Owned by two Parsi business families, with its fourth generation just being inducted, the storied Sterling and Wilson is now at an inflexion point. The 90-year-old engineering firm has only two shareholders. The Mistry family of the Shapoorji Pallonji group holds 67%, while the Daruvala family led by managing director Khurshed owns 33%. The company has been managed by the Daruvala family through “several troughs and crests,” with 48-year-old Khurshed leading it for almost two decades and to its recent success. The Daruvalas — the Mistrys lend support — have painstakingly done the heavy lifting to get on the fast track.
The families’ association dates back to 1927, when Meherwan Daruwala founded Wilson Electric Works, a small contractor in Meadows Street, Mumbai. Across the street, another Parsi businessman, Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry Sr of the eponymously-named construction firm was laying the foundation for his family business and Bombay’s heritage structures. Folklore has it that a faulty appliance — people say Mistry’s domestic iron — was repaired, much to his satisfaction, by Daruwala and with it evolved a longlasting friendship between the two.
Their sons, Yazdi Daruvala and Pallonji Mistry, only strengthened this bond. Pallonji understood the importance of having an as a partner for his civil contracting business and acquired 51% in Wilson Electricals. Thus the name Sterling, a Mistry investment firm, was added as a prefix.
Their partnership saw them win prestigious contracts for building Taj Mahal Hotel and World Trade Centre at Cuffe Parade. The Daruwalas did electrical contracting work for all SP Group projects.
Yazdi took over reins in 1973 and enlisted wife Zarine, mother of his three children, to help out with the book-keeping. Family ties were close and Pallonji, amused by his friend’s decision, is said to have sent an accountant from SP Group to teach her the basics daily till she mastered it.
Zarine now chairs Sterling and Wilson. During the same halcyon days of the early 70s, Pallonji, father of Shapur and Cyrus, crossed the Arabian Sea to Oman to build the Sultan Qaboos Palace.