The man behind Somatheeram Ayurveda Group; the first and finest Ayurveda Tourism Resorts
Welcoming the world to experience Ayurveda.
Baby Mathew Somatheeram, Chairman and Managing Director, Somatheeram Ayurveda Group.
Somatheeram is a sprawling Ayurvedic Resort set on the shores of the Arabian Sea, with several guests , the staff is always on their foot but very pleasant. For anyone who has reached there the view of the resort laced by the sea will be etched in their memory for a lifetime.
The man behind the Somatheeram Ayurveda Group is Mr. Baby Mathew, who by his vision and hard work built his group and several other related business. He is a charismatic organiser and an environmental conservative. He is also the Vice Chairman and MD of Jeevan Satellite Communications Ltd. He is also a very active public figure and works with several government projects.
Mr. Baby Mathew Somatheeram talks to Bejoy George about Somatheeram Ayurveda Group, his different ventures, how he started off and about his future plans.
The Beginning of Somatheeram Group
I was born in a small village named Nadukani near Kothamangalam, in Central Kerala. My father was a planter. I have done my primary education in the nearby schools and for my graduation I went to Nirmala College in Moovatupuzha, a nearby town. After my graduation in 1984, I picked up a small job as a marketing executive in Kochi. I plunged into entrepreneurship after a brief stint with that job. I started an agency to market cleaning solution. The business did not pick up well, due to several reasons, primary reason being the people of Kerala at that time was not aware of such a product.
My brother Dr. Pauly Mathew was based in Germany at that time, we both worked out a plan to export antiques to Germany and Holland. While my brother found out a market for these items, I used to travel around India and buy products. We also used to export wooden panels, especially teak wood panels to boat manufactures in Germany. We were also successful in exporting finished wooden planks of varied species to different nations in Europe. After that we also tried to export cotton cloth bags to Europe. I used to source cloth bags from Tamil Nadu and export it to Germany. The business did not do well because we had to outsource everything – manufacturing, stitching and printing and the costs were high.
It was at that time my brother happened to send two of his German friends to Kerala for ayurvedic treatment. I was supposed to arrange facilities for them. So I did a small research about different ayurveda treatments and found a hospital in Kalamasserry to accommodate them. The feedback from by brother’s friends was excellent. Slowly we started spreading information about Ayurveda, taking in more tourists and we had a tie up with the Ayurveda Hospital in Kochi. We became a trusted name providing quality service. When we got a steady flow of clients we started thinking about a hospital of our own. So that’s about the beginning of Somatheeram. It was also due to the fact that the ambience and service of Ayurveda hospitals at that time were not up to what our clients were expecting.
How did a person from central Kerala, found this place in southern Kerala and transform it into an Ayurveda Resort Hospital of world standards?
My idea was to start an Ayurveda Hospital with resort ambience. At that time Kovalam was the place in Kerala that was synonymous with Tourism. So we started to look for a place in Kovalam to start a resort. The price of land in Kovalam was also very high at that point, so I started looking nearby places. So one day I hired a fisherman’s boat and it was from the sea that I saw the place where the current resort is located. It’s almost hundred metres above sea level. After some days I visited the local church, where the parish priest arranged a person to help me locally. I bought this land from 200 odd people who included people from all religions and sects. So one of my primary tasks was to build a business that will give jobs to the local population. We have very stringent quality norms for our products and services; we also adhere to international standards. We also upgrade our service to be in tandem with global standards.
How was the name Somatheeram selected?
For every business, the name is very important. We were scouting for a name. At that time a great ritual called Somayagam was conducted in Thrissur. That name struck me, so we took the name Soma, mythology says that Soma is extracted from a plant called somaltha, drinking that will give you eternity. Thus we ended up in the name Somatheeram, theeram as you know is the word for shore in Malayalam. I thought the name was very apt, as it meant a place where you will get long life.
You were the pioneers in Ayurveda based tourism, where have it reached?
Yes, as you have said, Somatheeram is the first Ayurvedic Resort project in the world. Ayurveda and Yoga are two great streams of knowledge that India can offer to the world. We have five properties in Kerala which offer the finest ayurvedic treatment to our guests. I get invitations from all over the world to start Ayurveda based project.
Somatheeram, our first project started in 1988 and Soma Manaltheeram started in 1990. In the course of time we started Soma Palm shore, Soma Kerala Palace and Soma Birds Lagoon. We also have Soma houseboats, where we offer our clients the most precious experience of the backwaters of Kerala.
My brother Dr. Pauly Mathew was a main source of strength behind these projects. He was aptly called the father of Ayurveda Tourism by peers in the industry. He passed away recently.
What are the present business verticals of Somatheeram group?
We are into Ayurveda hospitals under the Somatheeram and Soma brands; we have a houseboats division related to Somatheeram. We have Soma Cyber Solutions, powering most of the in-house IT needs. Then we have Soma Creations which is a film production company.
Can you elaborate on Soma Creations?
Soma Creations have so far produced 4 feature films and 4 documentaries .It is a film company dedicated to produce quality and alternative movies. Our productions include Black Forest a movie aimed on conservation and environment education for younger generation. Force of Destiny, co produced by eminent director Paul Cox is the opening movie at the Melborne International Movie Festival. Priyamansam is an ongoing project, which has many credits to its account, it is the third Sanskrit movie ever to be produced in India and a Sanskrit movie produced after 22 years.
What is your business philosophy?
My view is that if you want to succeed in anything, you should have proper planning and proper execution. You will also need to work hard for success. Most of the businesses fail because they fail in one of the above factors. Planning is important but execution is more important because I have seen many businesses fail as they lose steam while reaching the execution phase.
Did you have any setbacks? If so how did you overcome it?
My initial business was met with limited success and some of them like the cleaning solution and cloth bags were failures. That is why I learned the crucial aspects of planning and execution. It’s with God’s grace that I have built this business. So trust in God is also a crucial factor.
What are your future plans?
I wish to start an Ayurveda Medical college, a Yoga based Resort Centre and a Naturopathy Centre.
What is your advice for young entrepreneurs?
I am very happy that more and more young people are venturing into entrepreneurship, I want to wish them the very best. My advice to them is to stick to the very basic principles of planning before launching a venture. Please do a complete research and a market survey, make sure that the business is viable in the present day.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing business in Kerala?
Yes, I have encountered this question several times. Kerala is actually a tricky place to do business. If you are just here to do business and make profit, high chances are there that it will not work out. The social structure is so intricate; every business needs to contribute something back to the society. Our infrastructure development is a major disadvantage when comparing with other nations. When we started here we didn’t have proper roads or electricity. There is no single window clearing system for government approvals. Also the process for obtaining permission from several authorities to start a business is long and cumbersome.
But for these disadvantages, Kerala has its advantages too. Kerala is probably one of the few places in the world where we have a varied geography like beaches, backwaters, plains and mountains all close together, say just within a span of 100 kilometre radius. We also have well educated man power available, the telecom and internet connectivity is available to the last mile. So running a business means you need to balance both.
Tell our readers more about your family
As I have mentioned earlier, my family roots are in Kothamangalam. I am married to Sarah Baby Mathew; she helps me in my business. We have a daughter, her name is Sanamaya.
What are your hobbies, where do you like to travel?
I am a collector of antique items. Considering it as my first successful venture, I still have a passion for it. I like to travel to different countries especially to Europe. I do painting; I have done more than 400 paintings. I also like to collect medicinal plants and grow them in our resorts. I also rear several rare species of animals and birds.