India's Greatest Entrepreneur
Seth Walchand Hirachand Doshi was a visionary statesman who kick-started the industrial revolution in pre-independence India.
He single-handedly started India's Steam Shipping, Ship Building, Aircraft and Automobile Industry before Independence.
On 5th April 1919 His First Ship SS Loyalty made its maiden voyage from Mumbai to London. Hence 5th April Is Celebrated as India’s National Maritime Day
By 1947, when India became independent, the Walchand group of companies was one of the ten largest business houses in the country. Starting from nothing in 1908 - this was an astonishing feat.
Introduction and Rise to Prominence
Seth Walchand Hirachand Doshi was born on 23 November 1882, in Sholapur, Maharashtra, to a Gujarati Jain businessman. He began his career by joining the family’s banking and cotton trades. After a while, he set off on his own with the adventurous spirit of an entrepreneur who wanted to industrialize his country.
He was the first to establish industries in core sectors like Civil Engineering( construction of dams bridges, tunnels etc) - Hindustan Construction Company; Shipping and Ship Building ( Scindia Steam and Navigation Company), the first aircraft factory ( HAL) and first car factory (Premier Automobiles) in pre-independence India. While attention to detail was not his strong suit, he was very good with manpower, media and leverage management. Most of his projects were highly leveraged and he had a few rich friends that he partnered with for finance, the likes of Narrottam Morarjee, Dharamsey Khatau and Tulsidas Kilachand. He was a visionary who dreamt big and then executed with passion.
After working in his family business of cotton trading and money lending he was bored and wanted to try something new. He became a railway contractor for constructions in partnership with a former railway clerk, Laxmanrao Balwant Phatak; the partnership later became Phatak-Walchand private limited. Walchand proved to be a successful railway contractor. His partnership Phatak- Walchand private limited made money first as a railway contractor, and then as a contractor to other departments of Government. He built tunnels through the Bhor Ghats for a railway route from Mumbai to Pune and laid water pipes from Tansa lake to Mumbai. Another construction company he founded was Hindustan Construction Company in 1926, which is today one of the civil and engineering construction giants of India
Walchandnagar Industries Limited
Walchand successfully transformed the barren land near Kalamb village into sugarcane fields and established WIL ( Walchandnagar Industries Limited) in 1908 This was first started as a large scale sugar farming firm. It is today a diversified firm that manufactures boilers, turbines and also supplies strategic components to India’s defence and aerospace sector. It was subject to sanctions from the US for its involvement in Pokhran - 2, these sanctions were lifted in 2002.
Another company in sugar and confectionery, the Ravalgaon Sugar Farm, was started by Walchand in 1933 and the Confectionery Division was started in 1942.
The Ravalgaon candy that you remember from your childhood comes from the same factory.
Scindia Steam Navigation Company
In 1919, he got along with his financiers and friends, Narottam Morarjee, and Kilachand Devchand, and bought a steamer, the SS Loyalty from the Scindias of Gwalior. The idea being shipping was a growth industry with unprecedented demand and he wanted to start a Swadeshi Shipping company so that Indian merchants and traders were not always at the mercy of their british counterparts who owned and operated all the shipping companies and shipyards in India. With Narottam Morarjee being major financer. Walchand named his company The Scindia Steam Navigation Company Ltd. and competed with the foreign players.
HAL - Hindustan Aeronautics Limited
Hindustan Aircraft was started in Bangalore in the Mysore State with the active support of its Diwan, Mirza Ismail in December 1940 who was a partner in the venture. Others who invested their money were Dharamsey Mulraj Khatau and Tulsidas Kilachand. This was nationalized subsequently and we know it today as HAL - Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Mr. Walchand 's association with Hindustan Aircraft Company was barely about one year and a quarter and made a cool profit of 20 lakhs. This was because the government was concerned about the war and would require HAL for its war efforts .
Scindia Shipyard Limited
Walchand decided that the country would need a modern shipyard for all its shipping requirements and decided to build one himself at Visakhapatnam. Those days it was customary for the foundation ceremony to be done by a British officer but Walchand Doshi in a symbolic gesture of patriotism decided to invite Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who was acting Congress president and later became the first president of India, to lay the foundation stone on 21 June 1941, . It was named Scindia Shipyard Limited and its first product, the ship Jalusha was launched soon after independence by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948.
Since 1939, Walchand was interested in establishing a car factory in India. He came to know that the Birla family was also planning to start a car factory in India. In 1940, he signed an MOU with Chrysler but could not get clearances and concessions from the Mysore government. In 1945, he established Premier Automobiles near Mumbai. Again in this venture his other partners were Dharamsey Mulraj Khatau and Tulsidas Kilachand, who were also Walchand's partners in Hindustan Aircraft. The first car rolled out of his factory in 1949, thus beating Birla's Hindustan Motors venture in the race. But the Birla’s would have the last laugh as they grabbed the lion's share of the market with their Hindustan Motors Ambassador which was India’s staple car post independence.
Why haven't you heard of him ?
Most of his projects were highly leveraged with investors and financiers being majority shareholders and him being the minority shareholder. He also built and operated industries and factories of national importance. Although he was fairly convinced against the nationalization of his companies, without government capitalization - these projects wouldn’t have survived for long. As the war effort required ships and aircrafts his companies were bought out by the british government and nationalised - the shipyard in Visakhapatnam and HAL too.
He also didn’t have any direct descendents - he only had a daughter from his first marriage . although he had a son and a daughter from his second marriage - both of them died in infancy. His brothers and their children took over his empire after he died.
What we can learn from him ?
Ambition and vision - he belonged from a small trading family but dreamt of executing and building projects that were way out of his league. He has a passion for industry and enterprise and wanted to see things happen, irrespective of who owns or runs them . He understood the importance of industry for a newly independent nation like ours and set out on a path to industrialise our country so that we may not be left behind in the 20th century.
Media and manpower Management - He always kept in mind the power of the media and how he could use this power to gather mass support from his countrymen for his ambitious projects. He efficiently navigated working with the British as they were his biggest customers and supporting the Indian National Congress as well. Walchand along with Annie Besant and MR Jayakar were the first sponsors of pioneering national news agency Free Press Of India, founded in 1927
He considered entrepreneurship as an adventure and wanted to fulfil all his adventures. He once visited Hollywood and was enchanted by the studios there. He came back and got in touch with Producer-Director V. Shantaram to open Walchand Studios - although this never materialized, it was an ambitious project for its time.
He was a man who dared to dream and lived to realize most of his dreams come true
“Walchand Hirachand was a dreamer, a visionary, a great builder and a great leader of the industry. Above all, he was a patriot, and in his own way, he was an inspiring leader of our struggle for freedom. I salute his memory. The lesson I draw is that the ultimate spur to growth and development is individual creativity and enterprise”
Dr. Manmohan Singh