R Premkumar: Where success meets humanity
Clad in a crispy white shirt and spotless starched dhoti of the matching colour and with sacred ash on his forehead, R Premkumar may be mistaken for yet another typical south Indian gentleman, as he appears without the stereotypical trappings of a business magnate. That sage-like visage framed with a thick salt-and-pepper beard hides the hawk-eyed, astute visionary entrepreneur, who is at the helm of a multi-crore behemoth—Bharath Lajhna Multi (BLM) State Housing Co-operative Society Ltd. It is a force to reckon with in the entrepreneurial landscape of south India, spanning several verticals such as housing, land development, hospitality, jewellery, civil supplies and transportation to name a few. It is one of the niche enterprises which touch the lives of thousands of beneficiaries. In an exclusive interview with Unique Times, he reminisces about his entrepreneurial journey and future plans for the empire he has built.
From a seedling to a mighty colossal tree
When asked how it all began, R Premkumar went down memory lane, saying it all started with a bitter experience many years ago. “I once accompanied a friend to a co-operative bank to apply for a loan to conduct his sister’s wedding,” he said.
“That was when I came to know how difficult it was to get a loan sanctioned. One had to pay the secretary Rs 7,000 to get the loan approved. To get the money, they had to shell out a good sum or they risked their application being rejected. Money apart, a recommendation from the ruling party’s district secretary was also essential to get the loan.”
It was at that juncture that the ‘nirvana’ moment came. “Why not begin something similar without any discrimination on the basis of politics, religion or caste?” he thought. “So, I contemplated starting a multi-state co-operative society,” said R Premkumar, who is the Chairman and Managing Director of BLM. When he mooted the idea with four like-minded friends, they threw their weight behind him.
But the real test of mettle came when he went to New Delhi twice to procure the licence for this mega movement. Regional bias, coupled with his south Indian way of dressing made the honchos reject his application twice. However, the 1992 state middleweight boxing gold medallist who knocked down opponents with ease, was in no mood to give up. During the third visit, he was able to convince the IAS officer of the impact his enterprise would have on people and procure the license. Thus, in 2006, BLM was born in Chennai with like-minded people joining hands and pooling resources. And the rest is history. Today, it is spread across Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry with more than 100 branches and five lakh members.
Chasing a big dream
Replying to the question of how he was able to expedite the growth of BLM and make it what it is today, R Premkumar said, “The late president APJ Abdul Kalam taught us to dream big. I dreamt big and gave wings to it.” And the results are there for all to see. What began with the lofty aim of a “Home for All”, BLM today is a force to reckon with in the housing sector. It develops houses of all kinds from villas, row houses and apartment complexes to bungalows and mini townships at affordable rates. “We have completed almost 60 projects, both big and small, in Chennai, Puducherry and Kerala and they have benefited close to 50,000 people,” he says with a smile of satisfaction.
Across the three states, BLM’s 17 construction projects are underway currently. Among them is a mammoth residential-cum-commercial project at Parandur in the Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu close to the proposed international airport. Spread across 500 acres, registration of 200 acres is already over and formalities for the remaining land are going on. “It will be a mini township near the airport,” said R Premkumar, who was into the transportation business and politics before chasing the BLM dream.
In reply to the question on the mission behind this lofty enterprise, R Premkumar said, “As you know, everyone is in a mad rush to create comfort zones for themselves. But I undertook this venture so that it makes a positive impact on the lives of others and provide a means of livelihood to many as well. For close to two decades, we have been sailing on impacting so many lives in a positive way.” He also expressed his indebtedness to his friends Gopinathan Nambiar, Venkat Rao, Babuji, Sreenivasan and Rajendran who rallied behind him to make BLM a reality.
With eyes on the horizon
An astute, sagacious entrepreneur whose eyes are on the horizon, R Premkumar did not confine himself to construction and land development. He took the right decisions at the right time to explore new vistas of growth. “We have branched into the transportation sector with BLM Transport operating a fleet of buses from Chennai to different parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala,” said the suave businessman.
Today, BLM operates a cement factory in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district and Kanjikode in Kerala’s Palakkad district. It also owns Eurotech Cement. BLM also has a gold and diamond jewellery showroom in Thrissur and 17 more are on the anvil in Kerala. “BLM also operates Maha Shank Energy, which is south India’s largest biogas producer converting 100 tonnes of waste into three tonnes of biogas every day. We have an agreement with GAIL which purchases our biogas”, he added.
BLM has diversified into the hospitality sector and it operates six premium hotels: Vibe Resort in Munnar, Navaratna Hotel Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai Gateway in the Tamil Nadu capital, and Bekal in Kasaragod, north Kerala, to name a few. “We also plan to come up with a mega shopping mall in Kalamassery, Kochi. Its construction will begin soon,” quipped Premkumar.
BLM in the next 5 years…
When asked about where he saw the BLM empire in the next five years, R Premkumar said the brand should “illuminate every household in south India within that period. It should make a mark in one way or the other.” Foreseeing steady growth, BLM has purchased 50 lakh shares of Cochin International Airport (CIAL). “We are now one of the biggest shareholders in CIAL. We are targeting the entire south in a door-to-door manner,” he added.
He made it clear that they were also foraying into the healthcare segment. “We are planning to have a medical college and discussions are going on in this regard. We already have a college in Kannur district and we have introduced new courses to make it an arts and science college,” said R Premkumar, who loves to travel. BLM will also make its presence felt in the IT sector with two ventures in Infopark, Kochi and Technopark, Trivandrum.
Family: The pillar of supportBeing at the helm of this mammoth enterprise, Premkumar gives his family full credit for supporting all his endeavours. “My family is my pillar of support and inspiration in my entrepreneurial journey,” said the BLM chairman whose roots are in Thiruvananthapuram. He was born and brought up in Chennai as his father was employed in Chennai Port Trust. “My professional life is all the more hectic since it has got a human dimension that targets the well-being of all. There are times when I do not get enough time for my family. But my wife, children and siblings are really supportive as they see so many people benefiting from BLM. I’m blessed to have them,” he added. Settled in Virugambakkam, his wife, Prabha, is a homemaker, his daughter Manusha is an advocate practicing at the Madras High Court and his son Madumkesh is an upcoming Kollywood actor.
Motto and spirituality
When asked about his motto in life and spirituality, R Premkumar said, “We Rise By Lifting Others.” It happens to be the motto of his successful group. “It is not enough that you live well, you need to ensure that those around you too live with dignity. I have assured that all who are associated with my enterprises have a decent home and a car,” he quipped.
The business magnate is also steeped in spirituality thanks to his 20-year stint with a Hindu ascetic, who is his guiding star. “I am very strong spiritually and I attribute my success to the blessings of the almighty,” said Premkumar who is very fond of spiritual books and literature.
R Premkumar also leaves no stone unturned when it comes to lending a helping hand to those in need. It goes without saying that BLM is at the forefront of CSR activities. The most recent intervention was in the case of an Indian team volleyball player hailing from Kerala whose house was confiscated by a bank when her family defaulted the loan repayment. “As soon as I got to hear about it, I rushed to offer assistance. We built a new house and handed it over to the player Bhumika,” he said. BLM is also active in extending help to kidney patients requiring dialysis and in providing impoverished hospitals with medical equipment and ambulances. Their CSR activities span the three states.
Armed with experience, vision, diligence, humaneness and spirituality, R Premkumar is confident of taking his enterprises to newer shores