‘Be alive all your life’. John Geevargese, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and educationist, who built an empire in Gujarat, all by himself, believes in this motto. “I never get tired of what I do,” says John, who was in Kochi to take part in the release of the book Aithihasika Jeevitham, based on his life. It is a translation of the book The Making of a Legend, written by S.D. Desai and Aditi Shukla-Fozdar. The Malayalam translation, written by Jayaraman Kadambat was released by Resul Pookutty and Cardinal Mar George Alencherry at a function in Kochi. Another book has been written about him in Gujarati by Kajal Oza Vaidya.
“The book is not a biography. It is a sketch on my life. People around me said the book in English should be translated to Malayalam and I entrusted Jayaraman, who is a good writer, to do it,” says John, who was brought up in Pathanamthitta, and later moved to Bombay (Mumbai) in pursuit of better pastures of life. It was 1960s, and he was in the service of Government of Bombay. “I was working at the Secretariat of Government of Bombay. After its bifurcation to Gujarat, Maharasthra and Goa, I was transferred to Gujarat. That is how I reached Gujarat.”
Dignitaries at the book release held in Kochi
Little did he know that his life was about to take a U-turn in Gujarat, a hub of merchants. John started doing small businesses there. At one point, he realised that it was time he plunge into entrepreneurship. And, he did not hesitate. “I left the service to concentrate entirely on my business,” recalls John. He started the journey by selling furniture and other household items.
As an outsider, it was not easy for him to get a foothold there. “Business is in the blood of Gujaratis. Competing with them was not at all an easy job. But, then I could do it,” says John, who too has business in his genes. His father Geevargese Chona had a small grocery shop cum tea stall on the highway to Kollam. Days spent with him at the shop had been a great influence. “Those days let me understand the possibilities of a business,” he says. “I grew up watching him work. That was a lesson.”
However, John believes, besides the inherited skill, it was hard work and his efforts to gain customers’ confidence that helped him flourish in Gujarat. “I gave them good services at a fair price. I even gave installments too, which I feel worked,” recalls John about the beginning of Sales India, his venture.
There were setbacks, but he was determined to go ahead. That is what he intends to say to the younger generation through his book. “It will give them an idea about succeeding in life through hard work, sincerity, faith in god, good intention and courage. These are the values I uphold in my life,” says John who spearheads 25 colleges and schools.
He also does charitable activities through the initiative Asia Charitable Trust, and has been honoured with Jamnalal Bajaj Award, Udyog Ratna Award, Glory of Gujarat Award, Global Leadership for Change award and Jewel of Gujarat Award. He is also known for building YMCA Ahemadabad from the scratch. It is perhaps the best YMCA that caters to all sorts of audience. “It is a happening place,” he says.
Ask him whether the journey has been challenging and he has felt like giving up at any point, with a smile, he says, “Never. It was always challenging. When I began it in 1960, I didn’t think I would reach this far. I mustered the courage to do all these by taking risks,” he says citing foraying into education sector as an instance. “There was a primary school run by the Ahmedabad South Indian Association. They were finding it difficult to manage and approached me for help. They requested to take over it. It was in 1993; that was the first step towards education sector,” he says.
“Initially, I resisted because it’s not easy to manage an educational institution. But, they pressurised me. I was afraid a bit, but then I was definite that I would be in a position to handle it. Whatever I do, I see that I will succeed,” adds John, who believes in providing quality education to children. He makes it a point that his students and their parents are happy with the service. In his opinion, we need to equip students with knowledge and values to be better human beings. “Our education system is not enough. We have to make it stronger and elevate it to the global level by introducing the need of the future,” he says. His team is working toward achieving it. What he envisions is a tech-driven campus where information should be accessible with just a click or a swipe.
A man who believes in giving back to society that made him what he is now, John says, “God has given me a lot, and I know I have to give it to others. If any person comes to me with any kind of request, I support them.” If it was done by him earlier, now he has a team to help him identify the needy. “I am not alone. There are people, including my family, who help me in this journey.”
And with a note to the young generation, he concludes, “Hard work is the key to success. Whatever you have in mind, do it seriously and sincerely. There will be testing times, but don’t be afraid. Failure is also an experience. One should not stop, but go ahead.”