Event ReportsPublished on Aug 30, 2014
Chennai may have lost out on the petroleum, petro-chemicals, pharmaceutical, and biotech fields, but it still remains the home-base of several solid market leaders from myriad industries.
Chennai - Industrial and trade hub leader
Initiating an interaction on 'Madras: Trade, Business and Industry - Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow' in Chennai on August 30, 2014, veteran business journalist Sushila Ravindranath emphasised the myriad reasons why the city always was -- and always will be -- an industrial and trading hub. The interaction was the third and last in the month-long 'Madras Week' celebrations, in which ORF-Chennai participated this year.

Sushila Ravindranath said that helped by the rails, roads and harbour instituted by the British not to mention the education system, the city of Madras became a powerful market and manufacturing metropolis, she pointed out. In the 1950's and 1960's, Chennai - then Madras - was known as the "Detroit of India". The moniker has been revived and respected today to such an extent that Detroit maybe now called the "Madras of America", she said.

The 'Bullet' motorbike was assembled and manufactured here, TI Cycles set up the first integrated cycle factory in Ambattur and Hercules cycles became a household name. Ashok Leyland is still the country's second largest truck manufacturer. TAFE, the second largest tractor manufacturer and the largest exporter of small tractors, was incorporated in 1960 in Madras.

Tyre giant MRF established a presence in Chennai during this time, making Madras the 'tyre capital of the world'. The TVS, Amalgamations and Rane groups started manufacturing almost all the components that go into automobiles. If industry figures are to be believed one in ten - or, or conservatively one in a hundred - automobile in the world has an auto-component or connection to Tamil Nadu and Chennai. "Chennai has an installed capacity to produce two-million vehicles a year - everything that moves - from bicycles to battle-tanks and railway coaches," as Ms Sushila recalled.

Risk-averse, conservative

A risk-averse, traditional and conservative business community was seen as an arch conservative risk-averse state that was not interested in industrial growth" -- that is almost morbidly averse to financial institutions (a carry-over of the days of yore when raising even Rs. 5000 from a bank or any other financial institution cost an entrepreneur, dear) the city of Chennai has still produced many traditional and non-traditional industry leaders in most sectors, Sushila Ravindranath said.

While dominating the services, e-publishing, mobile technology, and IT sectors in today's economy, the city also powers the leather, textiles, fertilizer, food, automobile and auto-component sectors. Madras may have lost out on the petroleum, petro-chemicals, pharmaceutical, and biotech fields but it still remains the home-base of several solid market leaders from myriad industries.

Ford established its factory in Chennai, and Hyundai followed suit. Ever since, there has been non-stop action on the automobile front. The State has managed to attract five other automobile majors - Mitsubishi, Daimler, Nissan, Renault and BMW - and is the only state to have seven auto giants.

Largest retail-hub

The age of the corporate hospital and healthcare was born in Chennai and pioneers and market leaders such as Apollo Hospitals and others make the city a Healthcare capital. The country's largest and the most respected IT company TCS has been operating out of Chennai from 1983. The TCS management among others convinced the Tamil Nadu Government to set up the IT-centralised TIDEL Park, thus continuing the tradition of industrial estates pioneered in Madras (Ambattur and Guindy), bolstering today's economy as well. T Nagar the shopping capital can easily compete with the 'Big Apple' in sourcing the 'un-sourceble' -- a place to find anything at reasonable prices, thus making the humble Ranganathan Street, South-East Asia's largest retail hub.

This city, the home of SMEs and debt-free industrial giants, owes a lot of its present place in the sun to the guidance from and initiatives of political leaders and government policies, past and present, as well as the graduates from secondary and tertiary education institutions that churn out hordes of doctors, engineers, graduates and PhDs to man the many industries that find space in Chennai and Tamil Nadu.

Add to this the abundant skilled and unskilled labour and you get many reasons for Chennai being an industrial hub despite power, water, land, and infrastructure scarcity. Yet even before mergers and acquisitions became the buzzword of the business, sections of the city had groups like Amalagamations, TVS and Murugappa that consolidated business empires by taking over and strengthening many diverse industries, Sushila Ravindranath pointed out.

(This report is prepared by Raakhee Suryaprakash, 'Sunshine Millennium', Chennai)

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