Everyone knows Verghese Kurien made milk his life mission, which led to India becoming the largest producer of milk in the world. Remember, this was at a time when every international expert thought it would never be possible. The catch was that India was predominantly buffalo country (unlike the rest of the world)—every expert said buffalo milk could not be converted to milk powder. As the first can of buffalo milk powder came out, the only celebration Kurien allowed himself was sprinkling milk powder on the hair of his colleague H.M. Dalaya, who had assisted him in this unique feat.
The Sardar Patel-inspired milk cooperative movement in Gujarat is unique in many ways. Membership was equal, irrespective of caste, religion or the number of animals owned. Imagine the sight every morning: women queuing up to pour milk into a collection centre, not knowing whether the person ahead was a Hindu or a Muslim or the person behind was of a higher caste or lower. Imagine this being practised for over 50 years and the social change brought about in those villages. Imagine also the respect this would have fostered in men for women (who earned the same as them). However, what was most amazing was that lakhs of women were paid twice a day in cash for milk and there was no instance of any wrong-doing. If there was one thing Dr Kurien was brutal about it was integrity—there was no second chance given.
I first met Dr Kurien in 1986, when our advertising agency (Ulka) was called by him. Sensing an opportunity (and not knowing enough about the great man) our then CEO introduced us by extolling the virtues of the team—MBAs from premier institutes and work experience in MNCs. At this Dr Kurien flew into a rage, saying that it was people like us who were letting India down. MNCs, he said, were teaching us how to sell blue soap and if that failed red soap and if that too failed then green soap—and that’s why he had created a different kind of management institution, IRMA (Institute of Rural Management, at Anand), to cater to the needs of the country. I’m sure he must have been immensely proud when R.S. Sodhi (from IRMA’s first batch) became MD of GCMMF a few years back.
Dr Kurien also realised that to ensure good and sustainable returns to milk farmers, he had to eliminate middlemen who sold and distributed milk products. That’s why he created a strong marketing and distribution organisation, GCMMF, and a powerful brand in Amul. Most of my interactions with Dr Kurien over the last 26 years were to discuss advertising strategies for Amul, which is now a Rs 13,000-crore brand. While having a clear vision and direction, Dr Kurien was open to the views of professionals. Once, in the mid-’90s, he called us to say that we should create a campaign around the good virtues of milk, telling mothers that milk had a lot of nutritional benefits. We went back to him saying the goodness of milk was known, it was just that kids felt milk was boring and dreary. He readily changed his views and thus was born the famous ‘Doodh Doodh Doodh’ campaign.
In his mind, Amul stood for an umbrella brand which straddled many categories, and stood for the ‘Taste of India’. He relentlessly focused on this; it was reflected in everything we did—that’s why such a big brand was built on less than one per cent marketing outlay, while other companies spent upwards of seven to 10 per cent. He was conscious that this was farmers’ money and had to be judiciously spent. We use to look forward to our meetings with him as the advertising work would be disposed of in minutes—normally he would agree to whatever we presented unless we violated his tenets of being truthful and being Indian. Afterwards, he would give his perspective and vision on larger issues, which really opened up our minds. He also had a terrific sense of humour—we would thoroughly enjoy ourselves as long as we were not at the receiving end!
(Shashi Sinha is CEO, Lodestar, and closely interacted with Dr Kurien for over a quarter century)
The Noble Milkman (Sep 24), by Shashi Sinha, was a fitting tribute to Dr Verghese Kurien, the father of the ‘White Revolution’ in India. Dr Kurien proved to the world what a committed cooperative movement could achieve for ordinary citizens of a developing country. Amul’s emergence as the most reputed food brand in India, as well as a great employer, speaks volumes about the farsightedness and selfless commitment of a great man.
G. Anuplal, Bangalore
Dr Kurien’s genius can be seen in the whole planning of the production, packaging and distribution of the Dhara brand of cooking oil. First, he neutralised the influence of the money-lenders to groundnut producers by lending money at market rates. Secondly, he was able to hold the price-line by ‘adulterating’ the oil with low-priced oil such as cottonseed. His rationale for this was a brilliant piece of marketing gimmickry. He said: “Since the bulk of edible oil is highly adulterated and the consumer had to live with it, I’ll be adulterating it at source, but would do so by informing them about the quality and quantity of the adulterant by printing it on the pack.” Finally, he solved the problem of an affordable tamper-proof hygienic pack by switching to the little-known Swedish multi-layered ‘Tetrapak’.
B.N. Bose, Bangalore
Kurien’s main contribution was to design systems and institutions which people could develop and manage themselves. He believed people could develop only when the instruments of progress were put in their hands. And he proved it through Operation Flood in 1971 by creating a national milk grid. He also transformed the lives of thousands of poor villagers, turning them into dignified, self-supporting persons.
Beena Mathur, Pune
Kurien catapulted a milk-deficient nation into the world’s top producer of milk, with the nation even overtaking the once milk-abundant Netherlands. It’s due to his vision that India contributes 17 per cent to the total milk production in the world. Kurien was a revolutionary, entrepreneur and visionary—most of all Kurien was a fighter who delivered what he had set his mind to.
J.S. Acharya, Hyderabad
As the creator of the iconic brand of Amul, Verghese Kurien ensured that with its impressive turnover of over Rs 13,000 crore, it is counted as one of the foremost milk-producing brands in all Asia. Indeed, Amul has one of the best recall values among the world’s leading brands. It was fitting that Dr Kurien was cremated at Anand, where he gave birth to a revolution.
K. Jayatheertha, Bangalore
My respects to a great soul.....Our nation needs more businessmen like him....
Honesty being the best policy ever has been proved unquestionably in all sorts of public business ventures. Dr.Verghese Kurien also adopted the same policy plus adding to it his personal engineering skill and untiring labour right from the inception of Amul project and obviously that only has made the Amul Milk Brand, The Taste of India, hardly to vanish ever in India.
Integrity should matter to the individual, and what a person sees as integrity in another human being, should not be emulated by the observer. I mean copied, when I use the word emulate. Today, a man cannot take responsibility for his actions, because he sees people saying they are not responsible for actions to other people whom are also doing the same towards other people.
May His soul rest in peace.May the great son of India be remebered forever.
People like Modi should know even beef eating Christians are far better than him in their sincerity and love to the nation.
The author says he was a part of the Operation Flood 's Doodh, dooodh,doodh ad campaign. If it is so, I must congratulate him, it is one of the best ads I've ever seen and I loved the jingle Doodh, doodh, doodh. "Piyo doodh every season, Piyo doodh for every reason, It keeps you fit and fine." Not sure, if the wordings were exact ....
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