Verghese Kurien’s success was that he kindled urban interest in a rural story of empowerment and sustenance.
In his model of business, villagers are the producers and their products, which they own, are sold to the urban, using the tools of a typically urban-centric business.
And among these tools is brand building.
“Without a brand, you will just be a contract supplier doing all the hard work of collecting and processing the milk from lakhs of farmers,” he has been quoted as saying in an article in Business Line.
This explains the rationale behind the Amul brand and its mascot and also the precise reason why the milk farmers of the Gujarat Milk Marketing Federation are empowered.
In contrast, rural farmers by many other domestic and multinational companies remain just suppliers without much say.
The GCMMF also helped the farmers get around the middle men, whose predominance was destructive for the farmers.
For this, the federation established a direct link between milk producers and consumers. Milk producers had the control of procurement, processing and marketing and a professional management was engaged, according to the Amul website.
Prime Minster Manmohan Singh has rightly said in his condolence message that Kurien’s greatest contribution was to give a position of pre-eminence to the farmer and his or her interests rather than those of the middlemen (BS report).
“When Dr Kurien said: "I am a milkman, I am a servant of the farmers," it was not just rhetoric. He meant it,” says Shyam Benegal in his article in The Economic Times.
His dedication to the farmers is perhaps best explained in an anecdote in a Mint report.
According to the report, when GCMMF wanted to start selling shrikhand, the then finance secretary opposed the move on the grounds that “it would have technical problems”.
“…He even argued that this move could make the sweet-shop owners (halwais) unemployed,” the article says.
“How can a man who can’t even milk a cow know the dairy sector?” Kurien retorted.
Yes, Kurien knew the dairy sector and rural farmers inside out.
“India’s place in the sun would come from the partnership between wisdom of its rural people and skill of its professionals,” Kurien said, accepting the ET Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
His name will always remind Indian business of the missing rural link.