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The Super Stars

By Praveen Kumar.S- Faculty, Dept of Business Administration, Panimalar Engineering College, Chennai, India. 


Indian entrepreneurs are making waves all across the world. Indian business firms are making acquisitions abroad and spreading their tentacles in various corners of the world. Indian Entrepreneurs have proved all doomsday prophecies wrong and on the contrary have flourished.  A brief profile and the management style of some famous Indian entrepreneurs’ viz. Jamsetji Tata, Birla, Dhirubhai Ambani, Subhash Chandra, Verghese Kurien and Narayana Murthy.  Were it not for policy intervention, visionary leadership and direction at the government and political level of these stalwarts, India would not be where she is today. These individuals have spurred the growth of Indian businesses and the economic agenda of the country. 

“The actions of great men are an inspiration for others”

-   The Bhagavad Gita  

Indian entrepreneurs are making waves all across the world. Indian business firms are making acquisitions abroad and spreading their tentacles in various corners of the world. Indian Entrepreneurs have proved all doomsday prophecies wrong and on the contrary have flourished.

Do young citizens of India weave dreams of unleashing processes of sustainable development for the benefit of their underprivileged brethren? Or are these goals clichéd for the increasingly ambitious lot? Maybe a probe into the idols of the generation next will do justice to the questions. In the age of glitzy management gurus perhaps there is no paucity of inspiration. But how many are fired by the vision of an empowered India is what should concern the cognizant citizenry. Let’s peer into the lives of some pioneers who were the architects of India Inc. 

Jamsetji Nusservanji Tata - The giant who touched tomorrow

He is the founder of India's biggest business house. The group has over 200 companies. He built the Empress Mills, the Svadeshi Mill, the Taj Mahal Hotel and Institute of Science.

The iron and steel idea got sparked when Jamsetji, on a trip to Manchester to check out new machinery for his textile mill, attended a lecture by Thomas Carlyle. By the early 1880s he had set his heart on building a steel plant that would compare with the best of its kind in the world. This was a gigantic task. The industrial revolution that had transformed Britain and other countries had, by and large, bypassed India. Officious government policies, the complexities of prospecting in barely accessible areas and sheer bad luck made matters worse. Jamsetji found his path blocked. The torturous twists and turns the steel project took would have defeated a lesser man, but Jamsetji remained steadfast in his determination to see the venture come to fruition.

The brick-and-mortar endeavors that Jamsetji planned and executed were but one part of a grander idea. How much of a man of the future he was, can be gauged from his views about his workers and their welfare. Jamsetji's offered his people shorter working hours, well-ventilated workplaces, and provident fund and gratuity long before they became statutory in the west. He spelled out his concept of a township for the workers at the steel plant in a letter he wrote to Dorab Tata in 1902, five years before even a site for the enterprise had been decided. "Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety," the letter stated. "Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches." It was only fair that the city born of this sterling vision came to be called Jamshedpur.

There are three reasons for his success, all interlinked. First, Jamsetji conceived business ideas and plans that seemed impossible of accomplishment to his contemporaries. The moving force behind his projects was the desire to advance the industrial frontiers of India, not to earn mere profits. Second, in his choice of business structures and strategies he demonstrated a remarkable degree of originality that often ran counter to the prevailing wisdom. Third, his concern for values, ethics, and responsible corporate citizenship was no less than for quantifiable returns on investments. 


G D Birla - Standing Tall

He built the Birla group into India's second largest business dynasty after the Tatas. When he started his business career, the Birlas were worth $45,000 in 1914. By the time GD died in 1983, the aggregate assets of the group's 200 odd companies had crossed $ 575 million; sales were over $ 700 million.

In GD's case, it's not just the money he made but how he made it, which is so remarkable. To build a jute mill, he had to break the stranglehold British businessmen had on this industry. To build Hindalco, he had to hack his way through jungles, real and bureaucratic. His empire-building spree preceded licensing. So during the most aggressive period of GD's growth, he had no power to block others, no licence to print money. He also had to contend with the active hostility of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

He built hundreds of schools and temples all over India. Bringing education to ordinary people. Lured the world-famous MIT to India to help him establish BITS Pilani in the deserts of Rajasthan. He also funded hundreds of primary schools all over the country - in one year Birla opened 400 schools alone.

Birla's business approach was equally eclectic. For JRD, the consumer was more important than the shareholder. For GD, it was profit over quality. JRD liked to call himself a "consensus" chairman, one who headed a team of dynamic managers equipped with the support system they needed to perform. GD, on the other hand, had a "monkey brigade" (this was the name he gave his sons, grandsons, nephews and cousins in the firm) which not only followed up on what he started but showed considerable initiative of its own. Above them was GD's small but lean and mean core team of battle-scarred executives whom he backed to the hilt.

Three characteristics made him one of India's most outstanding business leaders of all time. He was a rebel, had a modern mind and could happily accept opposites at the same time. To be a rebel requires an enormous commitment to untested values. To have a modern mind requires tremendous moral courage. And the ability to marry opposites requires humanity and tolerance for the weaknesses of others. 

Dhirubhai Ambani - A Man in Full

Dhiru Bhai Ambani built India's largest private sector company. He created an equity cult in the Indian capital market.

Reliance is the first Indian company to feature in Forbes 500 list. Dhirubhai Ambani was the most enterprising Indian entrepreneur. His life journey is reminiscent of the rags to riches story. He is remembered as the one who rewrote Indian corporate history and built a truly global corporate group.

In the 1950s the Yemini administration realized that their main unit of currency Rial was disappearing fast. Upon investigating it was realized that all Rials were being routed to the Port City of Aden. There a young man in his twenties was placing unlimited buy orders of Yemini Rials. During those days the Yemini Rial was a pure silver coin and was in much demand at the London Bullion Exchange. Young Dhirubhai would buy the Rials, melt them in pure silver and sell it to the bullion traders in London. In the later part of his life while talking to reporters it is believed that he said “The margins were small but it was money for jam. After three months, it was stopped. But I made a few lakh of rupees. In short I was a manipulator. A very good manipulator. But I don’t believe in not taking opportunities.”

Born in an impoverished village, at 16 he went to Aden to learn business. He returned 10 years later and started a small company. By canny trading around the textile bazaars of Bombay, he cornered the market in imported polyester, started his own factory, outwitted sclerotic bureaucrats in New Delhi who were trying to run the economy by regulation, and ultimately ignited the moribund Indian stock market with his vision of turning Reliance into a petrochemical and oil refining empire—a dream he realized not long before he died.  

The first job Dhirubhai held in Aden was that of an attendant in a gas station. Half a century later, he become the chairman of a company that owned the largest oil refinery in India and the fifth largest refinery in the world, that is, Reliance Petroleum Limited which owns the refinery at Jamnagar that has an annual capacity to refine up to 27 million tonnes of crude oil.

He  dared to  dream  on  a  scale  unimaginable  before  in  Indian  industry.  His life and achievements prove that backed by confidence, courage and conviction, man can achieve the impossible.

Over time his business has diversified into a core specialisation in petrochemicals with additional interests in telecommunications, information technology, energy, power, retail, textiles, infrastructure services, capital markets, and logistics. 

Verghese Kurien – The Milkman of India

Varghese Kurien engineered the White Revolution in India.

With a background in mechanical engineering – his education included a Master of Science with distinction – Dr. Kurien began work as a dairy engineer in the government creamery Anand, in 1949. At the time, private dairies, middlemen, and inefficient collection and distribution systems resulted in milk of varying quality being erratically available across the country, often at high prices to consumers but with little profit for the producers. Dr. Kurien built an in-house processing plant and organized the individual producers under cooperatives to handle the marketing of produce directly to consumers.

The going wasn't easy. His organization was up against vested interests in the form of a strong multinational milk producer Polson dairy and those within a skeptical and uncooperative government.

With his extraordinary and dynamic leadership he initiated Operation Flood. He brought off a brilliant coup when the cooperative contrived of a way to process buffalo milk into products that were being churned out of cow's milk – a feat no one thought possible those days- at least not by a small cooperative in the backwaters.

Operation Flood, launched in 1970, has been instrumental in helping the farmers mould their own development. Thus helping reach milk to consumers in 700 towns and cities through a National Milk Grid. It also helped eradicate the need for middlemen thereby reducing the seasonal price variations. As a result of the cooperative structure the whole exercise of production and distribution of milk and milk products has become economically viable for farmers to undertake on their own. In this manner the farmer himself can enjoy the fruits of his own labor, instead of surrendering a majority of the profit to corrupt middlemen.

Confessing his principle "As I see it, faith is belief without reason. For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, no explanation is possible," Dr Kurien continues to battle vested interests intent on hijacking the system. 

N R Narayana Murthy – Powered by Intellect and Driven by Values

He is known not just for building the biggest IT empire in India but also for his simplicity.  The Infosys legend began in 1981 when Narayana Murthy dreamt of forming his own company, along with six friends. There was a minor hitch; though-he didn't have any seed money. Luckily, like many Indian women who save secretly without their husband's knowledge, his wife Sudha-then an engineer with Tatas-had saved $ 230. This was Murthy's first big break.

Heading a company with the largest market capitalization hasn't changed Murthy's life-style much. The man still doesn't know how to drive a car! On Saturdays-his driver's weekly off-the Infosys chief is driven to the bus stop by his wife, from where he boards a company bus to work!

Today India is recognised internally as having IT potential because of companies like Infosys.  Infosys-trained Indian IT professionals can get jobs anywhere in the world - Infosys 'passport'. Mix of traditional South Indian middle-class Brahmin culture and American can-do, democratic attitude. Proved that ethical business firms can exist and grow in India.



From the Indians who were heading Indian corporations, to those creating world-class enterprises, we salute the individuals who are taking Indian businesses to the global arena. And were it not for policy intervention, visionary leadership and direction at the government and political level, India would not be where she is today. These individuals have spurred the growth of Indian businesses and the economic agenda of the country.

Celebrate the spirit of Indian Entrepreneurship.  











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Status: 18. Januar 2008