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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Remembering GA Meon, IT Tsar of Kerala

It is tougher for an industrialist with integrity to survive in Kerala than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. But late Goplala Achutha Menon, founder of Toonz Animation India and the first chairman of UST Global was one of the few industrialists who proved this wrong. Menon a harbinger of IT industry in Kerala not merely survived in this red rampart but was eminently successful too.

Average Keralite might not have heard much about this visionary businessman despite being one of the biggest job providers in the state. However he was one of the rare Malayalis who contributed to his homeland more than he inherited. He tried for the industrialisation of Kerala despite the challenges he faced. He was equally at ease in Beverley Hills in the US where he lived and at the orthodox small town of Thiruvananthapuram.   Menon was wonderfully successful in the US, Singapore and Kerala, is a perfect reply to those NRI industrialists who search for the key to tackle complex problems in the state known for its hartals and anti-capitalist movements.

Menon had umpteen achievements to his credit, but the common man in Kerala first noticed him only a few years before his death and that too was for a different reason. In this controversy loving South Indian state, Menon first hit the headlines of leading dailies when an eternal litigant Nawab Rajendran served a notice on him for allegedly serving drinks in public without a license. The reason was Menon’s Cadillac extended limousine was said to have a well stocked bar.  Menon’s Cadillac rolling through the dingy roads of Kerala was a wonder then and magazines wrote about it.

Stepping to Kerala’s industrial sector

Despite his status as an Electronics Tsar, Menon’s entry into Kerala’s industrial arena was with a proposal to set up a Rs 6000 crore petrochemical complex. It did not take off.  However Menon did not back out and eventually set up two companies in IT sector showing the state its right way to industrialization.

Many remember Menon as a person of ethics and right strategy and perhaps that was why his personality attracted even left leaders with integrity like CPI leader and former Kerala chief minister P.K Vasudevan Nair. Menon never flaunted his influence and believed in progress through the right way. He was never one of the businessmen who wanted to be in the limelight of media though he interacted with media persons regularly. This is one of the reasons why this blog chose to remember the contributions of Menon who was one of the top industrialists from Nair community in Kerala. We are not sure Menon was in anyway associated with social organizations of Nair community like NSS. However, Menon’s contributions to Kerala as a whole make him worth remembering.

Early stages
Born in the picturesque sleepy coastal area of North Paravur in Ernakulam district in Kerala, Menon majored in Mathematics from Madras University. At that time  many  Keralaites used to go to  Madras University  for their higher studies. He is reported to have begun career as a statistician at Thackerse Moolijee Group of Textile Mills in Mumbai. Later he took an MBA from Harvard and moved to IBM where he occupied different managerial positions for 15 years.
After IBM closed operations in India in he joined ComCraft group in Singapore. He became chairman of many companies in Chandaria group. In Singapore, he set up Multi Tech systems which merged with Venture Manufacturing Singapore in 1989 and is one of the largest electronics manufacturing industries in the world now.
His success seems to be associating with the right partners and using the opportunity to grow along with the organisation. He occupied a prominent position in the electronics industry in the world for forty years; not a simple achievement.
He co-founded Magnecomp Corporation in the USA (a wholly-owned subsidiary) in 1984 together with Mr Wesley H. Burkhart. The companies that he chaired are many and versatile.  It is difficult to name all the companies founded by him or chaired by him.

Menon’s contribution to Kerala

Menon’s eminence lies in the fact that he returned to his home state where he tried to contribute for its industrialization despite the challenges. He showed the example as to which type of industry is suited for Kerala considering its geographical, social, demographical and educational capacities.

He is reported to be one of those who played a seminal role in the formation of TiE Kerala, with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship in Kerala. It is not known whether the organization had achieved its aims in Kerala. Menon is also reported to have contributed to the formation of the Kerala Support Group at California, aimed at entrepreneurial development in his home state, Kerala.

An active man throughout his life Menon passed away in a Los-Angeles bound flight from Singapore in December 2, 2003 at the age of only 72.  It is doubtful if Menon got the accolades he deserved from his home. When every NRI businessmen is being honored with Padma titles Menon eminently deserved to be honored much more for showing the path of IT and IT enabled services for the growth of Kerala. We Nairs can definitely be proud of G A Menon, an eminent member of community who rose as a world leader in his area of expertise. Let Nair youths learn from his life and work.

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