jacob braved the tsunami of protests and conspiracies, in the end proving himself right as he turned the village-based operations into a multi-national success story, bequeathing to sons, Sabu and Boby, the onerous responsibility of managing not only the family businesses but the future of Kizhakkambalam itself.

An experiment in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with a political twist was successfully carried out in their village when, in 2015, the Jacobs led a movement titled Twenty20 to harness the human potential of the village to fight the local body elections, and captured control of the village administration, to the shock and awe of all political parties. No wonder the Anna-Kitex Group occupies pride of place as the top family business group in Kerala, and hopefully, the harbinger of a brand new political culture in India’s most literate State.