AV Anoop ~ Blazing the Fragrant Trail of Success
By Ranjit L. Morris
As rays of the setting sun create a visual symphony of sorts in the living room of his ninth-floor apartment overlooking the placid Periyar in Aluva, entrepreneur par excellence Dr AV Anoop, the chairman and managing director of the AVA Group of Companies, has the look of contentment on his visage. The owner of a business empire that spans personal care products, condiments and wellness exudes an air of confidence as he settles down for a tete-a-tete with Unique Times.
Popularly known as the owner of the hugely popular Medimix herbal soap, which is a household name among Malayalis both within Kerala and elsewhere, AV Anoop’s AVA Group is sailing steadily with the wind in the sails, spreading the whiff of success. Having the hard-earned Midas touch, he has almost taken over the illustrious century-old Nilgiris brand and it is now the talk of the town.
Without an iota of doubt, one can see this Rs 67-crore acquisition of the iconic Nilgiris supermarket chain is the latest jewel in his crown of achievements. When asked as to what prompted him to eye Nilgiris, AV Anoop says,
“Retail is the whole thrust of our business and therefore its extension is the prime factor that propelled me to go for this takeover.” “Personal care products are our forte and they include products that are meant for internal and external use. I am more inclined towards the Nilgiris brand of products. They have their own exclusive products, including both bakery and dairy, which are popular.”
Farsighted to the core, thanks to four decades of experience and the valuable lessons taught by his mentor and uncle Dr Sidhan, Anoop is optimistic that the factories of Melam condiments that he acquired can be used for the benefit of the Nilgiris brand and he is striving to bring them to the e-commerce platform to give them a wider reach. “I am confident that I can make its brand value Rs 300 crore with my endeavour,” he says.
The healing touch has been there in his family and his AVA Group proudly owns Medimix, the world’s largest-selling ayurvedic bath soap. Therefore, it is only natural that he has an umbilical cord attachment with Ayurveda and is bent on promoting it at the global level. When asked about other mega projects on the anvil, AV Anoop reveals one of his dreams. He wishes to come up with what he calls an ‘Ayurveda Village’ that blends healing, hospitality, and wellness all under one roof. He has taken cognizance of the signs of the times to gauge the vast potential of ayurveda if tweaked in the right manner. Anoop also wishes to come up with an Ayurveda research centre that liaises with foreign universities to unlock the healing properties of this ancient way of wellness to deal with the barrage of ailments plaguing the modern world.
Enhancing Brand Value
Having successfully navigated the vortexes and tempests in his 40-year entrepreneurial voyage, this seasoned businessman knows how to chart the growth of his business empire. “I do not dream of becoming another Ambani in the twinkling of an eye,” he says with a firm voice. “I prefer not to venture out of my core area. More than business turnover, I am concerned about building brand value and ensuring that it delivers quality thereby retaining its customer base.” He cites the example of Sanjeevanam, a one-of-its-kind holistic treatment centre that combines Ayurveda, naturopathy and yoga, which is located in Kochi. “Even after 100 years, I am sure Sanjeevanam will retain its quality and stand the test of time. It will remain a role model. It has upgraded Ayurveda to a professional level making it appealing and palatable for people abroad,” he says with a smile.
According to AV Anoop, expansion is a slow but steady process. “We stay within our limits and resources. We do not go for gargantuan plans that exceed our limits. That is why our brands have retained their value all these years,” he says.
The Making of an
AV Anoop’s success saga as an entrepreneur was not a cakewalk. It has all the ingredients of a soap opera that will leave new-generation businessmen and aspirants flabbergasted. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that a series of unfortunate incidents altered the destiny of Anoop who was doing his undergraduate studies in his hometown, Thiruvananthapuram. His father, A.G. Vasavan, who was serving as Fisheries Director at that time, passed away suddenly. Naturally, his son was eligible for a government job under the dying-in-harness provision. Anoop was brought up by his dad with the strict admonition to always aim for a government job and never venture into business.
AV Anoop faced a lot of hurdles in getting the insurance amount and encountered red tape in his attempts to get a government job. These bitter experiences robbed the sheen of his perennial desire until then to land a government job. To make ends meet, he became a van driver. When I was away on assignments, there was no one at home to answer phone calls, often official ones from the government or customers who wanted to book my vehicle, says Anoop as he goes down memory lane.
It was at that time that he met someone trustworthy who agreed to drive his vehicle on a commission basis. “When I hired him, I came to learn what it meant to delegate authority and responsibilities and that became a turning point in life, he quips. Gradually, he began getting up to 10 phone calls a day seeking bookings for trips. “I transferred the orders I got to travel agents and began getting a commission from them. Delegation of duty was the success mantra.”
Around that time, his uncle came to visit from Chennai and witnessed his activities. It was a difficult phase when his Medimix soap factory had to be closed because of labour issues. After returning, he sent young Anoop a lengthy letter convincing him of his entrepreneurial potential and inviting him to take over the factory. In 1983, he boarded a train to Chennai much to the chagrin of his mother and relatives. Little did he realise that it would be an epoch-making decision in his life altering his fortunes for the better.
Ever-Inspiring Dubai n’ Qatar
Replying to the query as to what inspires him always as a businessman, Anoop says with gusto that Dubai and Qatar in the Middle East are the best examples of an exemplary business model. With enthusiasm, he recounts how Dubai was once an arid, sandy stretchy in the early 90s when he visited the Emirate first. “Today it is on top of the world in the wink of an eye. Those days, we used to wonder how on earth are the world’s biggest mall and top-notch port and airport going to come up in this arid stretch. But they achieved it in a short time span and that is what I call a business vision,” he says, adding that Qatar too did the unthinkable in so short a time before the FIFA World Cup.
In Love with Theatre
What makes Anoop really unique among entrepreneurs is his thespian skills and love for theatre. It is a passion that he has carefully nurtured right from his college days in Thiruvananthapuram. In fact, it was the legendary Koniyoor Narendran, former director of All India Radio Thiruvananthapuram, who gave his stamp of approval to the acting prowess of young Anoop after watching one of his plays enacted in their residential area with like-minded friends. “He came on stage and presented me with a medal saying ‘you should continue acting’. He was the first person to tell me that I had acting potential,” reminisces Anoop.
Even after shifting base to Chennai, the young entrepreneur found time to hone his acting skills and the Malayali clubs galore gave him ample opportunity for that. He has the unique distinction of doing a drama every year. “I make it a point to do so as it is one of the best ways to destress,” says Anoop who is the chairman of Team Arts drama troupe. He was instrumental in conducting many drama workshops and supporting theatre artists during the difficult days of the pandemic lockdown.
Tryst with Tinseltown
AV Anoop’s passion for acting is not confined to theatre alone. This versatile actor is a noticeable figure in Mollywood, too, as his AVA Productions has 25 feature films and documentaries to its credit. It was in 2007 that he tested the waters of filmdom and there has been no looking back ever since. “I am happy that I have 25 feature films to my credit, several documentaries and short movies too. I am also one of the few producers to enjoy panorama selection in the feature film, documentary and short film categories which is something unique,” says the award-winning producer-actor.
In 2019, his ‘Appu in Search of Truth’ won twin accolades at the Votkinsk and Nadym International Film Festival in Russia and the San Diego International Kids Film Festival in the United States. Anoop is also the producer of ‘Appuvin Nayagan—Spotty’, which received the National Award for the Best Film on Family Values in the non-feature category in 2008. The following year, his movie, ‘Paleri Manikyam Oru Pathira Kolapathakam’ clinched the Kerala State Film Award.
Replying to the question about the most memorable roles he has done in movies, Anoop points to two notable roles he essayed. One of them was the character of a Gandhian in ‘Appuvinte Satyanweshanam’. “It was an impossible role. A stoic Gandhian who is immune to all bad things happening in society, including the misdemeanours of his own son,” he quips. “The other was my character in ‘Achanoru Vazha Vechu’, which starkly contrasts with the Gandhian role. These two roles remain etched in memory forever.”
What makes Anoop different from others of his ilk is his unquenchable thirst to do something different. He is now nursing a dream to have a documentary based on Ayurveda and its clinical research. It is aimed at showcasing the grandeur of this ancient way of healing before the world. “It will focus on clinically proven research into various diseases and the efficacy of ayurvedic therapies. How it can be integrated with other streams of treatment will be explored in the documentary. It is going to take another year for the research to be completed,” says Anoop.
Also on the anvil is a web series based on noted Kerala social reformer and spiritual leader Sree Narayana Guru. “It will be different in the sense that it will be a portrayal of the seer from the perspective of his early disciples and associates,” says the multifaceted businessman who tries to emulate the teachings of the Guru in his life.
Maintaining Work-Life Balance Having a finger in every pie, how is it possible for an entrepreneur like AV Anoop to maintain a work-life balance? He says that delegating responsibilities after judging the calibre of people is the secret to peace of mind and balancing business and family affairs. His lately-acquired talent of playing the flute is also an excellent therapeutic tool to de-stress and rejuvenate. Every day, AV Anoop spends some time to play the flute. It also has a spiritual dimension to it as you can play a devotional tune or verse to suit your choice, says the honcho who is also an author. He has penned a book chronicling his life experiences, interesting anecdotes and so on. “It is indeed inspirational as it contains facets from my life as an entrepreneur, filmmaker and social worker,” says Anoop. DC Books is publishing the volume and it will be released in November during the Sharjah International Book Fair.