Family-run shipping firm charts course to success in a journey spanning 60 years

Family-run shipping firm charts course to success in a journey spanning 60 years

SME Inspirations

GlobalLinker Staff

GlobalLinker Staff

354 week ago — 7 min read

For a successful business to be privately held for over 60 years is quite a feat. P. Narayanan, Director of Chakiat Agencies Pvt Ltd, explains that his family always intended for the shipping and logistics enterprise to remain within the family. A second-generation entrepreneur with more than forty years of experience - he says, ‘we live with our mistakes and die with our mistakes’ and that such a philosophy would be impossible to sustain with shareholders.

Involved in the container aspect of the shipping business, the company has interests at every major port in India from Kolkata to Gujarat. The USP of the company is that it is run by Narayanan and two cousins - a tight-knit trio - who make decisions rapidly and implement policy without the impediments of a bureaucracy. Reputation is the cornerstone of the business and has brought them through trying times.
In conversation with GlobalLinker (GL) P. Narayanan (PN) shares the story of his business. Watch this video for more:

GL: Tell us about your business.


PN: Chakiat is a family company headquartered in Kochin. We are into shipping, logistics and allied activities. We have a presence in almost all the ports across India starting from Kolkata up to Gujarat. We are also present in some inland locations in India. My two cousins & I run this company and it is family owned — a privately held company.

The business was started by my uncle way back in the 1950s. I am the first of the second generation to join this business. I joined this business after college in 1971. At that time, it was a very small one-office company here in Kochin. We were fortunately chosen as a servicing agent for a company called Sealand Service Inc in 1979. The founder of that company is the one who invented the container. This marked the steady growth of our company.

We were agents of Sealand till 1999 when it was taken over by Maersk and subsequently we have now expanded our base and gone into logistics, trucking, warehousing, container-freight stations.


GL: What is the USP of your business?

PN: We are only three of us to make decisions. We don’t need a board meeting to decide what to do. Once we decide to dive into something, or take on a client, the decision-making process is quite fast. Whatever problems come up, the person handling it ensures that it is resolved quickly.

We have an edge over a lot of big companies when it comes to decision-making. We cherish this quality and will continue to take this forward.

GL: What are the challenges you have faced in establishing your business?


PN: I actually joined the company at a very difficult stage. A couple of my cousins were doing business with my uncle and they had walked away with everything that we had and we were on the verge of breaking down. Fortunately, one of the people working in the company and myself turned the company around in 1971. We got business from a couple of agencies and that helped. In 1979, we became agents for Sealand and after that there was no looking back.

The challenges now are very different than those of earlier. Earlier, managing labour was the most difficult thing. Today, most aspects of our business are automated. The biggest challenge is to get people who are interested in the industry. People compare this industry to the IT industry and expect high salaries fresh out of college - it doesn’t happen in this industry.


First of all, you need a basic knowledge of geography. You need people who are willing to sit and learn. 60-70% of people working in the industry have no clue about what the industry is and requires. That is a major challenge and it does not go away.

GL: What are some of the milestones of your business?

PN: There are no personal milestones in our business. At the end of the day, it is the family’s business. Personal success or failure plays very little role. When we were at the peak with Sealand, a lot of people from Mumbai used to come and say make an IPO. I said we aren’t in this for the money. I don’t want to sit around a table and justify my decisions. We live and die with our own mistakes. We don’t want to answer people who have invested their money in us.

When we lost the agency of Sealand in 1999, we thought we might fold. But we got a deal to work with the Shipping Corporation of India. We were appointed as agents for Regional Container Lines which was based in Chennai. We got into a partnership with DP World is a terminal in Kochin. We also opened the first CFS, container freight station, along with Gateway Distriparks who are the largest operators of CFS in the country.

We attribute all the success we have had to our reputation. All these people appointed us because of our reputation. Money comes and money goes but reputation, once you lose it, you never get it back.

GL:What role do you feel GlobalLinker plays in connecting & assisting SMEs?


PN: In shipping, there is no one size fits all. Every customer has his own tailor-made requirements. As the future unfolds, these platforms might be in a position to assist in our industry. Our industry is a personal one-to-one industry in which a lot of personal interaction is required. In the case of aspects like documentation, freight-payment technology can play a positive role.

A platform like GlobalLinker can expand horizons and assist businesses and industries. Each industry, like mine, shipping, has its own requirements. As I learn more, I would like to use this in a better manner.

GL: What is your big business dream?

PN: It’s difficult to say in our industry. The industry is constantly changing and bears no resemblance to what it was when I joined 46 years ago. What is for certain is that we will need people willing to learn to aid in our progress in the industry.

GL: What is your message to aspiring entrepreneurs?


PN: For my industry, if you are not willing to bend and get your hands dirty and learn from the bottom, you will not succeed. For the first five years I did not have a chair to sit on. I went out with the clerks to the docks and the ships and learned the business first-hand. On the ground experience is vital to grow in any industry.


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