September 9th is an important date which resonates with one brand – Amul. Seven years ago, its founder and ex- chairman Dr. Verghese Kurien passed away. While growing up in Anand, in IRMA (Institute of Rural Management Anand), I had the privilege of being up close if not personal with the legend and his aura.
As a personality, Dr. Kurien always seemed to be a man of few words. And as kids we were not just impressed by him but always in awe of how he has helped create an endearing brand and related institutions. The long-term vision and stamp of authority was there.
- Sustenance: The institutions of IRMA, AMUL, NDDB and other ancillaries which were connected to the Amul story. However, each institution was impeccably well maintained. Even after so many years, if you visit any of the townships or campuses built in Anand, one will admire the longevity of these institutions. The grass is manicured and well maintained, the offices, library and interiors all look the same. There was an elaborate maintenance schedule which was in place which ensured the exteriors are given a fresh coat of paint every five years and interiors are spruced up every two years. A model even gated communities do not follow diligently.
- Future managers: As part of a small community, we were people from different parts of the country. Interestingly, I also got to know what the students used to pursue. It was an MBA program with a difference. Not for the corporate jobs, but smart managers who will go on to become a Dr. Kurien in the future. Interestingly, the head of ITC’s Agri business is one of the early graduates of IRMA, similar stalwarts are working with NGOs, micro finance firms etc.
Dr. Kurien also groomed his successor carefully and over the years Mrs. Amrita Patel who worked on ‘Operation Flood’.
- Branding: GCMMF or Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation is the primary arm of Amul which markets the brand. Honestly it does it so well and effectively. The Amul Butter girl for example has never missed out on making a point on some of the trendiest topics. In fact, in the old days, when it was restricted to outdoor hoardings, I used to cycle to check the hoarding every 15 days. Times have changed and now the Amul topical ads trend well on twitter.
Perhaps the leadership style also emanates from the leader. Under Dr. Kurien, he employed a lot of extremely smart people who really believed in the change they are bringing. And most people stayed on – for a lifetime.
Harsh Goenka of the RPG group recently tweeted some truisms which resonates beyond most corporate worlds on how to be a good boss:
- Empower your team
- Be interested in your colleagues’ success and well being
- Be a good coach
- Listen well
- Be interested in their career development
- Be clear about the vision
- Be compassionate
I spent close to 20 years living, studying in an institution built by Dr. Kurien and I always feel he made us a doodhwala for life, irrespective of career choices we have made today. I also feel, this was perhaps the model which should have been copied, given the agrarian distress today’s farmers are going through. Mahatma Gandhi was right- “The soul of India lives in the villages” and Dr. Kurien had taught us in his lifetime how he could enrich the Indian farmer and institution farming.
Today, India is one of the largest producers of cow milk. From a milk-deficit country with production at 20 million tonnes in the 1960s to 176 million tonnes in 2018. You and I can sip a glass of milk with pride!