The tycoons of Batu Road


BY B.K. SIDHU

OPERATING their businesses from the bustling Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, formerly known as Batu Road in Kuala Lumpur, many successful Indian businessmen could easily escape the glare of publicity but their products have surely been entrenched as household names for all Malaysians in decades.  

Globe Silk Store gave many Malaysians their first taste of a departmental store; V.K.K. Kalyanasundram was considered the king of sarees; G.S. Gill, a sports specialist; Binwanis the exclusive silk merchant; and P. Lal Store had long been known for its range of winter clothing.  

Some of these family-owned businesses, mostly in textiles and commodities, seemed to have managed to ride the tide but newer and trendier stores are slowly but surely entering the market. 

The so-called new kids on the block that have made Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Masjid India their hub in the past few decades include Kamdar Sdn Bhd, Gulati's, Maya's, Mydin's and Singapore-owned Haniffa Textiles. 

Some of the Indian businesses that have been around Batu Road for ages include Dyalchand, Gian Singh & Co, C.J. Doshi, Chanrai's, P. Parsram, Harbhajan's, Wasimall's, and T. Havela Singh. 

“They started out in a small group (in the early to mid-1990s) of Indian businesses which were identified with Batu Road but they have soon expanded to Jalan Masjid India and the surrounding areas,” said Datuk V.K.K. Teagarajan, managing director of V.K.K. Diversified Holdings Sdn Bhd, who owns part of the V.K.K. Kalyanasundram business today. 

Some of the businessmen were self-made entrepreneurs while others took over the business from their fathers. Most of those from the second generation are now preparing to pass the baton to their children, who would be third generation owners. 

The second generation of businessmen include Teagarajan, Tan Sri Kishu Tirathrai of Globe, Datuk G.S. Gill; Sham and Manish Lal of P. Lal; Harshuklal and Kishor Kamdar of Kamdar. 

This group are members of one of the country's oldest chambers of commerce, the Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KLSICCI), which celebrates its 75th anniversary this week. 

But it is not only the businessmen of Batu Road who have maintained a low profile. In fact, other Indian businessmen such as T. Ananda Krishnan, whose business empire spans the globe, have remained elusive all these years. 

So have Tan Sri A.P. Arumugum of Makhota Technologies; Datuk Santakumar of Verichi Integrated Bhd; Ravi Menon of ARA Corp; Keharsons whose base is in Labuan and Magaram Ratnani of GM Chuharmal in Langkawi. Others such as Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam of Westport, Tan Sri Mohan Swami of Chase Perdana and Datuk A.K. Nathan of Shineversendai Engineering are more high profile in the sense that they have granted press interviews and are less media shy. 

Many of the businessmen of Batu Road owned chunks of property, some passed on from their forefathers, along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. 

In the 1970s, land prices at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman was about RM25psf, said Teagarajan. But the prices increased manifolds and a four-storey property that had cost RM250,000 in 1972 was worth RM4mil in 1988. 

Today, land prices around Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Masjid India are among the highest in the country, some fetching RM2,000 psf while rentals for four-storey buildings going for RM45,000 per month, says Teagarajan. 

The appreciation of property prices saw many Indian businessmen hiving off some of their property assets, which made them millionaires overnight. With those funds, many of them expanded their businesses, some diversified into non-core areas. 

Not many businesses were spared the wrath of the 1997 Asian economic and financial crisis. These privately-owned businesses were hard hit and some are still licking their wounds. And although most second-generation entrepreneurs are passing their business enterprises onto their children, sibling rivalry has remained an issue.  

“It is the Asian dilemma. The saying is that Asian businesses do not last beyond three generations; I would say it gets fragmented after the founder is no longer in control of the business,'' said Teagarajan.  

The bulk of family-owned Indian family business has also remained private through the decades. The listing of their outfits on the KLSE apparently is not a priority. 

One of the top textile merchants of Batu Road – Kamdar – recently prepared for listing via the purchase of Woo Hing Brothers (Malaya) Bhd. 

“In the business of trading, we do not require that much capital, so that is why many have remained family-owned,” Kishu said. 

Teagarajan added that many tycoons of Batu Road would have listed their companies if not for the financial crisis. “Sometimes, it is better to have it privately owned although the satisfaction level is lower compared with owning a larger group. But it is all yours.” 

As to the future of these Indian businesses, Kishu said: “It is the same; we have to keep competing, changing and adapting to new changes to survive.” 

 

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