Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Apollo Tyres - the beginning

Two days back a former colleague from Apollo Tyres telephoned to invite me for his son’s wedding. I was quite touched because we had no contact for about three decades. And the call kind of opened the memory box for me.

The idea of an automobile tyre factory came to my mind during the visit of the General Manager of Hungarian rubber industry to Ruby Rubber Works, Chenganacherry, Kerala. That was in 1968 or 1969. I was then the marketing manager of Ruby.

I mentioned the idea to Mr. Mathew Marattukulam who was my Managing Director.  He was interested in the suggestion and told me to go ahead. It was a really bold decision. I was made the General Manager of Ruby’s automobile tyre project.

The first steps were to get a license from the Government of India and to tie up a good technical collaboration. I met Dr. Rama Varma who was then the Chairman of Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC). Earlier he had been the chief of the Rubber Board of India. He was from the Cochin Royal Family, and a friend of my uncles.

The project idea appealed to Dr. Varma. He even suggested that the new tyre company could also take over Premier Tyres in which the State Government had substantial shareholdings.. That became a reality three decades or so later. At Dr. Varma’s request Mr. Achuthan Menon, the then Chief Minister of Kerala wrote a personal letter about our license application to Mrs. Indira Gandhi who was the Prime Minister. And Ruby got the license.

Mr. KT Chandy followed Dr. Varma as Chairman of KSIDC and took keen interest in the tyre project. In fact, he was the one who suggested the name Apollo Tyres. We were already on the search for a technical collaborator. Finally we tied up with General Tires, one of the five major tyre companies in US at that time.

The project cost estimate escalated considerably with the oil crisis in the early 1970s and the original promoters found it difficult to raise the funds. That was when Mr. Raunaq Singh stepped in and took over Apollo Tyres Ltd. But for him, the project might have been dropped.

Here are some old photos:

L to R: Mr. Thomas Vellapally of Joseph & Markos, our lawyers, me, Senior Vice President, General Tire International, A General Tire executive, Mr. KT Chandy, Chairman, KSIDC, Mr. George Prekopa, who was originally following up their India projects, and Mr. Mathew Marattukulam, MD, at General Tire International HQ in Akron, Ohio, USA.

Mr. John Porosky. He was the General Tires man for the project. Earlier he had been involved in erecting the Ceat Tyre plant in Mumbai. We became good friends.

Mr. TV Thomas, the then Industries Minister, Kerala, at the Foundation Stone laying ceremony. He had been of great help to the project. I am in the background. Those days I used to sport a mustache.

I am with Mr. AC George,
former Central Minister. He was instrumental in Mr. Raunaq Singh taking over Apollo.

Three of the early Directors. L to R: Dr. Thomas Varghese
, Mr. Jacob Thomas, and my eldest maternal uncle Mr. Jose Kallivayalil.
Dr. Thomas Varghese and Mr. Kallivayalil resigned from the Board when Mr. Raunaq Singh took over, but Mr. Jacob Thomas continued. 
After some time he was not on the Board for one or two years, but came back.

Unfortunately I do not have a good photo of Mr. Raunaq Singh.




Nebu said...

Please continue the story. I remember you were the GM of Apollo Tyres, then what happened..........?

Abraham Tharakan said...

Nebu, right from the beginning Apollo Tyres was meant to be a Joint Sector project in which KSIDC would hold 26% equity. But later some of the promoters felt that it should be a private sector project. That was how Mr. Raunaq Singh was approached. All the original Directors left when the company changed hands. That is, all except Mr. Jacob Thomas who continued on the Board except for a break of one or two years.

Mr. Mathew Marattukulam, Mr. Raunaq Singh and General Tire International wanted me to stay on. I was fortunate to witness my idea materializing from paper to plant to production. I left the company only after that.

Even now I feel proud to see the Perambra plant, Apollo’s first one, when I drive past it sometimes. Today it is one of the world’s top tyre companies.

Nebu said...

Thanks for the clarification Achen. I had the impression that Mr. Raunaq Singh was instrumental in you leaving Apollo and felt bitterness towards him for my own selfish reasons.

babu vettoor said...

babu vettoor.

Thanks for the details which was unknown to many of the Apollo investors.This will motivate others also. thanks

babu vettoor said...

Sir, Can you please tell why Ruby Rubber Works Ltd failed? A premier rubber factory of India

Abraham Tharakan said...

Babu Vettoor, thank you for your comments.
I had moved off from Ruby Rubber with the Apollo Tyre project and therefore have no details about how Ruby Rubber failed. It was such a tragedy because that company had good potential.

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