Jose Thomas

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Friday 16th July, 2010



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In 1976 the unexpected happened. The joint family business that was in existence was facing challenges. The first partition among the partners. My oldest brother decided to part ways with Choice. Everything ended peacefully. However, I trod rough terrain to make the partition final and legalised. According to the negotiated deal I was to continue with the founder’s company along with my mother and my second brother as partners. My heart was in taking on the legacy and to run forward with the Choice name. The deal was not very favourable for me and my partners, but what I fought for, was the name ‘Choice’.

In 1972, I watched my father battling with death in the ICU. I noticed that he had something on his mind – a life cut short, incomplete dreams, un-accomplished aspirations. As he slipped in and out of coma, all he spoke about was of his children and his company-Choice. He knew that his three boys were too young to take on his company. He spoke to his managers about what would happen to Choice in case he didn’t make it. After his death, his feeling of incompletion lingered in my mind, it literally haunted me and I was determined to grow Choice to a height that would surpass my father’s expectations. I took on his mantle.

Expectations and ambitions are easily framed in one’s mind, but to be aware of it, to identify it and act upon it, is what I refer to as a ‘call’. A ‘call’ which we all get at some point in life, and very often, do not pay attention to. The ‘call’ comes in various forms – opportunities, sometimes losses and even as lady luck knocking at our door.

When I joined this company in 1972 and paid heed to my father’s vision, I made a firm decision and took up the challenge of taking Choice to a point that would make my father proud.

On this day, July 16th 2010, we celebrate the ‘Choice Day’, a day when all employees and their families gather under one roof to express solidarity towards the organisation and the company Choice that they all work for. This has been going on religiously for the past 28 years. There have been years when budgetary restraints could have called the curtain on this event, but it never happened. I believe what has to happen, will happen and will not wait.

It was in 1976, after the partition that my struggle started. I had no liquidity to run the business nor had any customers, as two of the major customers of Choice decided to align with my brother. It was understandable that they would do that because they had more faith in a mature adult than a kid. Things happened too early in my life. In a way it is good, but maturity was something I probably lacked.

In1977, Choice had completely shut down with no business, creditors knocking at my door, and day to day expenses to meet. My mother refused to let me out of the house as she was petrified of the creditors lined up outside my home. I had a factory to run, employees to pay, and expenses to meet with no business and no income. Surprisingly during the partition our bankers also decided to exit Choice and align with my elder brother. Wonder how I paid my bills? It was simple. Convincing people. Convincing my creditors to give me time, convincing my suppliers to have patience and convincing my customers that I could deliver.

I remember I just could not wait to re-start my business but the situation was grim, I had no bankers and no customers. I began to explore all possibilities. I kept a small diary which I used as a tool to stay organised. All I did with that diary was to pick a month, pick a date and write ‘Restart factory’ I kept paying the wages – from where? I kept borrowing from all sources I could find.

However I had a very clear conviction, I was not about to give up. I kept fighting to re-start the business. The date in my diary kept changing. I wrote ‘Restart factory’ again a few pages later. That day would come and go but no sign of bankers or customers. I would pick yet another possible date and write ‘Restart factory’. Again to no avail. I had to keep on making changes to the target date, not realising anything but just setting goals, staying focused, staying on top of things, with not a thought of retreating. I was clear about what I wanted. I needed a banker, a few customers, a few dependable suppliers and a committed work force to re-start my business. On certain mornings when I woke up I knew I had all the ducks in a row for me to shoot, but the bullets were missing. I held hard negotiations with various banks and finally found one who was convinced of not just of my financials alone, but also of my commitment, my belief in myself and the goal I was determined to accomplish - my father’s vision of Choice.

Finally the time drew near, all documentation was done, funds ready and I was all set to re-start the business. The last and final time I wrote ‘Restart factory’ happened to be July 16th, 1978. It all fell together on that day. I had the bullets and the necessary ammunition to start firing. The doors of the factory were opened, trucks with minimal quantities of seafood rolled in, the machines whirred to life. I had also found customers by then. Remember my Madras days when I used to know the Japanese? I began trading with the good friends I knew from Japan.

From that day on I was like a wound up toy. I set about my goal like a blinkered horse, like one driven by a kind of madness. Besides getting into shipping in 1977-78, towards 1980 Choice began to grow by leaps and bounds and the bankers whom I found could not sustain our needs based on our growth. Hence we shifted our complete banking operations to the largest bank in the country-State Bank of India. I am indebted to them for their support in all my endeavours.

A piece of advice I want to give young entrepreneurs is that a dream alone will not suffice to succeed in business. You need conviction and the ability to be flexible in altering plans and of course, look cheerful and be able to sell your story right. One of you might have the brightest idea with you. I too did. What did I do differently?
I sold it.

Life at work became very interesting – more and more professionals began to work for me. Choice started to grow. The seafood business on one hand, Maldive Shipping on another and Ceylon Shipping on yet another side – we were growing manifold. We worked as a team and I had excellent employees who toiled night and day, putting forth their very best. Had I to list their names, it would be endless. I remember them all today with gratitude. In 1982 we had the top and middle order – around 40 employees, besides factory workers.

On one casual evening as we got together (we got together pretty often those days) we decided to have a family gathering of all employees. It was a collective decision to get together at a convenient date on a little island near Cochin. We spent a day playing games and simply having fun. This happened to be July 16th, 1982. I decided to call this day “Choice Day”.

The organisation grew, many more employees joined and today, we are close to 800 in number. We get together on this day every year in Cochin. This day, for me, is a day of remembrance, with lots of memories-good and bad, battles fought hard, lessons well learnt. Friends from all over the world travel to Cochin to attend – customers, well wishers, old friends and new, employees, both present and past, from the lower to the higher echelons of the company, along with their families, all join in the festivities. The day always begins with a prayer thanking the Almighty for blessings in the past and seeking His guidance for the future, then I address the gathering reminding everyone of the significance of this day-the day I accomplished a dream to re-start my father’s business.

July 16th, coincidentally, is my birthday too. The day on which I was placed on this earth to contribute my humble mite and play my part in role set out for me by the Grand Architect.
On this day, I rededicate myself to my father’s vision, and commit myself to my organisation, my employees and all who work to sustain it. I also fondly remember with infinite gratitude my mother, my pillar of strength, who was my counsel all the years of her life. I also remember my past employees, customers, contractors, suppliers, vendors, many of whom are no more, who have contributed in the growth of Choice. May God bless them all.

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Responses to
 Jose Joseph says:
congratulations and warm regards I am a person living in Dubai and in my busy schedule also i find time to read your blog as it is very interesting and motivating. Even I have decided to start a company in the name CHOICE because your actions and style impressed me very much. And I have a suggestion why cant you establish your activities in Gulf region especially your school and PAC activities. Hoping to see and read more of your experiences and once again wishing success
 Sinjini says:
Looking frd to the next CHOICE DAY.... wishing you many many successful yrs to come
 Dr Suma Balan says:
Interesting blog- July 16th happens to be my birthday too, and my kids( who are at your school) are very amused that my birthday is always a school holiday! Was interested to know the reason and found out now.
thanks for sharing your personal life experience with us. Have you ever tried to enter IT business?if so please share with me.
can you please explain your business entry 2 US. plz xplain da challenges and how u faced.
 forex ea review says:
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.
 forex trading review says:
Great post. Can’t wait to read the next ones :)
 George Thomas says:
I have heard your name way back in the 90's. Never thought about it again. Saw the manorama article today. Shocked to hear that you had a crisis in your company and thrilled to see how you emerged from it. My take away from your story is what I heard from Steve Jobs. Have a dream and confidence in yourself. The dots will connect at some point.. Best of Luck..
 CHietuise says:
Great blog
Your blog has grow to be component of my everyday routine, i am thrilled when i find a new post of yours on my rss reader, just thought i would let you know. thanks
 Meenakshy says:
GR8 BLOG OF JT. wish you good luck for all the success and many more to come yr way. I hv taken part in the CHOICE DAY get together as an ex-employee of TJ. says:
Stunning story there. What happened after? Take care!