Aston 50th Anniversary: Mr A Vellayan Q&A

50 Aston Greats: Mr A Vellayan

Mr A Vellayan

Mr A Vellayan is Chairman of one of India’s leading conglomerates, the Murugappa Group. Headquartered in Chennai, the Group is also one of India’s oldest family businesses, having been founded by Dewan Bahadur A M Murugappa Chettiar in 1900 as a money-lending and banking enterprise. With his passion for building value and integrity, Mr A Vellayan is the fourth generation family member to head the Murugappa Group and, today, its businesses are market leaders in numerous fields ranging from sugar to fertilisers. Mr Vellayan holds a diploma in Industrial Administration from Aston University.

What motivates you about your current role in one of India's largest and oldest family business groups?

I feel a duty to create value for each generation and that’s probably what spurs me on. We are in a high growth economy and it’s an opportunity to build value for the long term, and to feel proud about doing it generation after generation.

What have been the challenges of maintaining a diverse portfolio of businesses within one family firm?

Many of our business came by acquisition, so we acquired a different culture. What we brought to the table was the capability to turn around businesses and then, after we got the Group large enough, we started creating a common culture. Although we’re a family business, we professionalised the Group right to the top. In almost all companies in the Group, the Managing Director - or even sometimes the Vice Chairman - is a professional. It’s not a given, because they are our family members, that they are in management. We have given priority to capability and meritocracy over shareholding and age. 

Another of the ground rules that we follow is that we have tried to make the businesses number one or two either regionally or nationally. Although the portfolio is diverse, in that portfolio you’re a large player in the country or in the region. That’s important because you command some purchasing power and then you attract people who are willing to work for the company who have got fight. 

How did you first become involved with Aston University?

There used to be a company called Ti Birmingham (Tube Investments, which became Smiths). I was actually a graduate trainee in Ti in India and I was seconded to the UK. Part of the graduate training scheme involved my doing a Diploma in Industrial Administration at Aston. I benefitted from the course because it gave me a chance to mingle with people who had work experience and it also gave me project experience while being at university. The other thing was that Aston had a fairly cosmopolitan crowd the year that I was there. I made some good friends - some of them from Malaysia, some from Hong Kong and other parts of the world. Some of them I still keep in touch with. 

What is your fondest Aston memory?

Aston always left me with the impression that it moves seamlessly into the city. There are some places where you can be very crowded in the centre of the city, but somehow I was always struck by the fact that Aston blended with Birmingham. The other thing was it was very easy for me to get in and out – you didn’t need a car. You could pretty much walk to where you wanted to go.

What is the best advice you can give to today’s graduates?

Basically two things: one is go into education once you have some industry experience, and secondly, be sure that you also use the time to build your social network alongside your studies.