M A M Ramaswamy, 84, co-founder and past chairman of the Chettinad Group of companies, died in Chennai on Wednesday. He was admitted a few days earlier at Fortis Malar Hospital, for liver and kidney ailments. Ramaswamy was also pro-chancellor of Annamalai University. A prominent industrialist, he was a winner of 600-odd horse racing events and has also been a Member of Parliament, representing Karnataka in the Rajya Sabha. Last year, his adopted son, M A M R Muthiah, and he had an open fight, each alleging the other was trying to kill. Muthiah is managing director of the group and hadaccused A C Muthiah, former chairman of SPIC and Ramaswamy's cousin, of trying to usurp the group's assets by cheating his bedridden father. Chettinad Group traces its origin to the Satappa Ramanatha Muttaiya (SRMM) family in the late 1870s. A known financier, S R M M Chettiar was also a philanthropist. He had three sons — Chidambaram Chettiar, Ramaswami Chettiar (founder of Indian Bank) and Annamalai Chettiar, who started the country’s first private university in 1929. Annamalai was conferred the title of 'Rajah of Chettinad' (and a knighthood) by the British.
In 1902, his son, M A Muthiah Chettiar, inherited and grew the Chettinad Group; another son, M A Chidambaram, founded the SPIC Group. This was followed by Muthiah's sons, M A M Muthiah and M A M Ramaswamy. ‘Chettinad Arasar’ (Chettinad King) Ramaswamy's interest was more in sports and in Annamalai University, founded by his grandfather. S R Muthiah and his uncles, M R M Ramanathan Chettiar and M A Chidambaram Chettiar, built up Chettinad Group, which started in commodity trading and financing. Like other Chettiars, their stronghold was Burma, where the family had nearly 100,000 acres of paddy land and 100 branches of Bank of Chettinad. It spread wings in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Among the institutions started by the family were Indian Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, United India Insurance and Consolidated Coffee. With the demise of M A M Muthiah, who had no heirs, M A M Ramaswamy became the group's head in 1984. Since Ramaswamy had no biological children, he decided to adopt Ayyappan, natural son of R M Sekkappa Chettiar, in 1995 when the latter was 26. And, named him M A M R Muthiah.