Monday, February 14, 2011

Hemu Ramaiah: A Landmark Achievement

Dept. Of Management Studies, IIT Madras was proud to host the founder and ex-CEO of Landmark, Ms. Hemu Ramaiah as part of the MBA Invitation Lecture Series on Wed, 9th Feb 2010. Ms. Ramaiah is presently MD of shop4solutions, a private equity firm. The topic for the lecture was “The Story of Landmark: Innovation, Challenges, and Learnings”.
Ms. Hemu Ramaiah with 33 years of experience in retailing, began by telling us of her younger days, when as a daughter of an army man, she had to get used to frequent change of residence, staying in towns and cities of India and generally growing up in a world where reading books was a pleasurable pastime and sometimes the only source of entertainment. Coming from a family not even remotely connected to business and not much crazy about books either, Ms. Ramaiah did go against the current by deciding early on that her life was going to revolve around the book industry. She began studying literature in Chennai, and went on to begin her career with books by joining the Taj Bookshop. Displaying great determination and foresight, she planned to set up her own bookstore by the time she turned thirty and to preferably exit by the time she turned fifty. Lofty goals for a twenty-something year old, but as she said “otherwise life would just meander along”.
Pretty soon she had established nine hotel book retail shops and was ready to take the leap. In 1987 with a modest capital of Rs. 12 lacs, she set up shop in Nungambakkam, Chennai. The location was the basement of an office building but one which would grow one day to earn the title of the “cult location” of Landmark. She asked the students to be wary of issuing equity early on during ventures as this could be a big compromise.
From the onset the aim was to create a bookstore which would change the way people perceived book shops in India. A bookshop without textbooks. A bookshop with open display. A bookshop where people could walk around, pick up a book, flip through it instead of coldly purchasing it from across a counter. In other words, Ms. Ramaiah converted the act of purchasing a book into an experience. And she went on to enhance this experience by adding on to the initial offering of only books, chocolates, stationery, toys and music.
Ms. Ramaiah described having tried the franchise model, as well as the joint venture in Calcutta. By late 1990s Landmark was a brand to reckon with and it was getting a lot of attention from the right quarters. In 2001, Landmark was invited operate a branch out of Spencer Plaza in Chennai, the first mall in India. Soon word spread and in 2002 it was operating from Forum Mall in Bangalore and what began as a book shop in a basement turned into an all-India phenomenon. Ms. Ramaiah told everyone about the challenges she faced as an entrepreneur – the forex crisis of 1991, the backward and forward integration troubles, the financing woes. But it seems it’s all been worth it when one looks back at the thrill, and satisfaction of having enriched thousands of lives through Landmark. The ‘Landmark Quiz’ became an event that people of all ages would wait for every year.
With the distinction of having made a profit in every year of its existence, Landmark was in an enviable position. However true to herself, Ms. Ramaiah stuck to her plan, and decided move on, when she invited Tata group company, Trent Ltd. to takeover Landmark in 2008.
Ms. Ramaiah cheerfully answered a variety of questions from the audience and left everybody appreciating this truly great achievement of a person with such humility, grace and charm.

Compiled By,
Team DoMS Interface 

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