Kouchouseph Chittilappilly who sold 50 lakh shares recently to fund his philanthropy on wealth, success and giving
* It was my decision to slowly liquidate some of my shares to create wealth for the foundation’s philanthropic activities
* Exactly a decade ago, while Chittilappilly was still at the helm of his businesses, he became a kidney donor
* Creating wealth is not success. Success is in building an enterprise or a product, marketing it and making it tick. Wealth is a byproduct
Kochouseph Chittilappilly neatly delineates his two identities — the industrialist and the philanthropist — and the two do not mix. For the Chairman Emeritus of two listed companies, V Guard Industries Ltd and Wonderla Amusement Parks and Resort, the ‘head’ is firmly in charge when matters of business are at hand. The ‘heart’ takes over when he oversees the growing philanthropic activities under the K Chittilappilly Foundation. It has largely been ‘heart’ over ‘head’ for Chittilappilly in recent years as he has increasingly delegated the businesses to his sons.
The head and heart binary has worked well for the 71-year-old Kochi resident who raised businesses worth $1.1billion over the past 40 years. “Business is business,” he says cryptically. And he plays it like a thoroughbred business head, competitively, and seeking to dominate the market. Philanthropy, he observes, abides by different rules. “There you apply your heart,” he says.
Chittilappilly offloaded 90 lakh shares worth ₹222 crore this year to fund his philanthropy. The sale of 50 lakh shares in the company earlier this week came on the back of another — 40 lakh shares worth ₹ 90 crore — made in February. “It was my decision to slowly liquidate some of my shares to create wealth for the foundation’s philanthropic activities,” Chittilappilly tells BLink in a telephone interview.
Over the past decade, the foundation has focused on medical aid and housing for families below the poverty line, supported women-led Self Help Groups with micro enterprises, and aided education of children, he points out. “Philanthropy has been a part of my life over the past decade, and now I want to scale up. I have retired from the businesses at V Guard and Wonderla, and it has given me more time,” he adds.
Exactly a decade ago, while Chittilappilly was still at the helm of his businesses, he became a kidney donor. He was 60 when he donated the organ to a 42-year-old truck driver. The action set Chittilappilly apart from run-of-the-mill Corporate Social Responsibility platitudes and has been the bulwark of his social enterprise ever since. Multiple requests for monetary help for dialysis and organ transplant often landed at his desk at the foundation. He came to understand closely the reservations around organ donation even among family members of kidney patients. He decided to act by setting an example, donating the organ to a stranger.
It was a challenge, he admits. “But I thought if I’m healthy, then why not?” Ten years on, he remains healthy, while the recipient has got to watch his daughter grow into a teenager. Chittilappilly’s high profile organ donation did bring the cause more traction in Kerala. “When compared to other states, organ donations are quite popular in Kerala, especially within the family,” he claims.
On the other hand, his interventions seeking to rid the state of stray dogs made him unpopular among animal rights activists and had him battling with animal welfare bodies. Heading the “stray dog free movement”, he had gone on a hunger strike demanding protection to people against stray dogs, and even petitioned the Kerala High Court in 2014.
“We receive requests for help from accident victims at the foundation. When we probe the nature of the accident, we find cases where two-wheeler mishaps are caused by stray dogs,” he says.
The issue had polarised society, and stray dog attacks on people, some fatally in the state, often led to calls for their culling. Years since matters came to a head, Chittilappilly says, “People who are concerned about stray dogs should provide them shelter and feed them well. If they are hungry and out in the open, they will bite.”
The billionaire who started out with a small voltage stabiliser business in 1977, two employees and a capital of ₹1,00,000 from his father, says it is payback time. “I was born and brought up in a village. The initial support from my father aside, I earned my fortune from society. I have a moral responsibility to give part of it away,” he says.
Philanthropy, he observes, was never a chapter without context; it has been a slow, life-long process. As a small businessman in his early days, he helped out in ways he could, he adds.
Chittilappilly has kept close tabs on contemporary entrepreneurs and their journeys, be it NR Narayana Murthy of Infosys or Wipro’s Azim Premji. He has witnessed the changing dynamics of business itself. “The newer set of entrepreneurs have little hesitation in parting with their wealth. Moreover, families have gone nuclear. There is no meaning in giving all the wealth to your children. A good amount of money can be set aside for the needy,” he notes.
Chittilappilly’s businesses have diversified into a range of electrical products and amusement park chains in Kochi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Apart from his philanthropic projects, he is now engaged in a smaller enterprise — Veegaland Homes. “It is a very, very small entity compared to V Guard and Wonderla; here we build apartments on a small scale.”
In yet another small beginning lies a business philosophy that has driven Chittilappilly all along — an incredible appetite for success. He clearly demarcates the two takeaways of a good business — success and wealth.
“Creating wealth is not success. Success is in building an enterprise or a product, marketing it and making it tick. Wealth is a byproduct. We work not just to create wealth, but to create more and more success stories.”