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By: Interviewed by Niya Jose, PGDM
Kerala's Own Business Power Couple
Dr. Benny Antony, Co-founder of Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd and his wife Dr. Merina Benny (Head, R & D, Arjuna) are a power couple, made for each other. While Dr. Benny is a specialist in Applied Chemistry, Dr. Merina’s area is Biochemistry, and between these dual doctorates in Chemistry they have over 40 patents, 25 of them being international! They also have over 50 pending patents for various products and processes and have published articles in several national and international journals. The curiosity, persistence and hard work of this couple has resulted in amazing agro-herbal products that are market leaders in the world.
RCBS: Could you tell us about Arjuna Natural Extracts and what its products are?
Dr. Merina Benny: “Arjuna Natural Extracts was set up in 1989 and now we are an ISO 9002 GMP Institution, with over 40 standardised herbal/spice extracts, marketed in over 40 countries for more than a decade. We have 5 units in 3 states of South India and a team of over 50 scientists.
‘Essential Oil of Mustard’, Dr. Benny’s product, was Arjuna’s first product for a small but significant niche market. Arjuna was one of the first exporters from India. Now after 27 years we have grown to have products in the health & nutrition segment, flavours & fragrances as well as food ingredients.”
(Arjuna is the largest manufacturer of Omega 3 concentrates in Asia with indigenous technology. The company won a National Award for successful commercialization of an indigenous technology. Dr. Merina’s and Benny Antony’s brainchild BCM- 95 is known worldwide for its bio-available therapeutic benefits and is considered as the most preferred bio-available turmeric extract in the world today. Apart from many such brainchildren, they also have 3 of their own biological children. They are in many ways, our modern Indian version of a Marie-Pierre Curie couple. Marie Curie was Dr.Merina’s role model in her younger days.
RCBS: What is the reason for giving the name Arjuna to your company even though both the founders, Dr. Benny and his brother in law Mr. Kunjachan, are Christians?
Dr. Benny Antony: “Arjunan was known for his skill, steadfastness and single-mindedness. We wanted those to be the qualities we were known for, hence the name Arjuna! Besides, we are proud of our Indian heritage. Ayurveda is the source knowledge for most of our products.”
RCBS: What makes you different from other groups that are into agro extracts?
Dr. Merina Benny: “Our products are unique. Though we mentioned Ayurveda as the source knowledge, the final product is our own creation and formulation, and that makes us unique. We have 35 unique products. For example, one of our latest product is using a plant called Costus Pictus, otherwise commonly called ‘Insulin plant’, which you see growing wildly. In its natural form, it is high in oxalic acid and therefore harmful. But we have now successfully extracted the portion that is most efficient to cure diabetes. Test trials are almost done, and we will be able to launch as a product in the market. This is a product that nobody else has. Another example is our product Oxystorm from Red Spinach (Cheera), which is world’s first nitrate extract from Red Spinach used in sports to reduce fatigue.”
The company’s research orientation and innovation has taken its journey from a small Kerala business to a world know nutraceutical company. Close to 10 per cent of Arjuna’s annual turnover is dedicated to research activities.
RCBS: Have both of you had your education in India?
Dr. Merina Benny: “Yes, Dr.Benny is a post graduate in Applied Chemistry from Maharajas college, and Ph.D in Organic Chemistry from M.A. College, Kothamangalam. I have completed my PG and Ph.D from the University of Kerala, Kariavattom, Trivandrum. We both have also had short trainings in the US in the mid-90s, supported by the UNDP and the Spices Board of India.”
Hmmm…. Education in India is good enough to make you world class.
RCBS: We have heard about the harmonious work culture in Arjuna. Could you tell us more?
Dr. Benny Antony: “In the history of the company, we have not had any strikes or not had to shut down operation due to labour union protests. This has been possible because of the closeness among everyone. There is less emphasis on hierarchy and respect is there for everyone. That is the culture we have developed in our organization. We all sit together for lunch. Education is not only to build intelligence but character of the people. It is easy to get intelligent people for the company but it is important yet difficult to get people with values. We focus on values, and values should be nourished always. Arjuna has also placed emphasis on talent. People recruited in our organisation are assigned jobs in accordance with their talent. There is also a lot of knowledge sharing to benefit everyone.”
RCBS: Dr. Benny, Dr. Merina, based on your many years of experience of not only creating the product but also marketing it so successfully, what is your advice to our students?
1. The probability of success and failure is the same and it depends on your confidence. To all management students, my advice would be to choose a stream or job not on grounds of the benefits or salary it offers you but based on if you have talent required for it, and the determination to achieve your goals.
2. Every job will have stress. Stress is an inevitable fact of life, and the solution to handle it lies within us. We can reduce stress by changing our mind set, but at the same time, we should understand that stress cannot be fully eliminated from anyone’s life. Don’t expect life to be always sweet, expect the bitter bits too.
3. Life is short, do good deeds. Good deeds may not reap monetary benefits but for every good deed there is an unexpected result if not now but in future. Your actions should not be short term, purely focussed on benefits, because the happiness out of it is temporary.
4. This is a challenging world. There will be situations when we face failure. My advice is not panic when you face it. Take out the positive lessons you learned out of it rather than worry or complain. Please remember, a person with complaining character will find it hard to excel in his life.
5. Hard work is required to succeed in life. We have achieved what we did through a lot of hard work. We have gone through difficult times, but we worked on and persisted and never gave up. (Dr. Merina)
5. Always be thankful. Being thankful for what you have will end up having more on the other hand, if you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will dare to have at least the enough.
“Ideas nourished with values and determination actualizes success”