After studying law I vectored towards journalism by accident and it's the only job I've done since. It's a job that has taken me on a private jet to Jaisalmer - where I wrote India's first feature on fractional ownership of business jets - to the badlands of west UP where India's sugar economy is inextricably now tied to politics. I'm a big fan of new business models and crafty entrepreneurs. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of those in Asia at the moment.
Balvant Parekh, chairman of Pidilite Industries, died on January 25, 2013, at the age of 88. His legacy: Single-handedly building Fevicol into a household brand through memorable advertising campaigns. In fact, he redefined the concept of marketing a staid adhesive.
Parekh, who was born in the small town of Mahuva in the Bhavnagar district of Gujarat, studied at Government Law College in Mumbai. But he did not practice law; he was more interested in business. He got his first major break while working for a firm that represented Hoechst in India. Later, in 1954, he finally set up shop with Parekh Dyechem Industries in Mumbai’s Jacob Circle.
Pidilite was born later, in 1959, as an industrial chemicals company, as adhesives were sold unbranded at the time. According to son Madhukar, who took over Pidilite as managing director in 1992, the company’s consumer-facing persona only started developing in the 1970s. It was then that the company made a tentative move towards advertising its adhesives under the Fevicol brand, he says, describing the journey as a two-stage process. The first was in the 1970s, when some ads were shown on Doordarshan. Also, the elephant symbol of the brand was created under the guidance of advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather (O&M). “These were basic steps; they were not innovative or path-breaking,” says Madhukar.
The campaigns that Pidilite is now known for came into shape in the late 1980s; Piyush Pandey at O&M was instrumental in helping the company craft a sharper identity.
Not surprisingly, Fevicol eventually spawned dozens of me-toos. Always a believer in the power of advertising and innovative packaging, Parekh spent liberally on ad campaigns. It is a philosophy the company has stood by over the years, as it branched into brands like Fevikwik, Dr. Fixit and M-Seal.
Two decades ago, Parekh stepped aside from a day-to-day role and handed over charge to his son. It was a seamless transition as the company, which was listed in 1993, continued to expand rapidly and even went overseas. A total of 14 subsidiaries were set up with manufacturing plants in the US, Thailand and Singapore. In the last five years, Pidilite has seen sales double to Rs 3,442 crore. During the same period, net profit has more than trebled to Rs 460 crore.
Parekh once lived in the same apartment block, Usha Kiran on Carmichael Road, as Dhirubhai Ambani; the two Gujarati businessmen were said to be friends. But, unlike Ambani, Balvant, as he was known within the company, was never a workaholic. According to Madhukar, he is remembered as someone who took people along with him; guided rather than ordered them around. He was considered a father figure by his employees—hugely respected and always around when needed. People often bounced ideas off him to get a different perspective. His people skills only enhanced his business success. Last year, Forbes India had placed him 45th on its annual rich list rankings—his family’s 70 percent stake in Pidilite totalled $1.36 billion. This year, Madhukar Parekh is 42nd on the rich list with a net worth of $1.52 billion.