IT'S 4 A.M. ON a weekday. As factory doors swing open, the tall chairman and CEO of KPR Mill, K.P. Ramasamy, walks in. Without rush, he hangs around to share a smiling Vaazhga Valamudan (may you live long with the glory of life) with employees and asks a detail or two about the work, before moving on. Widely addressed as ‘appa’ by the 25,000 women employees in his garment-manufacturing unit in Coimbatore, Ramasamy has not only provided employment but also educated these women, most of who come from small places in and around the city.
Ramasamy, whose father was a small farmer, had started his business journey in 1971 with a single power loom. The following year, he borrowed money from a relative and added looms. Soon, brothers K.P.D. Sigamani and P. Nataraj joined. The following years saw the company set up spinning mills, move to fabric and garment manufacturing and integrate the entire process from yarn to fabric. In 2004, business touched ₹500 crore. In 2007, the management decided to bring in private equity investors. “We took eight months to understand the pros and cons involved,” Nataraj says in a media interview. Soon after, the company went public. Initial stock price was 50 paise. Today, it is ₹900.
As business grew, so did challenges. Frequent power cuts interrupted work. KPR had invested in wind mills but wind power was available for only six months in a year. It tapped a power generator from Karnataka for the other half of the year. Apparel and textile is a volatile market with cut-throat competition. Rapid inflation and deflation in prices of raw materials, especially cotton, make things worse. The industry took a severe hit during Covid but is rediscovering opportunities now. KPR recently made a foray into domestic retail by trading garments under brand name FASO. The government’s target of $100 billion textile and apparel exports by FY28 is also expected to give a fillip to the company, listed as one of the top five textile makers in the country.
Ramasamy attributes success to his fearless decision-making skills. “Out of ten, two or three decisions could go wrong. But being 70% right is good,” he says.
Decisions at the company are made keeping employees in mind. KPR provides free accommodation, subsidised food, vocational training and facilities such as entertainment and yoga to employees. Recently, it adopted a system of campus placements; so far, 5,000 employees have been placed in IT companies. Ramasamy says they are the first organisation in the world to let their employees move to other companies. The gesture has instilled confidence in girls who come to work for them from villages around Coimbatore.
Modernisation plans include building a vortex spinning mill for ₹100 crore this financial year. KPR Mill will also commence ethanol capacity expansion at a cost of ₹150 crore before sugar season 2023-24.
However, the company is not inclined towards inorganic acquisitions. “The first reason is that we do not know the quality of the machinery and its life. Second is that we have green regulations which we want to follow,” says Ramasamy.
When it comes to business, the three brothers argue and brainstorm each move. But when it comes to family, Ramasamy’s word is final. The next generation is already into the business. Honesty, hard work and integrity are three values our dad instilled in us and we follow those to a T, say the brothers.
At a glance, Ramasamy gives the impression of being a conservative leader. But he blends well with the times, is aware that there are people ahead of him, and is willing to take guidance and inspiration from them. He knows market trends change at the snap of a finger. Machinery, too, becomes outdated fast. Ramasamy makes decisions on the spot. Some turn out to be failures but “to pass the exam, only 40% is needed; scoring 70% or 80% is still good,” he says.