Pradeep Cholayil, a maverick who rewrites the rules, a student who took over a fledgling business, making less than Rs. 1 crore a year and built it into a Rs. 200 crore household name, at a time when all his peers were pursuing opportunities outside India, is a surprisingly soft-spoken, unassuming man.
Born and brought up in a Keralite family, with a 300-year-old Ayurvedic tradition, Pradeep realised early on that Ayurveda was the answer to many of the world’s, and his country’s, health problems. In the 90’s when India was opening her doors to international brands that were dazzling the formerly cloistered Indian public, he slowly but surely carved a niche for Medimix, a traditional soap brand that used only natural ingredients.
Having a father – Dr. Sidhan – who was a railway doctor, meant Pradeep had a strong understanding of the ailments and issues facing the common Indian masses, the Real India. Thus, Medimix was created out of a genuine need, a solution to a persistent problem, that affected hundreds of thousands of people across a massive country.
Pradeep always dreamed of creating a business that could make a difference for his country, and when he realised his father was unable to handle the business and marketing side of the home-grown brand, he stepped in to help. A young, unexperienced boy in his early twenties who was just out of college. A man, who incessantly worked on the business for 30 years, growing with his product and brand, till he realised their potential.
Pradeep was convinced that an affordable product, which delivered on its promise of hygiene and good health, would most definitely build a loyal following. He was one of the first entrepreneurs in the country to use innovative marketing techniques such as presenting a pain-point – pimples, prickly heat, dandruff – in his advertisement, with the product as a solution.
So confident was Pradeep of the need for natural products, that he started exporting Medimix to other countries in 1995. “I had a trust and belief that Ayurveda was here to stay. People were, slowly but surely, starting to look for natural solutions as the modern solutions were being questioned.” he shared.
In 2001, in a subtle business manoeuvre that was worthy of a master M&A player, Pradeep consolidated Cholayil’s position in the beauty market with the acquisition of Cuticura, one of India’s earliest brands of soap and talcum powder.
In the midst of all this monumental growth, the intrepid entrepreneur was dealt a tough hand in 2007, when he lost the legal rights to distribute Medimix products in South India. This was a hard blow as the region was Cholayil’s home ground, its primary market and the location of its headquarters. Sales plummeted by 68% that year, Cholayil’s worst year.
Shaken but not defeated, Pradeep rallied and pushed his team and himself to increase penetration in the northern, western and eastern markets. It took him 3 years of unfailing perseverance and an unflagging confidence in his own abilities to cross the Rs. 100 crore mark in 2010. When asked about this period he responds, “Failure motivates me to accept challenges and I believe challenges drive success”.
Not satisfied with the battles he had already fought and won, Pradeep made a few bold moves in 2011, moves which would set the stage for the next level of growth. He acquired a leading Kerala-based, herbal soap brand – Krishna Thulasi – and re-entered the South India market.
Simultaneously, he launched Sadayush, a brand for Ayurvedic treatments and services in Tamil Nadu. Sadayush incorporates the wisdom and long-term effectiveness of ancient ayurvedic techniques and current day comforts and aesthetics, to provide clients with a unique, holistic approach to healthcare.
Never one to stop learning, Pradeep enrolled in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management (OPM) Program in 2011. This course provided him with the tools to grow personally, through an assessment of his strengths and weaknesses as a leader.
In 2015, Pradeep initiated and successfully completed a massive consolidation exercise, where he and his team reorganised 500 of Cholayil’s sales districts, in north, west and east India, into 64 districts. The exercise was targeted at rationalising sales and marketing spends and resulted in a direct 10% increase in the bottom line.
Today, Cholayil has revenues of over Rs. 200 crores and has grown from a mom-and-pop business into an Ayurveda conglomerate with over 500 employees, 4 offices and 2 factories. Cholayil products are sold in 30 countries across the globe, including ones in the Middle East, Far East, Europe and Asia Pacific.
Pradeep however, is not one to sit on his laurels and he has not stopped dreaming and planning. With the global Ayurveda market expected to grow from $2.5 billion in 2017 to $8 billion by 2020, his 2020 targets are far reaching. He plans to hit Rs. 500 crores in revenue, introduce a slew of new Ayurvedic products and services, and build out Sadayush into an internationally renowned chain of Ayurvedic treatment centres.
Despite being a hands-on CEO, Pradeep believes that a man needs to follow his artistic passions in order to rejuvenate his energies regularly and give his best on the business front. To this end, he makes time to indulge his love for photography, a talent he inherited from his father, and one he has developed since he was a schoolboy.
Pradeep is a firm believer in giving back, particularly to the country and generation that gave him Ayurveda, the source of all his success. He sits on the board of the Banyan, a non-governmental organization founded in 1993 and based in Chennai, which identifies and caters to mentally ill and homeless people in the Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The organisation has rescued over 3000 homeless people and reinstated 75% of them into regular society successfully.
Pradeep finally shares a snippet of wisdom and encouragement for the young and aspiring entrepreneurs out there “Never give up, explore opportunities, aim for the peak”.
2011 – Medimix was judged the 87th most trusted brand in India and the 15th most trusted brand in the ‘personal care’ category according to the Brand Equity Survey conducted by the Economic Times.
2015 – 2016 – CHEMEXCIL Award: Awarded to Cholayil for Outstanding Export Performance in Cosmetics & Toiletries Panel, Cosmetics & Toiletries Panel Small Scale Sector.
2015 – 2016 – Export Excellence Award: Cholayil was awarded with the Gold award for the performance in Exports during year 2015-16 under the category of Top Multi product group exporter in southern region of India. Award was given by The Vice-President of India, Honourable Shri Venkaiah Naidu on behalf of Federation of Indian Exports Organization on 18th January 2018.
2015 – 2016 – CHEMEXCIL Award for Exports Performance: Awarded to Cholayil by Shri. Nirmala Sitaraman, Honourable Minister of State for Commerce & Industry in Mumbai, on the 24th of March 2016.
2018 – Certificate for Packaging Excellence – World Star: Cholayil was awarded WORLDSTAR 2018 Certificate for Packaging Excellence for its brand Cuticura Talc “Bead out Closure”.