- Sons of the soil: Most of Reddy enterprise lies in land, mining, infrastructure and always, at least a minimal amount, of farming.
- Natural leaders: Confident to the point of being arrogant, a Reddy’s body language is never submissive
- Strong women: Whether they are in the family business or minding the home, Reddy women always play a part in decision-making
- Flashy, flamboyant: Reddys love to display their wealth in the form of flashy cars, huge mansions, exotic holidays and yes, also seriously lavish weddings
- Wonderful hosts: Reddys know how to make their guests feel like royalty. Their success in the hospitality sector is a natural corollary.
Tell a Reddy there’s a fresh enterprise brewing and chances are he’ll give you not just a patient ear, but also come back with an improvised business model in hand. You can take a Reddy out of industry and put him elsewhere but you can never take the business gene out of a Reddy. The community, which has a history of successful farming and ancestry harking back to the ruler or warrior class, has an affinity for ‘leadership’. It’s no surprise, therefore, that where there’s an infrastructure, construction, real estate, power, irrigation, hospitality, pharma, healthcare, diagnostics, education or IT project, there’s a Reddy.
Credit it to the fact that a Reddy rarely loses his rural-agricultural connect. Regardless of the position he may hold, he (or she) can lecture you endlessly on crops, rainfall and soil fertility. Across the spectrum, Reddys know their paddy from their corn. T. Subbirami Reddy, former MP and founder of Gayatri Group, sums it up best: “The Reddys imbibe their risk-taking nature from their agrarian backgrounds. Since most of them have witnessed windfall gains and losses in farming, they are not given to panic.”
Subbirami Reddy’s was among the first Reddy families from Nellore to enter the construction business—50 years back, with the Nagarjunasagar dam. The family’s business interests now span hotels, films, construction, power, highways, infrastructure, sugar and chemicals. Son Sandeep and son-in-law Sanjay, who hails from the other Reddy powerhouse, the GVK Group, are ably steering the capitalist ship ahead. “We are aggressive by nature and a dominating force both politically and agriculturally. As a natural offshoot, Reddys are successful business barons as well,” says the industrialist-politician, a tad boastful.
Reddys have dominated Andhra politics for decades. The community has always seen a high number of MLAs and MPs since Independence, disproportionate to its numbers. This is because Reddys are perceived as ‘able’ administrators who can exercise power with flair. In the pre-Mandal era, almost the entire state cabinet would comprise Reddys, be it of Sanjeeva Reddy or of Kasu Brahmananda Reddy. “The Reddys have an ability to harmonise other communities and sustain them,” says Adala Murali Krishna Reddy, chairman of the MAK Group, whose verticals include irrigation projects, hotels, property and power. “Even though I left my village years back, I’d say I learnt the basic concepts of entrepreneurship like management, thrift, conservation and growth on the farm,” says the 58-year-old, extending the same tips now to his children.
The proximity of Nellore to Chennai had led many Reddys to explore industry in the erstwhile Madras presidency during the British rule. “Many Reddys in Nellore and Chittoor explored commercial exports like tobacco and micanite mining even way back in 1944,” says Satyanarayana Adapa, a professor of history at the Osmania University. “Studies reveal that during and after World War II, opportunities for investment in non-agricultural activities such as mining, transport and lift irrigation schemes were on the rise. Much of the surplus rural capital of dominant castes like Reddys flowed into these ventures.”
In the 1950s and ’60s, the Reddys made a foray as PWD (public works department) contractors in dams, canals, bridges, roads and even railways. And in the ’70s, when the government introduced public-private partnerships, they entered the manufacturing industry in a big way, taking baby steps into steel, electrical equipment, hotels, warehouses, detergents and TV sets. That changed after then prime minister Indira Gandhi introduced the Land Ceiling Act, and the Reddys, who had hitherto owned large tracts of land, began educating themselves aggressively. At the same time, they realised that agriculture alone could not secure their future and began scouting for fresh enterprise.
Nellore’s proximity to Chennai had led the Reddys to explore industry in Madras presidency during the British rule.
Education, indeed, became crucial to the community’s growth when the steady revenue from agriculture began dwindling, says M. Gautham Reddy, MD of KMC Constructions Ltd. Educated in Manchester, UK, Gautham is among the line of young Reddys who believe that it is not just community background alone but hard work and good education that make a difference. The KMC Group’s primary portfolio comprises roads, highways, bridges, airport runways and power. It has projects lined up in several states, mostly under NHAI, and even abroad in countries like Ethiopia. “The Reddys do have the knack of adapting easily to varied work environs which helps them in bagging several projects,” says Gautham Reddy.
One of their strongest traits is said to be the community’s liberal and people-oriented approach. “It is again to do with our agrarian roots,” emphasises Telugu Desam Party leader from Nellore, Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy. Somireddy, whose family is in the business of power projects besides agriculture, thinks the best part about Reddys is “they know how to get work done”. The solidity of the Reddy stock as big farmers, village headmen, landlords and village representatives creates an almost impeccable line of top-notch industrialists. Evidently, it’s not just their spending capacity but their organisational abilities as well which make Reddys what they are: confident businessmen.
And so, Dr Prathap C. Reddy of the Apollo Group, Rajeev Reddy of Country Club, Anji Reddy of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories or G.V.K. Reddy, industrialists of this community wear their capitalist tag proudly on their sleeve. The Kammas in Andhra Pradesh come from a similar background of farming and landowning class. “But somehow, they’ve not wielded as much power as we have,” says a Reddy hotelier who also runs a successful business in neighbouring Karnataka. An accepted fact about Reddys is that they manage to stay close to the corridors of power, irrespective of the party in power.
Smooth, informal networking is also something the Reddy is adept at. From a distance, this networking may appear a chaotic honeycomb but in fact there is order within the chaos. Standard Reddy sanghams apart, most top industrialists of the community stay in touch, exchanging market tips and earthy business advice. They may compete against each other, but industrialists of the community do not shy from extending a helping hand should a fellow Reddy be in trouble. They also draw reference points of knowledge from each other. A modest Reddy employee who has worked in a cement factory would in no time be picking up the tricks of the trade from his employer and use him as an inspiration to set up his own cement business. What’s more, he will even borrow the initial capital from him. “That’s because we are an agricultural community which has transformed itself into a business community. Make no mistake. We are not a trader community,” explains Murali Krishna Reddy.
The clannish behaviour reveals itself in the pattern of marriages, mostly within the community. Wealth goes around, multiplies, but stays within the wider Reddy family. The women in the Reddy community are powerhouses in their own right. This is evident right from the village level. The wife of a Reddy farmer knows everything about crops and their marketability. She takes equal part in decisions affecting the farm. And when there is a void caused by incompetence or death of the male, Reddy women take charge with elan. Satish Reddy, who runs the show at Dr Reddy’s Labs as MD and COO, has a successful businessperson in wife Deepthi Reddy. Deepthi runs the widely popular Wow! Hyderabad magazine, of which she is the managing editor.
And even as they temper passions to meet market conditions, the Reddys are not averse to trying out new ventures. The Telugu film industry, busier than any other in the country, might be dominated by the Kammas today, but it was the Reddys who cut their teeth on it first. Prior to Independence, some of them, like B. Nagi Reddy, ventured into movie-making. Nagi Reddy started Vijaya Productions in Chennai and went on to become a famous producer and studio owner.
For that matter, industrialist A. Mahesh Reddy’s company amr India Ltd may be primarily into contract mining, but that hasn’t stopped him from producing actor Nagarjuna’s latest release, Shirdi Sai, his first such foray. “In 1992, our company had a turnover of Rs 30 lakh. Today it stands at Rs 1,500 crore. Even today, I travel 25 days a month and work 15-16 hours a day,” says Mahesh Reddy proudly. The secret of the Reddy’s success, says the newbie film producer, is that he never loses his drive. “Nothing is readymade. Reddys gather all the ingredients and cook the dish of success themselves.” It shows in the aroma.