Not just the zeitgeist
It wasn't Warren Buffet's "Giving Pledge" that made Puthan Neduvakkatt Chenthamaraksha Menon, or PNC Menon, of Sobha Developers want to give away half of his wealth, estimated at $600 million, to charity.
"It's nothing new for him to give away huge amounts to philanthropic activities," says a person familiar with his ways.
His charitable giving had caused many sleepless nights for the devaswom board officials of the Guruvayoor temple as they worried about the safekeeping of gold worth Rs 6.8 crore that he donated to the temple in 2006. It was a tulabharam, or an offering made equal to one's weight in gold.
Menon, though, refuses to call it charity. For him, it is an obligation to give back to society a share of what he has earned. The social initiatives undertaken by him have clear goals. They are aimed at human development through education, health, employment, water, sanitation, housing and social empowerment.
Palakkad in Kerala details all his charitable purpose. He has adopted two economically backward panchayats in the district- Vadakkenchery and Kizhakkenchery - where he runs several old age homes, educational institutions and healthcare centres.
Sobha Academy, for instance, works to provide education, clothing and food to the underprivileged children, while Sobha Vocational Training Centres train and develop skilled tradesmen from the economically weaker sections. He also runs several social rehabilitation schemes for the poor and promotes dowry-less weddings.
Menon started his entrepreneurial journey from nothing. He set up an interior decoration firm in Oman in 1976. With projects like royal palaces, hotels and mosques in Muscat, his business enterprise, Services and Trade Company, soon expanded to Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE.
After his success in West Asia, Menon entered the Indian real estate market which was in dire need of quality construction. He founded Sobha Developers in 1995 with Bangalore as its headquarters. Sobha, a Rs 2,000-crore company today, has a pan-India presence. His construction company also runs several training schools to provide quality manpower for the sector.
His wealth was once valued at $1.25 billion, but the recent weakness in the market has more than halved the company's valuation.
In the 17 years since its inception, Sobha Developers has completed 83 real estate projects and 224 contractual projects, covering about 54.45 million sq ft.
In June 2012, Menon decided to hand over the reins to his son, Ravi Menon, as part of his succession plan. Ravi is now the chairman of the company while the senior Menon continues to serve as chairman emeritus.
"Those who are less spoken about in the media are often the ones that make a greater impact on the society. P N C Menon of Sobha Developers has turned out to be one such," says a real estate analyst who has known Menon for years.
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