Sushama Nandakumar : MD Manappuram Jewellers Ltd.
A Golden Career
Teacher, Social Worker, and Businesswoman
The Managing Director of Manappuram Jewellers Ltd., a prominent gems and jewellery franchise, operating in three Southern states of India strides into the Boardroom. As simple as she appears, one cannot miss the aura of elegance around her. Meet Sushama Nandakumar, a teacher turned businesswoman who is still affectionately called ‘Sushama teacher’ in Valapad, a coastal town in central Kerala. Valapad is also where the Manappauram group, a large conglomerate in the banking and finance sector, is headquartered.
Her teaching career started in 1981 and she served in schools in the coastal belt of the Thrissur District in central Kerala. After teaching for 30 long years, she retired in 2011. The schools where she worked catered mostly to the underprivileged students coming from the coastal fishing communities. Those days she often went out of her way to support them to whatever extent she could, such as by providing textbooks to the students , or paying their fees. Towards the end of her career, when she had become the Principal of her school, she would find herself using almost her entire salary to pay for various needs of the school, including the noon meal programme and paying for co-curricular activities.
She was a fine teacher too. Her students who came from all walks of life still share warm memories about their favorite Sushama Teacher. Some of her old students are now to be found working for the Manappuram Group. She loved teaching, and even today she continues to work closely with schools in Valapad and nearby places despite her punishing schedule. An area of interest to her is technology applied to school education where she has tried to use technology to make learning more easy and fun. One such project where she was hands-on was to develop a mobile learning app called Edu-App which unlike other educational apps is made available to students totally free thanks to support from the Manappuram Group. The Edu-App provides a platform for students, parents and teachers to come together and derive the full benefits of digital technology which otherwise would be quite unaffordable to people in rural Kerala, especially in the coastal fishing communities.
Sushama Teacher was also instrumental in the makeover of the Vidyavilasom Upper Primary school in Valapad which was originally run by her father. What used to be a typical run-down rural school aided by the government is today a well-reputed school of almost international standards. The school boasts of the finest infrastructure and smart classrooms and the management has hired additional teachers at their own cost to offer co-curricular activities such as music, computers, karate etc. Likewise, she also lends her expertise to the Mukundapuram Public School in Irinjalakuda which is managed by the Manappuram Foundation.
Soon after retiring from teaching, Sushama Nandakumar joined Manappuram Jewellers Ltd. as its Managing Director. After she came on board, she oversaw a rebranding exercise with the retail outlets giving up the ‘Manappuram Jewellery’ tag to become ‘Riti Jewelry”. Having taken off in a big way, she reasoned that the jewellery business needed an identity distinct from the parent brand. Today, Riti Jewelry has become a reputed brand name, and a synonym for purity and ethical standards. Her vision is to make her company a pioneer innovator in the jewellery segment making premium quality jewellery affordable to the mass market. She is determined to introduce integrity, transparency and professionalism into a sector where such things are known to be amiss.
Her no-compromise attitude to integrity means that she has often had to walk the extra mile. For instance, Manappuram Riti Jewelry deals exclusively in BIS 916 Hallmarked gold, a mark of quality enforced by the Bureau of Indian Standards and recognized by the government of India. However, in order to ensure that manufacturing process does not produce jewellery even fractionally lower than 916 purity, the company insists on dealing only in gold of 917 purity, which is purer than 916 gold. This is not just a marketing ploy but a foolproof assurance about the quality of the gold customers get to buy at Riti Jewelry showrooms. Also, the making charges and other costs are kept at the lowest levels in the market, ensuring affordability for a wider class of people. Finally, in keeping with the highest standards of integrity and transparency, all transactions at Manappuram Riti Jewelry are billed for the full value, and nothing is sold without an invoice.
A new showroom of Riti Jewelry has recently opened in Valapad which is said to be the largest jewellery showroom in the coastal belt of Thrissur District. Once again, Sushama Nandakumar was at the forefront in the launching of the new showroom, keeping an eye on interiors, jewellery designs and staffing. To complement the jewellery showroom and make it a wedding destination of choice, her company has also opened a family spa and salon called LA Beaute in the same premises, once again the largest such establishment in the coastal belt.
To cater to the expanding demand for gold jewellery, Manappuram Jewellers has now set up its own large scale manufacturing unit in Bommasandra (Bengaluru) where more than a 100 employees work full time. This is in addition to the 400 odd people employed by the Jewellery chain.
One of the notable aspects of her way of doing business is a commitment to CSR. The company has zeroed in on the backward region of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh as the focal point of its CSR efforts. With her background as a teacher, Sushama Nandakumar is interested in developing the schools in the area. Essential furniture has been provided to select schools in Anantapur while children have been provided text-books and study material. Another project aims to provide potable water to schools using RO plants. All the CSR projects are executed through the Manappuram Foundation, the CSR body of the Manappuram Group.
Sushama Nanadakumar became part of Lions Clubs International when she joined the Lions Club of Triprayar in 2008. Over the years, she has held some important positions such as President of the Lions Club of Triprayar, Zone Chairperson and President of the District Lioness Forum. She has been instrumental in bringing women to the forefront and encouraging them to join Lions Club and become leaders. She also spearheaded many programs to help women become financially independent.
Most recently, she has become the Coordinator for Leadership of Lions District 318D which consists of the revenue districts of Thrissur, Malappuram and Palakkad. It is an assignment dear to her heart as she believes leadership skills are essential for the success of any service organization. Her point is that service is most effective when it is delivered by a team working together for a common purpose. Effective service requires co-ordination with multiple entities like local government, social workers, community leaders and the general public, all of which requires leadership and people management skills of the highest order. As District Coordinator for Leadership, she has set her sights on rolling out a series of programs and projects to develop leadership qualities among members of the Club.
The person behind the leader
Sushama Nandakumar is an avid traveller and has travelled to most parts of the world for business and leisure. She always finds time to watch good movies. While at home, she is most enthusiastic about gardening and finds this hobby to be the most relaxing way to stay in touch with nature. Her family has been always a pillar of support. The Chairman of the Manappuram Group and her husband, Mr. V.P. Nandakumar, helps and guides her in her business ventures, especially the financial aspects. He makes it a point to be present in all monthly review meetings of Manappuram Jewellers Ltd. and extends valuable guidance. The couple have three children, with the oldest being Dr. Sumitha, who works as a Gynecologist with the Amrita Institute of Medical Science, Kochi. Her son, Sooraj, is now in the UK pursuing entrepreneurial dreams while his younger brother, Suhas, is an Assistant Vice President in Manappuram Finance Ltd. in charge of the travel loans department.
For a teacher turned businesswoman, a life of constant travel and unending meetings can be stressful, but not so for Sushama Nandakumar. On the day that the Unique Times team met her, she had just returned from a tiring trip to a remote village near Athirapally as part of a charity outreach. Nevertheless, her energy was undiminished and she spent a good couple of hours with the magazine, patiently answering our many queries. And that was not all. She had a couple of more meetings to attend before she would call it a day.
Lastly, the message she conveys is about the need to be ethical, hard-working and sincere in all that we do. Charity and concern for those less fortunate has been a hallmark of her career. Throughout her life, she took pains to help people, help them get out of their hardships and pursue their dreams.