Jyothy Laboratories – A Business Imprinted in White

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At first sight you may mistake him to be a film producer in his suave three-piece suit which however he is not. Moothedath Panjan Ramachandran or M.P. Ramachandran, born in Kandanassery, Guruvayoor, Thrissur District, Kerala who has made Mumbai his home since the last four decades heads an esteemed organization. Ramachandran had a rather scaled down beginning to his career working as an accountant in Chemicals and Aromatics, a private firm while pursuing his post-graduation in financial management in Mumbai.

Today Ramachandran is the Chairman Emeritus of Jyothy Laboratories, a US $240 million company that he founded in 1983. His elder daughter M.R. Jyothy took over as the company’s Managing Director with effect from April 1, 2020. Ramachandran who always had a penchant for wearing white has always since his childhood been dissatisfied with fabric whiteners especially during the days when he used to wash his own clothes. Once when he happened to stumble upon a chemical industry journal that featured an article on purple coloured dyes helping textile makers make the most of brilliant shades of white.

The article ignited the entrepreneur spark in his mind and Ramachandran began doing R&D in his kitchen for about a year – boiling, diluting and testing, until he was pleased with the results. The budding entrepreneur then decided to give shape to his small beginnings which began in an almost reclusive fashion in the public domain and thus began the journey of Jyothy Labs. He set up the company with Rs. 5000 and a vision to create an impact by touching people’s lives.
Jyothy Laboratories which began as a proprietary concern which manufactured and sold a single product in a single district has spread its wings and announced itself to the world as a multi-brand, multi-product company with operations all over India. Today Jyothy Labs customers swear by the brand and hails it for its reasonably priced products that are conveniently packaged, extensively distributed and supported by strategic communication. Jyothy Laboratories is the indigenous alternative to FMCG multinationals like Unilever and Proctor & Gamble.

The early 1990s was known as the period of liberalisation and satellite television which invaded homes in India was ushering big changes in consumers’ minds. Jyothy Labs ignited a spark in television viewers’ minds with its liquid fabric whitener Ujala Supreme which was advertised constantly on television channels. Over the years Jyothy Labs expanded its portfolio and established itself as a premier fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company with a range of brands such as Henko, Mr. White, Pril, Exo, Margo, Super Chek, More Light, and so on.

As was the norm with numerous Malayalis who in search of opportunities move to other cities in India or abroad, Ramachandran too in the early 1970s travelled to Mumbai to further his career prospects. Back then, he would don only white, a habit which he imbibed from his father, according to Ramachandran, wearing white brings forth austere qualities in an individual. It keeps him disciplined, stay clean and calm and draw the attention of others, and these qualities have been cornerstone in the growth of Jyothy Labs over the years.

Things weren’t always rosy and Ramachandran had his shares of struggles when trying to establish a foothold in the FMCG sector. Ramachandran began from his hometown in Thrissur with a small factory that he set up with his life savings and in few months he was almost broke and ready to wind up business when he received an order for 1000 bottles of Ujala from a distributor in Malappuram. In due course Ujala became the country’s biggest fabric whitener brand with a market share of more than 70%.
Ramachandran firmly believes that going forward Jyothy Laboratories will need a new generation of think-tanks in its senior management who will have more contemporary ideas to meet the perceived needs of his company’s customers. For this significant contribution to the sales, marketing and brand communication aspects of the company will be required, innovations alone will be the differentiator and help it climb the success ladder.
Personally, Ramachandran believes that a strong and economically liberated India can be realised only when India’s citizens work towards it by dreaming big and striving to make those dreams a reality with the right moves. On the business front Ramachandran visits all his factories at least once in a year to motivate his staff and keep their confidence levels high, enquiring about their welfare and trying to solve their issues. He makes it a point to have his meals with them and give access to all of them to approach him directly. Furthermore, unlike other competitors Ramachandran always ensures that the last mile connectivity with the shopkeeper is always serviced by a Jyothy staff. Jyothy’s 1,800-strong sales force gives it a reach of 1.1 million outlets, making it the highest penetrated product after Hindustan Lever’s Lifebuoy.
From the early days, Ramachandran had a clear belief in the power of advertising. In 1997, Jyothy Laboratories’ revenue was around Rs. 100 crore. That year, Ramachandran spent Rs. 36 crore on advertising Ujala. “Everyone called us mad,” When Ramachandran decided to invest in the Ujala brand. The agency, Situations Advertising and Marketing Services Pvt. Ltd, handled the brand’s account. The huge advertising budget and a catchy jingle-the sort that plays on in an unending loop inside the head-helped and retailers across the country started demanding Ujala. Jyothy took effective advantage of tax breaks to set up plants in so-called backward areas. Ramachandran operated with two maxims: He never relied on debt and ploughed back all his profits into the business. He lived in a 300 square feet, one-bedroom house till 1998.

Personally Ramachandran has a fondness for white in almost everything which can be gauged from his dress as well as the colour of his cars. He has the firm belief of testing everything in Kerala as he is of the opinion that if a product garners sale in Kerala then it would succeed everywhere else. He concludes by saying that when I open my eyes, I see white, the colour of opportunities, one only needs to paint it the right way.

Image Copyright : Shevlin Sebastian

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