K. Muraleedharan has established a UAE-based group, while focusing on his business pursuits he is equally concerned about what it does for the society at large. Business and corporate social responsibility are frequently spoken of as inseparables in the modern day corporate world, but it is not often that entrepreneurs walk the talk on social commitments. Kesavan Muraleedharan, 55-year-old Gulf-based businessman, prefers to keep that social commitment, as much as he devotes attention to his business.
His passion for business is intense, and so is his passion for social work. So much so, that he talks about his business and social work with equal enthusiasm and in both areas he maintains a fine balance, he brings an unmistakable level of professionalism.
For all his accomplishments, Muraleedharan’s beginnings were low profile, starting off as an Accountant with the Dubai-based food distribution firm, KM Brothers owned by Mr KM Bhatia. It was his elder brother Mr. K. Viswsambharan who managed a UAE visa for Muraleedharan in 1976.
Muraleedharan joined K.M. Brothers in the Accounts Department in Dubai and after working for one year he was transferred to Oman as a member of their opening team to establish a branch. In 1978 he was transferred back to Dubai to the sales department, marking a turning point in his career. In no time, he could realize that sales was his calling in life.
In 1980, when the company’s area manager in Abu Dhabi, took leave for two months, Muraleedharan was sent to Abu Dhabi to take up his responsibilities. Given an opportunity to prove his selling prowess, Muraleedharan dwelled deep into the market, the products, the price, stock and every aspect of the trading business.
All of that naturally made a big difference. In no time, the company’s sales in Abu Dhabi shot up, By 1989 the Abu Dhabi unit became a major division of K.M. Brothers with a well established office and distribution center.
Muraleedharan was on a journey of self-discovery. Buoyed by the substantial profit volumes he generated, he assessed himself, and appraised his evolution as a successful salesman and his potential in running a business efficiently. That was when the entrepreneur in him started emerging.
His first venture was a coffee shop at an ADNOC filling station at Mafraq, Abu Dhabi in 1989. When it was established, the management of ADNOC filling station changed and the new General Manager wanted to bring in a global food chain. Muraleedharan had to leave when the famed KFC took his place. That incident prompted him to look at global players, and an opportunity came his way in the form of Southern Fried Chicken (SFC).
It was a franchisee agreement with a Fast Food company in U.K. that led to the opening of the first Southern Fried Chicken outlet in Abu Dhabi in 1991. The second outlet followed in 1992 and the third one was added in 1993. As in sales, he learnt all about the business aspects of the Quick Service Restaurants before he plunged into business. He introduced the Pizza Pan concept along with the Southern Fried Chicken to facilitate the outlet as a family restaurant.
The business took off well, and Muraleedharan now runs 24 SFC units in the UAE. To consolidate his food outlet business, he launched the Southern Franchise Company in the UAE.
Muraleedharan was not the one to remain satisfied with his initial success with the Quick Service Restaurants. His inherent desire to scale greater heights led to his establishing an elite chain of restaurants, going under the brand name ‘India Palace’, to become the pride of Indian cuisine in the U.A.E, the outlet in the ‘Burj Al Khaleefa’, the tallest building in the world, is one such example. Along with the Indian cuisine, the India Palace restaurants are also instrumental in propagating the Indian Art and Culture in the form of intricately hand carved wooden furniture from India, paintings on the walls and ceilings and on site bangle making demonstration.
India Palace has grown to be a chain of 12 world class Indian restaurants today. The SFC group also owns and operate, the 135-room, boutique hotel, Avenue Hotel, on Al Rigga Street, Dubai.
Currently the Southern Franchise Company LLC (SFC Group), the holding company, boasts of 14 different companies, in India, the U.A.E, dealing in Hotels, Fine Dining Restaurants, Quick Service Restaurants, Catering & Life Support Services, Healthcare, Dairy Farming and Real Estate. The Group has recently entered the Indian Market by opening two SFC Plus Quick service restaurants in Kochi and is also all set to launch its first business class hotel in Trivandrum, Kerala in collaboration with ‘Ramada International’. It has also initiated processing of establishing a modern, fully mechanized dairy farm in Kerala. The success of the group lies in its dedicated team of over 2000 professional and enterprising employees of several nationalities.
In 2000, Muraleedharan left K.M. Brothers. He kept his word, and never ventured into the distribution business of K.M. Brothers.
As destiny would have it, during a chance visit to one of the labour camps in 1992, as a part of his trips relating to the supply of provisions, Mr. Muraleedharan observed workers being brought to the camp in open trailer trucks, without any protection from the atmosphere. While interacting with them it was very touching for Mr. Muraleedharan to know about the duress under which they were working. He also understood the sacrifices they were making for the survival of their dear and near ones and to provide educational opportunities to their children. In spite of all the sacrifices they made, they felt hurt that they were not able to achieve the desired results back home. This led to the awakening of the dormant desire in Mr. Muraleedharan to do something for the under privileged.
In the initial stages, the philanthropic work took the shape of helping the needy for their children’s education, marriage, sickness, housing, monthly stipend to financially challenged senior citizens etc. Noticing Mr. Muraleedharan’s concerns for the needy and suffering and his humanitarian approach, many like minded people expressed their desire to join him. This led to the formation of several organizations, each with a specific purpose, to streamline these activities in a productive manner. At the same time, he also established the ‘Muralya Foundation’ to channelize his own initiatives.
‘Muralya Foundation’ functioning under the guidance of Mr. K. Muraleedharan, its Founder Chairman, with all its activities financed entirely by him was formed to create a synergy between the diverse social service activities carried out by the SFC Group, and to make them more streamlined, consistent and result-oriented. A group of professionals spearhead the functioning of Muralya Foundation and its varied initiatives. The Foundation regards its endeavours not so much as acts of charity, but acts of faith in the young and acts of gratitude to the elder generation.
Muraleedharan’s abiding commitment towards social responsibilities finds expression in many ways, mostly by providing active guidance and contributions to several associations working for the welfare of Indian citizens in the Middle East and by extending patronage to several social service institutions in Kerala that strive for the betterment of different sections of society.
Back in Kollam district, Kerala, Muraleedharan has adopted his native Yeroor village under a social welfare programme. At the village, hundreds of people, all of them living below the poverty line, wait for the first of every Malayalam month, when they are sure to get financial support from the Muralya Foundation run by Muraleedharan. The poor in the village also get new clothes and special gifts during Onam, assistance to homeless to build houses, scholarship to meritorious but cash strapped students, financial support to needy patients and special fund to conduct marriages of girls from financially weaker families.
Muraleedharan also took over N.S.V.V.H.S., an aided school at Punalur and dedicated a 4 storey building fully equipped with modern facilities and latest teaching aids. The process of development is maintained to keep the structure and quality of education to be at par with privately managed schools. He also provides for faculty trainings, counseling to children and parents, career guidance and personality development to all the 24 government and aided schools in Anchal block Panchayat.
Muraleedharan also runs the Anchal Hospital for Mother and Child (AHMC) where patients below poverty line get free medical aid, and is the Chief Patron and mentor of several charitable organisations, Ashraya of Kottarakkara, Gandhibhavan of Pathanapuram, and S.N.V. Samithy of Kollam. Ashrya gives shelter to 600 residents including homeless senior citizens, mentally / physically challenged, orphans and street children, AIDS patients, destitutes, drug addicts and alcoholics. Similarly Gandhi Bhavan shelters 800 residents from the age 1 to 98 years. S.N.V. Samithy, runs a day school for deaf and dumb and ‘Pakal Veedu’ for Senior Citizens.
Muraleedharan is the Founder Chairman of the Care and Share International Foundation that extends medical assistance to financially deprived patients. It also conducts public awareness drives on social causes. He was also the Founder Chairman of the Vidya International Charitable Trust, founded in 2000, during its first ten formative years. The Trust was established with 11 members as Author Trustees and Muraleedharan as the Founder Chairman. In 2003 the Trust launched the Vidya Academy of Science and Technology at Thalakkottukara near Thrissur, which has become one of the leading private engineering colleges in the state. Admissions at the college are on merit, government-recommended fees are charged, and there is no capitation fee. Above all 22 % of the admissions are offered with Scholarships. The second Engineering College of the Trust is under construction at Kilimannoor, Trivandrum.
Muraleedharan has started a family Trust for the welfare of the more than 600 members of his Thengumpana family. The focus of the Trust is to groom children in an appropriate way so as to help the new generation attain good mental and intellectual development.
Muraleedharan’s father Kesavan is no more, and his 81-year-old mother Rajamma lives in Yeroor, Anchal. His wife Beena is a constant support. The couple’s elder daughter Dr. Revathy Muralya is married to Vikram Valsraj in Kannur, while their son Mr. Rohith Muralya is a graduate in Accounting & Finance from Warwick University, U.K. and took M.B.A in Hospitality Management from the Le Roches College, Switzerland. Ms. Radhika Muralya, the younger daughter, is pursuing under graduate course in Management studies at the Manchester University, U.K.