Our Papa was in business, but as we look back, he was in it for the sake of sustaining his growing family. He was never a businessman in the actual sense of the word. For him, it was a matter of survival, when after the war, he saw some business opportunities, and he went into the pharmacy business.

            Although he was already agent for many Swiss and British companies from his early days, he did not capitalize on those connections or turn them into dealerships, especially after the British left Malaya. Compared to even Poly Khoo Pharmacy, which bought over our father’s pharmacy, Khoo Khoon Hong has been more successful as a businessman. In short, Papa wasn’t the type who was overly ambitious in a business sense but took material blessings as they came his way.

            What stood out the most in the running of his business as Vijayan points out are three important principles which saw to the growth of his business in the early days.  These are the principles in life that have earned him more than the respect that he deserved from among his clients, many of whom have turned into his best friends. Even until today, whenever Vijayan, whose official name is also K.J. Kuruvilla, talks to his father’s old friends in the commercial plantation sector, they are still full of praises for our Papa. In fact, one of his business associates, 86-year-old Chong Ngap Lye from People’s Pharmacy in Melaka still remembers him, more as a friend than just another businessman. Such was the reputation that our Papa had earned for himself in the business community. Being found trustworthy was important in the business community. After all, as Proverbs put it: “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favour is better than silver and gold.” This has become a legacy that our Papa is leaving behind to his children, and the future generation of the Keerikkattu family, especially to those who seek to go into business.




His first and biggest asset is his honesty. He was always honest, sincere and never cheated anyone. Ravi recalls how the father chose not to take a large loan to build and grow his business. For him, it was to keep loans to a minimum. He was a cautious businessman, who refused to take any big risks. In fact, Mohan has always remembered the words of advice from Papa to this very day – “Cut your coat according to the cloth you have.” These words have helped us to live within our means.

He was happy just to make enough to get by. He was good at handling the basic cash flow and met his commitments to debtors even paying off his debts using his hard-earned salary. In a sense, he is an inspiration to everyone who wants to be successful in business – that there is nothing like personal integrity apart from material gains in one’s business. This has in some ways influenced the way how our brother, Ravi formed his opinion about being a businessman. “His explicit advice to me was to stay out of business!” Ravi recalls. “I agree with Papa that I would not have succeeded, just like him, in the worldly sense of sense of the word. When you have too many good principles and high values, you cannot really undertake a pure capitalistic business attitude.”

Having travelled the distance from Kerala to Malaya with only one Rupee on his back, Papa knew what it was to earn a good living out of sheer hard work. Apparently, this is almost the identical story of every one in his generation who came from India. They had little to spare. In fact, recently at our Mummy’s funeral, Mrs. Cherian told my father that his one Rupee story resonates with almost every wall of that generation.

For someone in his position, and holding good political office, he could have enriched himself. Instead, he was always giving his best to serve the community, never on the take. He could have used his friendship with former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir to ask for political favours, but he chose not to. The only time when he wrote to the former Prime Minister of Malaysia was when he invited him to attend Vijayan’s wedding, which he did. A second occasion was when he personally asked Dr. Mahathir to donate to the Sungai Petani Mar Thoma Church that was destroyed by arsonists, which he also donated RM100,000 in his capacity as the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

For this reason, people will always remember him as the honest John Kuruvilla from Sungai Petani. From Ravi’s personal account, our Papa had enjoyed his business days with Dr Mahathir, and that business relationship lasted 12 years until one day, Mahathir asked for his blessings to start his own MICO Pharmacy. They agreed on some ground rules of how to separate their markets to compete with others.  He asked Mahathir what MICO stood for and Mahathir replied that it stood for Malays, Indians, Chinese and Others.  Therefore, the idea of Bangsa Malaysia started well before 1991 for Mahathir. And, for Papa, it also meant a country he could now call Home.


Sense of Urgency and Fair Pricing


            His second principle is his sense of urgency in going about his work. He was also very prompt with the despatch of goods as Vijayan recalls. In modern terms, he was practising the “Just-in-Time” (JIT) concept. The moment he received an order, he would immediately despatch the medicine by taxi so that the estate hospitals received the goods almost the same day. For this reason, the estate hospitals did not have to keep high stocks of medicines. They could depend on his promises to deliver on the same day an order was made.

            His third principle of doing business is fair pricing. His pricing was always very competitive. Earning a smaller profit margin was never a problem for him. In fact, within a short time, his business prospered. He was always the one winning the tenders. At one stage, his business was so good that he hardly had time for the family. The business only declined naturally when the bigger estates owned by the British were sold as smaller units to the local people when they left the country. The estate hospitals were shut down as a result. A planter friend who knew both Papa and Vijayan, once said: “The only reason I always bought medicine from him was because he used to give us prices that were very competitive.” He was always able to secure the tenders because his prices were among the best. There was nothing like bribery or corruption to secure the business deals. Everything was earned with his own sweat.

            From the world’s standard, Papa may not have been a very successful businessman. Judging him by the achievements of others in the business community does not do justice to him as a person. If success is what one defines success to be; our Papa was a faithful Christian and a very successful pharmacist.  His business did not grow and prosper as much as it could have but we have nothing to complain about!




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