Business Communities of India #1
“Jahan na pahunche bailgadi waha pahunche Marwadi” (You are sure to find a Marwari even in those remote or inhospitable places where even a bullock cart can’t reach). The Gujaratis, Marwaris, Parsis, Sindhis, Jains, Punjabis, and Multanis are known for their entrepreneurial spirit. Every community has certain unique characteristics which make them succeed in business. The Gujaratis and Marwaris are known for their family-run business and risk-taking abilities, while the Parsis – Tatas, Godrej, Mistrys, and Wadias – have been the backbone of Indian industry and contributed to make India, what it is today. The Nagarathars are pioneers in banking, and book-keeping, while the Punjabis are known for their God-gifted ability to ‘either find a way or make one’ and ‘never say die attitude’. Likewise the indomitable Sindhi families – Hindujas, Rahejas, Hiranandanis, Jagtianis, Wadhwanis and many others – are known to succeed in business in whichever part of the world they inhabit. In this series, we would endeavour to unravel the hidden secrets behind the success of these wealth-creators.
Gujarat the 5th largest state of India in terms of area and 9th largest in terms of population, is the birthplace of:
- Mahatma Gandhi, the father of India
- Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of India
- Morarji Ranchhodji Desai, the 4th Prime Minister of India
- Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the father and 1st Governor-General of Pakistan
- Sardar Patel the 1st Deputy Prime Minister of India
- Amit Shah, 31st and Current Home Minister of India
- Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha — the father of the Indian nuclear program
- Sam Pitroda – Communication wizard, inventor and entrepreneur
Business runs in the Gujaratis’ blood. ‘No one can do business, better than the Gujaratis’. They love making money but don’t show off.
- At the time of his death, Jamsetji Tata the “father of Indian industry” left behind a global conglomerate of over 100 companies and their subsidiaries in 80 countries across six continents. Today, the brand Tata – is known for Tata steel, Tata Motors, Indian Airlines, Darjeeling tea, and Tata Salt – Desh Ka Namak.
- Dhirubhai Ambani started his business empire with just one telephone, one table and three chairs. Today his son Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, is among the richest persons in the world with interests in petrochemicals, oil and gas, telecom, and retail. Reliance Industries is the first Indian company to generate over $100 billion in annual revenue, way ahead of even State Bank of India (SBI) the largest public sector bank in India.
- Gautam Adani – a college dropout is one of the richest Indians and the founder of Adani Group, the largest port operator in India.
- Dilip Shanghvi – is the founder of Sun Pharmaceuticals – one of the most profitable generic drugs companies in the world
- Karsanbhai Khodidas Patel started small mixing chemicals at home and selling them door to door on a bicycle– before going on to lay the foundation of Rs. 2500 crore brand Nirma. He was the 3rd Gujarati from Ahmadabad to buy a chopper
- Other prominent Gujarati tycoons include Azim Premji, Bharat Desai, Adi Godrej, Virji Vora, Shantidas Jhaveri, Currimbhoy Ebrahim, Hasmukhbhai Parekh, Nautamlal Bhagavanji Mehta, Kantilal Hirani, Walchand Hirachand, Ambalal Sarabhai, Sadruddin Hashwani, Jagmal Raja Chauhan, Jairam Valjee Chouhan, Fardunjee Marzban, Ashish Thakkar, Sudhir Ruparelia, Uday Kotak, Dilip Shanghvi, Ramanbhai Patel, Adamjee Peerbhoy, J. D. C. Bytco, Hassam Moussa Rawat, Nirav Tripathi, Ismail Hasham, Haji Ismail Yusuf, Mohamed Yusuf, Samir Mehta, Sudhir Mehta, Hina Shah, Ranchhodlal Chhotalal, Pankaj Patel, and Nanji Khimji Thakkar.
Go to any God-forsaken part of the world in the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Fiji, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Zanzibar, Persian Gulf, or Africa, you will come across a Tata, Ambani, Adani, Patel, Shah, Desai, Mehta, Jadeja or Godrej. Gujaratis are the most hardworking, above average, and reputed — physicians, doctors, engineers, and politicians. Even others own fast-food restaurants, shops and motels all over the world.
The surname Patel runs into multiple pages of the New Jersey telephone directory.
New York has the largest population of Gujaratis outside India. The United States has the second-largest Gujarati population. Over 40% of the hospitality industry in the USA is controlled by Gujaratis. After the partition, a large number of Gujarati Muslims settled down in Sindh, Pakistan. Even today there are close to 3,000,000 Gujarati speakers in Karachi.
Some 600,000 odd Gujaratis form almost half of the 1.2 million Indians in the UK.
Gujaratis mostly live in London, Leicester, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Harrow, Wembley and Greater London.
Palanpuri Jain and Kathiawadi Patel — communities from Surat, dominate the diamond trade in Belgium and other countries.
Before we move forward, let’s take a look at the inherent qualities that set Gujarat and Gujaratis – a class apart.
- Gujaratis are 5% of the Indian population but hold more than 30 % equity in the share market
- Surat is the richest city in India. 80 % of all diamonds sold anywhere in the world are polished in Surat
- Gandhinagar is the greenest capital in Asia
- Ahmedabad also known as ‘Manchester of the East’ is a hub for the textile as well as automotive and machinery industry and the 3rd largest denim manufacturer in the world
- Bhavnagar has the world’s largest ship breaking yard
- Gujarat produces 78% of the salt India eats
- Gujarat accounts for the largest share in the food processing sector of India
- Amul is the largest producer of dairy products, in the world
- Gujaratis are enterprising, results-oriented, cooperative, warm, and friendly
- Gujaratis are very good at man-management. They know how to keep their employees happy and get work out of them
- Gujaratis don’t let emotion, overpower business decisions
- Gujaratis are fair in dealing, even with people they don’t like
- Gujaratis do a lot of charity, but don’t mix it with business
- Gujaratis are very practical and friendly with everyone but never afraid of fighting for a just cause
The big secret behind Gujaratis’ success is that they think big and aim higher. The community as a whole never gives up and knows how to convert defeat into victory. One of the best examples of this kind is Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata — born in the family of Nusserwanji and Jeevanbai Tata in Navsari, a city in South Gujarat.
During those days, Bombay was experiencing a cotton boom and visitors from all over the world were rushing to see how to benefit from this opportunity. However, the living conditions for the tourists in the city were horrible. Narrow streets and lanes all over the city were infested with rats and mosquitos. And there was just one hotel in the city called– The Watson’s. But even that was far below the European standards with small, stinking, hot, and humid rooms with unbearable stench and improper ventilation.
To add insult to the injury– Indians were not allowed to dine-wine or stay in the hotel. There was an instance when Jamsetji Tata was denied entry into the Watson’s. This hurt him so badly that even without consulting his family, friends or partners– he swore to build a far bigger and better hotel than Watson’s. “I will build one,” Jamsetji said to himself and ensured that the best amenities all over the world were made available to the hotel. In a letter to his son Dorabji, he spelt out, “The Hotel, when completed, will be five-storey high, and will accommodate, besides boarders to the number of 500, a number of permanent residents. Immense cellars, below the ground floor level, will contain the refrigeration plant, which will cool the rooms of the inmates, and will also enable their food to be stored in a manner foreign to India.”
Jamsetji was so passionate about the hotel that he imported steel pillars for its ballroom from Paris. A soda bottling plant, laundry, and fans were imported from the USA, while a German firm was engaged for the electric work besides providing for a Turkish bath, post office, resident doctor, and chemist shop—on the Hotel premises. No wonder, Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai is one of the finest luxury hotels in India today.
Being a visionary Jamsetji Tata could see the importance of steel in future, so he floated a Company called Tata Iron & Steel, today known as Tata Steel.
Under his leadership, the Tata’s consolidated its presence in Iron, Steel, textiles, hydroelectric power, chemicals, agricultural equipment, trucks, locomotives, and cement. Even today, the Tata Group is – firmly committed to Jamsetji Tata’s legacy–honesty, transparency, and integrity.
Historically, Gujarati — Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians have dominated the shipping routes and the sea trade across the world. They are among the flourishing immigrant communities in Canada, New Zealand, Fiji, Britain, Myanmar, Uganda, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Zanzibar, and other countries across the Arabian Sea in the Persian Gulf.
Gujaratis comprise around 33% of the Indian diaspora worldwide — in 129 out of 190 countries that are members of the United Nations. Pakistan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Africa have the largest Gujarati population. The Non-Resident Gujaratis (NRGs) – wherever they are in the world are very possessive about their birthplace and keep in touch in terms of business, remittance, philanthropy, and participation in the state politics.
Allidina Visram was penniless when he arrived in Zanzibar (Africa), at the age of 12. He somehow managed to start a small shop and today owns a chain of stores at almost all big railway stations along the 580-mile railway track between Kenya and Uganda. Sam Pitroda another Gujarati born in a family of carpenters just had one rupee in his pocket when he migrated to the USA. Today he has over 100 patents in his name and enough money to afford the luxury to offer his services as an advisor to the Government of India at Rupee one a month.
Gujaratis like the Jews, Chinese, English, Scots and Lebanese are among the most successful people in terms of business, trade or commerce in different parts of the world. They own more than one-third of hotels and motels in the United States. Some of them hold the highest degrees in medicine and engineering but still can smell a good business opportunity—miles away. They own almost half of America’s 12,000 independent pharmacies. For many of them, a small business of their own is better than working for someone else. 25% of the start-ups in Silicon Valley are Gujaratis by birth and American citizens by marriage.
Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, Dilip Shanghvi and Azim Premji — the wealthiest Indians are all Gujarati. They employ 5 % of India’s workforce and produce 22 % of commodities for exports. Gujaratis own nearly 90 % of the world’s $13 billion diamond trade and control three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry. Most of these diamonds are cut and polished in Surat. Ahmedabad and Surat dominate India’s textile trade. Ahmedabad has the world’s biggest denim factory and India’s leading pharmaceutical giants. Reliance Industries, owned by Mukesh Ambani – a Gujarati is India’s largest private conglomerate.
Gujaratis are among the only people in the world who add sugar to salty and spicy dishes. This weakness for hot, sweet and spicy foods seemingly influences the way they do business. Trust and honesty are an essential component of most Gujarati business deals. For them, word of mouth is more valuable than a written contract. Gujarati traders, by and large, are trustworthy, ethical, and honest. This is why the Portuguese, Dutch and British chose Gujaratis as their trading partners. The East India Company initially set up its headquarters in Surat. Even today many people in the diamond trade prefer to deal with the Guju’s — “whom they can trust”.
An unsaid rule in the community is that well-off Gujaratis’ provide the seed capital to start a business and support their friends or relatives in times of need. Similarly, the community elders as far as possible try to solve business disputes within the family, like the one between Mukesh and Anil Ambani.