Tuesday, November 27, 2012


WORDS / Neelam Mathews 

There is an air of minimalism in Joy Alukkas’ office with everything understated, including the man himself. He is made of a different metal, and it is not gold. 

He has no gold ornaments on him as would be expected in South India, where even men don gold ornaments on their wrists, fingers and neck. (They might even have a waistband of gold!) It is hard to believe he produces high-end gold jewellery that touches the lives of over 10 million customers across nine countries. 

“I believe in simple living, high thinking,” says the billionaire, whose turnover is rumoured to be over $1billion - something he does not comment on. Joy Alukkas - whose stores are named after him- is now the world’s number one 22-carat jewellery maker with over 100,000 designs in his portfolio, and growing. By the end of 2012, he will have added ten more showrooms in India and 25 by the end of 2013, of which 15 will be in India. 

As a matter of fact, his future plans are to have one shop in each Indian city within 150 km from each other, and it’s in this respect that his Embraer Phenom 100, part of his charter business, JoyJets, 
will serve him well. 

Indeed, being a man with multiple business commitments, it is difficult for Alukkas to schedule his departure timings in advance to coincide with the timelines of commercial airlines. Even if he could, there are few point-to-point airline connections that exist from Kochi (where his head office is located) to the smaller towns where he has business branches, essentially making it imperative for a successful businessman such as Alukkas to own a business jet. 

"Time is money," Alukkas emphasises. A flight to Trichy - the third largest city in Tamil Nadu after Chennai and Coimbatore - takes around one and a half hours, versus the almost five hours required to take numerous airline connections and endure the wasted transit time at airports. And for those places without an airport to serve them, he lands at an airport close by, travels by car to the destination, and while passing through the smaller towns en route checks them out as prospective sites for future showrooms. 

Alukkas’ (presently settled in Dubai) is no rags-to-riches story, having “been comfortably brought up with his ten sisters and five brothers at Thrissur,” close to Palayur, where the apostle St. Thomas landed in 52 AD. He set up his first shop in Abu Dhabi in 1987, where he is the only jeweller conferred ISO 9001:2008 and ISO14001:2004 certification. Dubai, Sharjah, Al Ain and Ras al-Khaimah, UK, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Singapore followed – and Malaysia is his next destination, he says. 

Since starting out with jewellery, however, Alukkas’ business interests have spread to include charters, money exchange, fashion and silks, and speciality shopping malls. From the 200 sq.ft showroom his father ran in 1956, business has moved on somewhat. Last year, the 40,000 sq.ft. Joyalukkas Jewellery showroom in Chennai was recognized by the Limca Book of Records as the world’s largest. Here, a diamond cave giving a history of the stone has proved to be very popular with residents. 

There is little wonder, then, that Alukkas is clear that gold and diamonds will remain his core business, and “though young people are buying the latest consumer electronic goods, in my lifetime, the craze for gold will remain,” he says assuredly. 

However, underlying ethics is his mantra. “We are very stringent about the quality of the product and outsourcing is done from reputed companies. There are no two ways about it…” 

‘Phenom-enal’ Response to Business 

India’s marriage and festival season - that generally starts from September, and during which the rich and poor alike buy gold - keeps the business moving and Alukkas’ Phenom 100 flying. “I had a sixseater Italian Vulcanair turboprop aircraft for my own use. I don’t have that much travel to do, so we have now changed the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) license to a Non-Scheduled Operating Permit (NSOP) to run a charter operation,” he outlined. 

JoyJets is the first and only business jet charter operator in the state of Kerala. Just 20% of the flights are made for Alukkas’ personal use. Alukkas adds that he is planning to buy a Phenom 300 or Legacy 450 that will double for JoyJets. “A lot of customers like bigger airplanes. (We find) an eight-seater versus four seats is more popular. Personally, I am happy with the smaller Phenom 100. It is economical, given that aviation fuel in India is costly and landing and parking fees are also less for the aircraft.” 

The Phenom 100 is ideal for short trips of up to 1,200 miles and requires minimum manpower, says Asif Punathil, chief pilot and a native of Kochi (who flew Boeing 747-400s for Singapore Airlines till 2009 but who wanted to return to his roots in Kerala and landed the job of flying Alukkas’ Phenom 100). Punathil feels there is no difference between flying a small versus a large aircraft. “We are aloft between 35-40 hours a month. Embraer’s support is fantastic…and maintenance is not demanding." Due to salt in the atmosphere, a desalination wash is performed every 14 days instead of the recommended 30 days. 

There are currently seven Phenom 100s owned in India, with more on order. By 2016, JoyJets plans to have five aircraft in its fleet, including one helicopter – useful for sightseeing and visiting religious sites. The company is believed to have shortlisted a Hawker 900 and Legacy 450 “because of their longer range and the fact that they can fly from Cochin to anywhere in India," according to Punathil. 

Thirst for Gold 

As business expands, Alukkas expects to fly more in the coming years. The fact that India is the world's largest importer of gold and a family's wealth has traditionally been determined by the quantity of gold and land that is owned may have something to do with projections for increased aircraft use. 

South India, in particular, has a voracious appetite for the yellow metal that has roots in a 4,000-year old culture. There, the first food consumed by a new born baby will contain a miniscule paste of gold dust, believed to bring prosperity to the child. Besides, being an easier bet to hedge against inflation and other risks, gold is looked at as an investment. Demand is for the purer 22-carat metal as against 18-carat in the west, and that is what Alukkas offers. 

A large family takes priority in Alukkas’ personal time. For a man with memberships in major golf clubs within the region, he confesses he has no time to play. His Embraer Phenom 100 is often seen taking off from Kochi airport in Kerala to transport him to smaller regional towns where he is feverishly opening new showrooms to satiate the cravings of his rural buyers. 

This activity has led to recognition for a need for more regional airports. “There are many places we cannot go to because of a lack of airstrips,” Punathil rues. Although infrastructure can be problematic to Business Aviation users in India, finding pilots to fly your jet will not be an issue as the fleet size within India increases (as it’s predicted to do). “We have 3,000 pilots who were unemployed following the explosion in aviation between 2004-2008,” Punathil adds. “What would save headaches for us is a Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) to operate at the airport and provide aeronautical services such as fuelling, hangars, tiedown and parking, aircraft rental, flight planning and more.” 

Meanwhile, the hankering for gold continues. “Jewellery trends are regionspecific,” Alukkas explains. “In North India, for instance, more stones are embedded in ornaments, South Indians like pure gold designs and Turkish designs are popular in the Middle East.” 

Regardless of the regional preferences, Alukkas will continue to satiate the needs of his fervent followers – aided by his trusted Phenom 100. 





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