Interview Of The Week: C Balagopal: It's All In The Blood
The Managing Director of Terumo Penpol Limited talks about leaving a successful IAS career to become the Head of the premier blood bag exporting company in India | | By Mukesh Venu
On May 01, 2012


After completing his Master's degree in Economics, young C Balagopal was involved in doing research as part of his PhD on Agricultural Economics at Trivandrum Centre for Development Studies during 1975 - 1976.

“But I had some severe disagreements with my guide and so eventually I had to quit it midway,” says C Balagopal.

He wasn't particularly interested in entering the administrative service, but...



“In those days there wasn't the option of doing something on your own if you are from a middle class family. The only option is to get a Government job. So I ended up writing all sorts of exams, including UPSC.”

Balagopal passed the UPSC exam and got enrolled into the Indian Administrative Service. During his tenure of almost seven years with the IAS, where he served in various posts in Kerala and Manipur, he couldn't recall an occasion when he felt his job as being dull or unproductive.

“It was a very interesting job. There were challenges involved and there were moments of gratification as well. I had a good time as an IAS officer.”

Yet, after seven years in service, he chose to walk away from a bright career in the Administrative Service to embrace entrepreneurship, which was the deadliest risk that a young man with limited financial resources could take at that time.



“There came a stage when I realised I wouldn't remain young forever and that if I wanted to do something, I had to do it then. I had no complaints being with the IAS, but still I wanted to do something on my own. It was a risk, but I felt justified taking it. I didn't consult anyone about it because I knew I would have only received words of discouragement.”

One morning, after quitting the IAS, he saw a newspaper ad from the SCT Medical Institute inviting proposals for manufacturing blood bags for them.

“I went there and I met Prof. A V Ramani, the Research Head of the Institute. If there is any one person responsible for me being here in this field, it is him. The way he explained it to me, and the inspiration he gave me for stepping into the field, totally changed my perception and I took the firm decision of taking up the challenge.”

Peninsular Polymers Limited (Penpol Ltd.) was thus established in 1987, by an ex-IAS officer who had no prior experience in business, marketing or money making.

“But now I think maybe that's what worked for me. I wasn't as much concerned about profits, as my principles and my commitment towards quality.”

C Balagopal voluntarily set the task that the quality standards they would follow would be that which is prescribed in UK, which is one of the toughest and highest followed standards in the whole world. Penpol became the first company in India to produce blood bags and started exporting it in 1989. Ten years later, in 1999, Tokyo based Terumo Corporation signed a contract with Penpol Ltd. and the new venture was named Terumo Penpol Limited (TPL).

Today Terumo Penpol employs over 800 people. They have their blood bags exported to over 64 countries, including ones which calls for the highest requirements in terms of quality for medical imports.


However, C Balagopal finds the state falling way behind most when it comes to taking proper measures for the good health of its population, even behind some poor African nations.


“In most countries the Government takes every precautionary step needed to ensure that its population remains healthy. The health of the people is the responsibility of the Government. If a person is ill and is admitted to the hospital, everything that the patient needs, from blood to food, is to be made available to him. But here, often it is the patient who is required to get essential things for his own well being. It is especially so when it comes to blood. At present, in most hospitals, the situation is such that if the person needs blood, he is expected to find that by himself.”

And C Balagopal knows where exactly to lay the blame...
“It isn't the black market, or the middle men, or lack of facilities; it is the system which has failed. A major chunk of the population still remains unaware about the need for donating blood; it isn't fear or doubts that's stopping them, it is the pure lack of awareness. What is the use of so many blood banks if the blood can't reach the person who needs it? There should be some kind of a centralised body, which stores all data from every blood bank so it could notify about a need to the particular bank in the area.”


After twenty five years in blood bag manufacturing, Terumo Penpol has set itself a standard that's truly world class. It leads the move towards a better medical and health scene in the country. After being in the forefront of the eventful journey of this prestigious company which brings pride to Trivandrum, C Balagopal agrees that there were moments where he did regret leaving the IAS.

“Our society holds a very cruel attitude when it comes to tolerating entrepreneurs. Of course that's slowly changing, but generally, failure is unacceptable to Keralites. A young man who wants to do something on his own and is willing to take the risk, is always discouraged by the people. And if he goes ahead and starts his own venture, and if it fails, which happens with every seven out of ten new ventures, it is like, his life is over. The first ten years were a time of struggle for Penpol and with each set back we received, there were thousands of voices of accusation and contempt. And during some of those times I genuinely regretted having left the IAS. Even now I am so much intimidated by the society's attitude that if any young man approaches me with an idea to start something of his own, I will always try to discourage him like everyone else, because if he fails, he is doomed.”



Failure happens when the person gives up his attempt at succeeding. C Balagopal never stopped with his attempts and never resisted the route which his calling took him to. Money was an important factor, but never 'the' important factor; to Balagopal other things like integrity, honesty, principles and quality of his output mattered more. By making  the world's best quality blood bags for storing the life giving red fluid, C Balagopal has proved with his life that when it comes to failure and success, it is indeed all in the blood.


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