P. Govindasamy Pillai



P. Govindasamy Pillai (b. 1887, Mayavaram, Tamil Nadu, India–d. 1980), popularly known as PGP, was a well-known and successful South Indian businessman who established the string of PGP stores. He was also a noted philanthropist, the biggest donor to Perumal Temple, a founder-member of the Indian Chamber of Commerce set up in 1937, the founder of the Ramakrishna Mission Singapore, and a Justice of  the Peace in 1939. 

Early life
Pillai grew up in an Indian village, Koorainadu, in Mayavaram, Tanjore District, Tamil Nadu. In his teens, he ran away from home and boarded a ship to Singapore, landing at Tanjong Pagar in 1905.1


After many unsuccessful attempts looking for a job, Pillai gained employment at a provision store at 50 Serangoon Road.2 It was a back-breaking job starting before dawn and ending after midnight. He was given no wages, only food and accommodation. However, it was during this time that he learned to run a business – knowledge that would put him in good stead later.3

Career
In 1929, Pillai went to India and returned to Singapore with his young wife, 15-year-old Pakiriammal. On his return, he found himself without a job as the provision store had been put up for sale following the owner’s demise. Pillai turned the occasion into an opportunity and bought the shop. He borrowed $2,000 from the Chettiars (Indian moneylenders) and started a business selling spices, oils and grains. He named the stores in Malacca, Dhanalakshmi Stores, after his eldest daughter, and later changed the names of these stores to P. Govindasamy Pillai or PGP Stores.4


As he was frugal, Pillai saved enough to invest in properties and start other businesses such as textile shops, flour and spice mills. His saree shops were popular and his sons later expanded this business.5 The PGP saree shop and supermarket had stood at the location occupied today by Little India Arcade. Pillai also invested in properties in Serangoon Road, Race Course Road and Buffalo Road.6

One of the few successful South Indian businessmen, Pillai built houses in Campbell Lane and later Race Course Road.7 During the Japanese Occupation, he and his family escaped the horrors of war, as they were in India, but lost his property and goods. He returned to Singapore in 1945 and started all over again, expanding his business across the Causeway and opening PGP stores in Malacca and Johor.8

Pillai retired in 1963, handing over the family business, valued at $3 million, to his children. After the death of his youngest son, his daughter-in-law managed the PGP stores. The stores ran into huge debts and were closed down in 1998.9

Philanthropist
Pillai died of a heart attack in 1980 at the age of 93.10 He is most remembered for his generosity and charity. A pious Hindu, he donated a large sum to the Sri Perumal Temple to build a gopuram (entranceway) and a wedding hall. The latter was one of the first Indian wedding halls in Singapore and bears his name – Govindasamy Pillai Kalyanamandabam. The first wedding to be solemnised there was that of his son Ramakrishnan and his granddaughter.11


In 1952, a new home for the Ramakrishna Mission was built at Bartley Road with Pillai’s generous donation.12 Pillai also donated to many other institutions, including the University of Malaya and the Mount Alvernia Hospital.13

On 28 February 2001, Singapore Post released stamps featuring Pillai, in recognition of his contributions to Singapore and the Indian community.14

Family15
Wife:
Pakiriammal.

Sons: Ramachandran, Ramakrishnan, Thanabalan.
Daughters: Dhanalakshmi, Rukumani, Pushpa, Shanbhagavalli.



Author
Sitragandi Arunasalam



References 
1.  Lee, G. B. (2002). The religious monuments of Singapore: Faiths of our forefathers. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 726.095957 LEE); Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 212. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Kagda, S. Y. (1989, March 10). The runaway who became textile king. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lee, G. B. (2002). The religious monuments of Singapore: Faiths of our forefathers. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 69.; Kagda, S. Y. (1989, March 10). The runaway who became textile king. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Lee, G. B. (2002). The religious monuments of Singapore: Faiths of our forefathers. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 726.095957 LEE)
4. Kagda, S. Y. (1989, March 10). The runaway who became textile king. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Kagda, S. Y. (1989, March 10). The runaway who became textile king. The Straits Times, p. 6; Community leader and philanthropist dies at 93. (1980, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 211. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
7.   Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 211. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])
8. Kagda, S. Y. (1989, March 10). The runaway who became textile king. The Straits Times, p. 6; Community leader and philanthropist dies at 93. (1980, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Boo, K. (1999, September 24). End of an eraThe Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Boo, K. (1999, September 24). End of an eraThe Straits Times, p. 47; Community leader and philanthropist dies at 93. (1980, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11.Lee, G. B. (2002). The religious monuments of Singapore: Faiths of our forefathers. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 726.095957 LEE); Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Kagda, S. Y. (1989, March 10). The runaway who became textile king. The Straits Times, p. 6; Khrishnan, S. V. (1983, January 28). Wedding halls. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Doggett, M. K. (1985). Characters of light. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 61. (Call no.: RSING 722 4095957 DOG)
13.  Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service, p. 212. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Community leader and philanthropist dies at 93. (1980, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 8; Boo, K. (1999, September 24). End of an eraThe Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. S’pore pioneers to be featured on new stamps. (2001, February 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Kagda, S. Y. (1989, March 10). The runaway who became textile king. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2003 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Community leaders
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Retail and wholesale
Philanthropists--Singapore--Biography
P. Govindasamy Pillai, 1887-1980