Business Maharajas

Just finished reading this book called “Business Maharajas” authored by Gita Piramal. Profiles of seven ace businessmen of India have been presented in a precise yet complete manner. Dhirubhai Ambani, Aditya Birla, Brij Mohan Khaitan, RP Goenka, Bharat & Vijay Shah, Ratan Tata & Rahul Bajaj.

This book has been so inspiring for me even though initially I had to labour through the pages. Once I was caught up with the frenzy, there was no looking back. Of course, everyone knows about Dhirubhai Ambani and his rags-to-riches story and has been a phenomenon as presented in glossy business magazines. It’s truly inspiring to get to know the man in-depth with Piramal’s prudent analysis laced with subtly fine story-telling. As a Gujarati Banaiya, how Dhirubhai could turn his dreams into reality and how he catapulted himself and his business empire into the country’s largest remains a fairy tale.

Aditya Birla – this is one personality I have heard but never had a chance to know more except that Aditya Birla Group is one of the country’s biggest conglomerates. It’s a real eye-opener and heartening to see how much the educated Aditya Birla, born into the affluent Birla family, tried to redefine the groups and its companies and how he brought his vision into reality. It’s good to know about the decent, subtle and go-getter Birla. Also, this is by far my first exposure to the Birla family and their feud over the control of the group. Also my first taste of how business families in India may end up.

Rahul Bajaj – Hamara Bajaj ad campaign and various Bajaj Chetaks is what comes to mind when thinking of Rahul Bajaj. True, its because of Rahul Bajaj, whose Bajaj Auto had a monopoly in two-wheelers (scooters, to be precise) market, that Bajaj Auto has become what it is today – inspite of the onslaught of so many foreign companies. Bajaj’s simplicity and painstakingly building their plant without much R&D except for the partnership with Piaggio is a good learning experience for me to understand how corporate companies work as well as the labour problems. It’s fascinating to learn how much premium the Bajaj scooter commanded and how there was a waiting period of 10 months.

Ratan Tata – By far, the most inspiring person for me personally, it is so nice to read about Ratan Tata. After he was thrust as chairman of Tata Group by his predecessor JRD Tata, Ratan has been successful in steering the group through hiccups and most of them to a positive note. I am surprised to note the internal politics (of Russy Mody especially) and opposition to him and how his steadfastness has come to be proven his best attribute and more often than not, making him successful and strong. Also striking is the fact how Nusli Wadia, Pallonji Mistry and various other members who are non-TATAs are holding the stakes in TATA Sons while TATAs themselves have miniscule percentage of share holding.

Bharat Shah & Vijay Shah – Lucky diamond merchants, I got to know about Belgium, Israel and India being on top of the diamond trade through this section. How it was Vijay’s vision that made them the number one diamond merchants today and how Vijay built a huge Bangkok factory with the governments inviting him. He’s settled in Antwerp, Belgium with an opulent house while Bharat takes care of the business interests in India. They have moved into construction and Bollywood eventually producing (and later distributing only) some of the biggest hits over the past decade or so. This is also an eye-opener about how brothers split and still the others could not manage to become big unlike these two siblings.  Parsis with strict vegatarians.

Brij Mohan Khaitan – The Tea barron literally owning thousands of acres of tea estates, he became a businessman by chance. Had a rough childhood because of his father’s unimportance in the family. He started dealing with a few British tea companies that were in need of a partner because they were leaving India after the British Raj. BM grabbed the opportunity with both hands and just penetrated into it. Now, he is the largest private tea producer in the world. He has to tackle with terrorists (ULFA). He is based in Kolkata.

RP Goenka – One of the big business groups in India, RPG owns Spencer’s, Foodworld, RPG-HMV, etc. ..

…ran out of steam. k