V.O.Chidambaram Pillai was born on 5 September 1872 in Ottapidaram, Tuticorin district of Tamil NaduState of India, the eldest son of lawyer Olaganathan Pillai and Paramayee Ammal. V. O. Chidambaram Pillai enrolled in schools in his native Ottapidaram and nearby Tirunelveli. V.O.C started working in the Ottapidaram district administrative office after the end of his school education. It was only a few years later that he enrolled in law school and completed law studies to become a lawyer like his father Olaganathan Pillai.
V. O. Chidambaram Pillai entered into active politics in the year 1905 by becoming a member of the Indian National Congress. The Swadeshi movement in India was already at its hilt during this time and leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were trying their best to put an end to British Imperial coercion of trade.
After joining the Indian National Congress, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai wholeheartedly immersed himself into Swadeshi work to secure independence for India. Part of his Swadeshi work was to put an end to the monopoly of British shipping in the coasts of Ceylon. Inspired by freedom fighter Ramakrishnananda, he set up the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company on November 12, 1906.
V.O.C's ships started regular services between Tuticorin and Colombo. His shipping company was not only a commercial venture, it was also the first comprehensive shipping service set up by an Indian in British India.