Evolution of Traditional Indian Business

July 7, 2017 Business

Evolution of Traditional Indian Business: Challenges and Strategies to Commercial Success. dissecting the traditional Singapore Indian business: roles and functions (239) Traditional Indian businesses; small-scale and family controlled firms employ distinct socio-economic characteristics that exploit functional family role-relationships and allegiances to ensure efficient implementation of business decisions. These firms utilize a mixture of informal and conventional management styles to complement paternalistic and nepotic practises; thereby allowing family members strategic control of key managerial positions. 1] Although traditional Indian enterprises have played a major role in Singapore’s economic growth and commercial economy, I will establish these enterprises as being fundamentally immature and inappropriate for modern economic growth without the evolution and adaptation process coupled with the strong foundation and base priorities of these firms; the joint ownership, personal stakes involved in its success and acceptance of patriarchal decisions that puts them in an excellent position to achieve commercial success. [2]

My essay will highlight the challenges faced by the Chettiar community as a reflection of the tough socio-economic climate faced by traditional Indian businesses in Singapore and the decline of Chettiar money-lending to show the need for the evolution of traditional Indian businesses to remain economically relevant. My essay will also compare some of the expansionary strategies implemented by Indian enterprises to adapt, evolve and ultimately ensure the survival and continued success of the traditional Indian firm in Singapore.

I will proceed to evaluate the impact of these strategies on the contrasting fortunes of Mustaq Ahmad and P Govindasamy Pillai as a reflection of the challenges and strategies to commercial success. the challenges faced: decline of money-lending and the Chettiars (311) Since their advent in the 1820s, the Chettiars; a prominent class of merchants from South Asia with an established reputation in the fields of commerce and finance had become a formidable force in the money-lending business of Singapore.

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The Chettiars controlled vast regional networks with large amounts of capital at their command and remained largely successful in their economic enterprises until the 1930s when various restrictive legislative bills were passed to curb and control money-lending activities in Singapore. [3] In addition, the emergence of Arabs, Sikhs and Chinese indulging in small scale money-lending and the sudden Japanese occupation of Singapore between 1940 and 1945 brought a sharp reduction in the money-lending trade amongst the Chettiars. 4] The final phase of decline began post-independence; 1965 with the implementation of stringent employment and immigration policies established by the new colonial government in addition to the ever rising number of local money-lenders and the rapid augmentation of financial institutions dealing the last blow to the Chettiars. The 108 registered Chettiar money-lending firms in 1966 dropped to a mere 7 by 1981. [5]

The Chettiar presence in post-independent Singapore has been characterized by an outmigration of the long-established Chettiar money-lenders back to Tamil Nadu as their outdated practises and systems were unable to compete with the emergence of an increasingly sophisticated banking system in Singapore. However, a new generation of Chettiars in search of wage employment did migrate to Singapore with their nuclear families to engage in semi-professional, sales and service sectors, subsequently gaining citizenship and cementing the Chettiar community as a major pillar of Singapore’s commercial success. 6] This is an accurate reflection of the need to remain economically relevant with the tough socio-economic conditions in Singapore where rapid development threatened to make obsolete many traditional Indian businesses that were unable to adopt new strategies and evolve to match the lightning pace of Singapore’s economic growth. ____________________________________________________________ ______________________________ [1] Nilavu Mohd.

Ali, Yeo Chor Siang, Saroja Devi Dorairajoo and Jacintha Stephens, NEW PLACE, OLD WAYS: Essays on Indian Society and Culture in Modern Singapore (Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corporation, 1994) pp 157 [2] Nilavu Mohd. Ali, Yeo Chor Siang, Saroja Devi Dorairajoo and Jacintha Stephens, NEW PLACE, OLD WAYS: Essays on Indian Society and Culture in Modern Singapore (Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corporation, 1994) pp 157 [3] Kernial Singh Sandhu and A.

Mani, Indian Communities in South-East Asia (Singapore:Times Academic Press, 1993) pp 852 [4] Hans-Dieter Evers and Jayarani Pavadarayan, Asceticism and Ecstasy: The Chettiars of Singapore (Germany, University of Bielefeld WP, 79) pp 6-7 [5] The Singapore Government Gazette 1966,S (Singapore, 1981) [6] Hans-Dieter Evers and Jayarani Pavadarayan, Asceticism and Ecstasy: The Chettiars of Singapore (Germany, University of Bielefeld WP, 79) pp 7 Mustaq Ahmad and the evolution of Mohamed Mustafa: An Indian success story (246) The transformation of Mohamed Mustafa from its humble push-cart beginning [7]; selling ready-made garments to local Indian immigrants in Campbell Lane to Mustafa Centre; a 75,000 square feet department store with a 130-room hotel that includes a hypermarket, jewellery mart, pharmacy, postal, money-changing and travel services that carry over 150,000 products ranging from electronics to mangoes was made possible due to a number of strategies implemented by Mustaq Ahmad. [8] His pioneering decision to sell his products at fixed prices, an uncommon practice that went well with customers; finding his products competitively priced and also saving precious time on the bargaining process thereby increasing customer traffic and leading to continued growth and expansion of Mohamed Mustafa.

Mustaq Ahmad’s costly and daring expansions; first shifting to a larger rented space in Serangoon Plaza; away from the main shopping belt and later, the acquisition of twenty shop-houses along Syed Alwi Road were successful in positioning Mohamed Mustafa as a one-stop shopping haven [9] and benefited much from the patronage of Indian tourists during the tourism boom in the 1980s as well as its low-margin, high-volume business philosophy, hands-on management style and innovative concepts such as the “round-the-clock” shopping and mail-order catalogue and accessibility to world-wide shoppers. [ 10] The evolutionary continued success of Mohamed Mustafa can be directly attributed to the positive implementation of growth strategies that helped this traditional Indian business stay relevant and adapt to the challenging socio-economic climate to achieve continued success in Singapore’s commercial economy.

The rise and fall of P Govindasamy Pillai & Sons : A cautionary tale (304) From its humble beginnings selling spices, oils and grains in 1929, P Govindasamy Pillai or PGP Stores expanded to include other businesses such as textile, flour and spice mills and saree-shops, making P Govindasamy Pillai one of the few early successful Indian businessmen in Singapore. [11] However, Pillai and his family fled to India during the Japanese occupation, losing all his all property and goods in the process. He returned to Singapore in 1945 and re-started the business, investing in properties on Serangoon, Race Course and Buffalo Road as well as using his foresight to expand the business across the Causeway; opening PGP stores in Malacca and Johor. [12]

P Govindasamy Pillai led a frugal life, saved money and gave generously to charities – temples and schools, retiring in 1963 and handing over the family business, valued at S$3 million to his children. With the passing of P Govindasamy Pillai in 1980, the multi-million dollar enterprise was split by his three sons with the flagship store being entrusted to his youngest son, Govindasamy Thanabalan. The PGP store was subsequently forced to shut-down after chalking up some $8 million in debt to creditors by 1999 following mismanagement and Thanabalan’s unexpected death in 1992. Pillai’s second son, Govindasamy Ramakrishnan, who was widely credited with boosting the family’s profits in the earlier years, also ran into difficulties over external trade deals that soured and he moved back to India. [13]

The failure to evolve and adapt to the tough socio-economic climate in Singapore after the death of P Govindasamy Pillai is an accurate reflection of some of the challenges faced by traditional Indian enterprises in Singapore and has left us with a sad end to the iconic story of P Govindasamy Pillai & Sons and PGP Stores; a Singapore landmark and a symbol of traditional Indian business in Singapore. Evolution of Traditional Indian Business: Challenges and Strategies to Commercial Success (109) The decline of the money-lending and Chettiars reflect the need for the traditional Indian enterprise to evolve and continuously transform themselves so as to remain relevant in the tough socio-economic climate of Singapore.

The resistance to change, refusal to alter some of the practises and foundations of these businesses proves to be a major stumbling block for many traditional Indian businesses and serves to highlight the need for the implementation of targeted strategies for the continued success and growth of traditional Indian businesses in Singapore. The contrasting fortunes Mohamed Mustafa and P Govindasamy Pillai & Sons show the need for sustained growth strategies to evolve and achieve continued success. ____________________________________________________________ _____________________________ [7] Video Mustaq Ahmad; Life Story ll: Episode 3 (Singapore, MediaCorp Studios, 2006) ‘http://www. tinyurl. om/mustafavideo’ [8] S Tsang, Discover Singapore: the city’s history ; culture redefined (Singapore, Marshall Cavendish Editions 2007) pp. 126-127 [9]Isabel Ong, Mustaq Ahmad (Singapore, National Library Board 28082008), ‘infopedia. nl. sg/articles/SIP_1164_2009-03-10. html’ [10]Madhu Madan, Yamini Vasudevan and Rita Raman, Singapore Indian entrepreneurs: Dreams to reality (Singapore: SICC, 2004) pp. 104-107 [11] M. K Doggett, Characters of light  (Singapore, Times Books International, 1985) pp. 61 [12] D. S Samuel, Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest (Singapore, Elixir Consultancy Service, 1991) pp. 207 [13] Sitragandi Arunasalam, P Govindasamy Pillai (Singapore, National Library Board 19022003), ‘infopedia. nl. sg/articles/SIP_262_2005-01-13. html’


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