Monday, March 2, 2015



V.M. Khaleelur Rahman

The Nagappa Foundation has brought out the book on Mr. A. Nagappa Chettiar, one of the rare and great pioneers of the leather industry in his centenary year. It is titled “Leather King Padma Shri. A. Nagappa Chettiar – Inspiring Legacy of His Success” and has been authored by Mr. J. Prasad Davids, International Economist, who has the distinction of serving the Southern India Chamber of Commerce & Industry for four decades in positions like Secretary and Advisor. 


This book gives a vivid account of the life and contributions of Mr. A. Nagappa Chettiar who was born on 6.8.1915 in the affluent Nattukotai Chettiar community as the only son of his parents at Malasivapuri village of Pudukkottai district in Tamil Nadu. His father was Mr. Sri Andappa Chettiar and mother Mrs. Chellammai Achi. His father passed away when he was just a 6 month old baby. He was brought up by his maternal uncle Mr. Arumugam.  After his initial schooling in his native place, he joined the family business of banking and trade. At the age of 19 he married his uncle’s daughter Umayal Achi in 1934 and they were blessed with a daughter Yegammai. 

On 14th June 1973 Mrs. Yegammai was married to Mr. A. Chidambaram. During this birth centenary year of Mr. Nagappa Chettiar they have plan to construct the Nagappan Industrial Estate at their native place, Malasivapuri and do many other religious, social and charitable works. The Nagappan Foundation founded by Mr. Nagappa Chettiar with many laudable objectives is engaged in giving scholarships to the deserving underprivileged children. 


The author recounts how Mr. Nagappa’s business life began at the age of fifteen  with his partner Mr. M. Narayanan Chettiar in Srilanka. They carried on their traditional business of trading and banking for several years. Then they entered into the hides and skins business on 14th November 1937 with a capital of Rs.10,000/- borrowed from Mr. Chettiayappa Chettiar.  At that time the leather business was not attractive as it is today. But they endeavoured their best foreseeing its vast prospects and came out successful in it which they started on an experimental basis. 


In 1944 Mr. A. Nagappa Chettiar and others started a new agency company under the name of Palaniappa Chettiar & Co. a tannery for hides at Pallavaram in Madras and a tannery for superfine tanned skins at Dindugal. Then there was no limit. He and his colleagues went on expanding business. The book reveals that he had 15 tanneries in various parts of Tamil Nadu and more than 100 depots for purchase of raw hides and skins in different states in India. While reading the book we understand that he did business with a missionary zeal, exported various leathers, earned considerable foreign exchange when it was very much needed and brought laurels to the industry and country. He was a giant in the leather industry and honours like Padma Shri came running to him and most suited him.


Perhaps the most significant contribution of Mr. Nagappa Chettiar was his mission to organise a fair for the leather industry. When he first visited "Semaine International Due Cuir", popularly known at that time as "Paris Fair" in Europe, he dreamt of organising such a fair at Madras. He discussed his vision with Prof. Nayudamma, Director, CLRI who took initiative in organising industry-institute get together and trade fair within the CLRI campus. An organisation Indian Leather Fair Society was formed with Mr. A. Nagappa Chettiar as the President and with distinguished members such as Dr. Y. Nayudamma, Mr. C.K. Duraivelan, Mr. P. Srinivasan and Mr. J.R. Nicholson and also with Dr. K.T. Sarkar of CLRI and Mr. S.Sankaran, Founder, Indian Leather as Secretaries.


There was a time when tanners and merchants exported their tanned hides and skins on consignment basis to London to be sold by auction on some fixed dates. There were Agents like Messrs. Screevan Brothers and many others who were operating this line of business in the U.K. Mr. Nagappa Chettiar abolished this system by opening a company in London and selling goods directly to British and European customers. This was undoubtedly a great achievement as auction sales were unpredictable and highly risky.

Mr. Nagappa Chettiar was instrumental in finding the LEPC in Madras with his colleagues in the industry such as Mr. M.J. Jamal Mohideen, Mr. T. Abdul Wahid, Mr. C.K. Duraivalen, Mr. A. Subramanian, Mr. M. Mohammed Hashim, Mr. Sanjoy Sen and others. Its first Chairman was Mr. R.K. Rangan. Other stalwarts like Mr. A. Nagappa Chettiar, Mr. T. Abdul Wahid, Mr. M.J. Jamal Mohideen, Mr. R. Srinivasan, Mr. M. Mohammed Hashim and others occupied this prestigious Chairman post later. 


There is a lot to know in the book about the involvement of Mr. Nagappa Chettiar in shaping the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) in the effective form. He was also the Chairman of the governing council of the CLRI. This institute was founded by the government of India with a primary mandate to seek excellence in leather science and technology. Since its inception, it has been doing excellent service for the development of the leather industry. In 1972 the Nagappa Foundation donated Rs.51,000/- for the establishment of a Footwear Research Centre at CLRI when the government of India was contemplating a switch over from semi-finished leather to leather products for sustained growth of the Indian leather sector. His timely contribution and endorsement for the progressive policy of the government was really fruitful. Many great personalities, academicians, top entrepreneurs, celebrities and overseas dignitaries have visited this institute and are visiting from time to time. This great institute pays the right and great tribute by saying that “this is really a dream come true for what was envisioned by Mr. Nagappa Chettiar”. 

The book contains many rare photographs which bring alive the life and activities of Mr. Nagappa Chettiar and his association with family members, customers, tannery staff and workers and great personalities etc. 


Mr. Nagappa Chettiar had a glorious industrial, social and family life. He breathed his last on 13th March 1982. Many of his other achievements in the book  are also worth reading, remembering and following.  It is the book everyone in the leather industry should read to know this great pioneer of the leather industry. One feels that as the author says, his life history would inspire and ignite many young managers and businessmen to excel for the highest. This book should be made available to interested people in pdf form on internet.
The leather industry has made a tremendous progress in our country. During this financial year 1914-15, its total export of leather and leather products is expected to be approximately to the tune of Rs.400000 million. It is undoubtedly because of the progressive policy of the government of India and the contributions of eminent industrialists like Mr. A.Nagappa Chettiar. 

(Writer’s e-mail id:

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