Category Archives: Business

‘Taj’ rated as strongest hotel brand in world

The Taj is followed by Premier Inn at second place, Melia Hotels International (3rd), NH Hotel Group (4th) and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts (5th). (Image: Indian Hotels Company Limited)

According to the ‘Hotels 50 2021’ report by Brand Finance, Taj topped the strongest brands list for having stood resilient in spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, besides other achievements.

Tata Group hospitality firm Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) on Friday said its ‘Taj’ brand has been rated as the strongest hotel brand in the world.

According to the ‘Hotels 50 2021’ report by Brand Finance, Taj topped the strongest brands list for having stood resilient in spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, besides other achievements.

The Taj brand has re-entered the ranking for the first time since 2016 when it was at 38th spot.

Brand Finance, a global brand valuation consultancy firm, evaluates the relative strength of brands, based on factors such as marketing investment, customer familiarity, staff satisfaction, and corporate reputation.

The Taj is followed by Premier Inn at second place, Melia Hotels International (3rd), NH Hotel Group (4th) and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts (5th).

Commenting on the feat, IHCL Managing Director & CEO Puneet Chhatwal said,”Taj being rated as the World’s Strongest Hotel Brand is a testament to the unwavering trust our guests have consistently placed in us and the warmth and sincere care our employees have embodied day-after-day.”

He further said,”We will continue our endeavour to elevate the world class experiences of luxury hospitality and deliver the magic of ‘Tajness’ to all our stakeholders.”

Brand Finance CEO David Haigh said, Taj, a brand with a century old legacy and a custodian of the revered Indian hospitality has stood resilient inspite of the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic. Global travellers have relied upon and tested brands in different ways and Taj has emerged on top.

According to the report, Taj is renowned for its world-class customer service and the luxury hotel chain scores very well in Brand Finance’s ‘Global Brand Equity Monitor’ for consideration, familiarity, recommendation, and reputation especially across its home market of India.

“Taj’s successful implementation of its 5-year plan – which focuses on selling non-core assets, becoming less ownership driven and reducing dependence on the luxury space – followed by the speedy adoption of its new R.E.S.E.T 2020 strategy, which provides a transformative framework to help the brand overcome the challenge of the pandemic, has contributed to the brand’s re-entrance into the ranking for the first time since 2016 in 38th spot,” the report said.

When it came to the world’s most valuable hotel brands, Hilton topped the list despite recording a 30 per cent drop in brand value to USD 7.6 billion, the report said.

Hilton’s rival, Marriott dropped to 5th spot from 2nd (last year), after losing more than half of its brand value, down 60 per cent to USD 2.4 billion.

On the other hand, Hyatt checked into the 2nd spot with a 4 per cent increase at USD 4.7 billion, while Holiday Inn was at 3rd despite a 16 per cent dip at USD 3.77 billion and Hampton by Hilton at 4th with a decline of 26 per cent at USD 2.86 billion.

Building Theobroma

Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, co-founder and creative director of Theobroma shares her experience of starting and growing her company. Kainaz is accompanied by her mother, Kamal Messman and sister, Tina Messman Wykes as they share the joys and challenges of building India’s much loved and best known patisserie brand. In conversation with Delna Mistry Anand, a close family friend who is a meditation and well being coach based in Dubai. Delna shares her memories of the family and their business journey.

L&P’s Hemin Bharucha’s shout out to global companies

Welcome to London! L&P’s Hemin Bharucha’s shout out to global companies

“Six and a half per cent of London’s population is of Indian-origin, either first-generation or second generation,” says Hemin Bharucha, Country Director-India and Senior Leadership Team member at London & Partners (L&P). “When I walk the London streets, I can hear Marathi, I can hear Hindi; all sorts of Indian languages being spoken.”

““We work with high-growth companies whose sectors align with good growth for London. London is Open” – Hemin says, signing off. Photo courtesy: L&P

With over two decades of international trade experience working at senior levels with global companies, Hemin has been heavily involved in broadening the India-UK bilateral relationship.

From providing strategic direction for investment projects to generating business development and marketing opportunities, he has successfully consulted and advised a wide spectrum of companies during the course of his career.

“We work with 50 different partners; accounting firms, legal firms, immigration firms. All of them can help Indian companies to set up in London especially. We look at attracting partners from tech, from creativity, mobility and life sciences,” explains Hemin.

He added that India and the UK share a similarity in accounting and legal systems as well as a historical familiarity with each other.
He added that India and the UK share a similarity in accounting and legal systems as well as a historical familiarity with each other. Photo courtesy: MEA

His affiliation with Britain and British agencies stretches back decades, including working at the Scottish Development International, Scotland’s trade and inward investment agency, and the Yorkshire Forward initiative of the British High Commission, where he influenced and facilitated Indian companies to expand their business in the UK, before becoming L&P’s India head in 2017.

On being asked whether the main job of L&P is to market the city as a destination for companies to open their offices, he says that it is equally for London-based companies to do business in key global markets including India.

L&P was launched as a non-profit company in 2011 by the then Mayor Boris Johnson, aimed at promoting the city as an attractive destination for businesses, students and investment. It focuses on building London’s international reputation, helping to retain and grow businesses, attracting international audiences and guiding them to grow with the city.

On being asked whether the main job of L&P is to market the city as a destination for companies to open their offices, he said that it is equally for London-based companies to do business in key global markets including India.
On being asked whether the main job of L&P is to market the city as a destination for companies to open their offices, he said that it is equally for London-based companies to do business in key global markets including India. Photo courtesy: L&P

Despite the negative impact of the pandemic and the economic downturn that has resulted from it, L&P is gearing up for a post-COVID recovery. In fact, says Hemin, they supported 16 new companies that set up shop in the city in 2020 without even physically looking at space.

“It is a testimony to the city of London as a safe place to invest for Indian companies,“ Hemin says.

He added that India and the UK share a similarity in accounting and legal systems as well as a historical familiarity with each other. London has also developed as a global hub for tech, finance and education, which is another major draw for businesses.

Despite the negative impact of the pandemic and economic downturn that has resulted from it, L&P is gearing up for a post-COVID recovery.
L&P is gearing up for a post-COVID recovery. Photo courtesy: Flickr

“With India, we focus mainly on trade, investment and on students. The biggest pull for companies is that the customer is sitting in London,” Hemin adds. However, he says, one of the most important tasks L&P faces is identifying companies that would be a good fit for the city, especially when it comes to midsize and smaller companies and startups. A lot of research and effort goes into determining the compatibility of a firm with what the city has to offer in terms of networking, facilities and technology.

“We work with high-growth companies whose sectors align with good growth for London. London is Open”, Hemin says, signing off.

Tushaar Kuthiala – Associate Editor

Tushaar has extensive experience as a journalist and in founding two start-up newspapers. He has developed editorial models for both copy and content, and has written several articles, news reports on a wide range of topics. He is a graduate of St. Stephen’s College and earned a post-graduate diploma in TV Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai. He has worked as a special correspondent based in New Delhi with Daily World, an international media organisation.

The original Made in India success story: a soap so good, even Tagore modelled for it

In 1919, an entrepreneur responded to the call for Swadeshi by inventing the world’s first Ahimsa soap

This is the story of a feisty entrepreneur who paired business acumen with a higher purpose, and proved to the world that Made in India brands can stand the test of time.

Meet Ardeshir Godrej

For various reasons, including unimpeachable integrity, Ardeshir Godrej’s career as a lawyer never took off. And so, in 1895, he set up a company to make surgical equipment. But when his most prominent client refused to accept a “Made in India” branding on the tools, Ardeshir backed out. Two years later, Godrej went on to set up a lock-making factory which gave him his first taste of success.

World’s first vegetarian soap

At the turn of the century, Godrej got involved in the Indian freedom struggle. Among the many things that piqued his interest was soaps. Now, soap is a relatively modern invention—the first soap was manufactured in Europe some time in the 19th Century. Ardeshir noted that all soap used animal fat, a substance deeply resented by a large section of the Indian population.  (The Mutiny of 1857 was triggered by the use of fat in rifle cartridges, remember?).

Up until then, it was considered impossible to substitute lard and tallow in the soap-making process. But Ardeshir seized upon the opportunity and in 1919, launched the world’s first pure-vegetarian soap, made from vegetable oil extracts. The brand was called Chavi, a nod to Godrej’s lock-making venture, and was pitched as cruelty-free and a Swadeshi alternative to sacrilegious foreign soaps. Naturally, it worked.

The Turkish Bath Soap from the Chaavi range of soaps
The Turkish bath soap from the Chavi range of soaps. Courtesy: Godrej Archives

The Godrej marketing genius

Godrej also had another marketing trick up his sleeve. The first Chavi brand of soaps carried the tag “Godrej No. 2”. And why not “no.1”? “If people find No.2 so good, they will believe No.1 to be even better when it launches,” Godrej reportedly said. Three years later, he launched Godrej no.1, and proved himself right.

The Swadeshi soap

By this time, Mahatma Gandhi’s Swadeshi Movement was in full steam, and Godrej was an active contributor to the cause. While several leaders believed that Indians must adopt homegrown products even if they were inferior, Godrej believed this wasn’t sustainable, and that Indian entrepreneurs must up their game and offer comparable quality to consumers. On this, he publicly crossed swords with some of the leaders.

However, Gandhi deeply appreciated Adershir’s contribution to the struggle. Perhaps why he rejected a request for an endorsement from a rival soapmaker. “I hold my brother Godrej in such high regard… if your enterprise is likely to harm him in any way, I regret very much I cannot give you my blessings,” he wrote. (Another reason could have been that Gandhi himself didn’t use soap—not in the latter half of his life at least. For more than 25 years, he used a stone scrub gifted by his associate Miraben. That’s a story for another time.)

But another national icon did endorse Godrej No.1. It was the man who gave Gandhi the title of Mahatma. “I know of no foreign soaps better than Godrej’s and I will make a point of using it,” read the ad starring Rabindranath Tagore.

The Guru wasn’t the only one to swear by Godrej No.1. Dr Annie Besant and C Rajagopalachari also endorsed the Swadeshi soap.

Dr Annie Besant's endorsement
Dr Annie Besant’s endorsement. Courtesy: Godrej Archives
An ad for Godrej soaps featuring Rabindranath Tagore
An ad for Godrej soaps featuring Rabindranath Tagore. Courtesy: Godrej Archives

Now, over a hundred years after it was launched, Godrej No.1 is among the most popular soap brands in India, with over 380 million bars sold each year. It is among the longest-running Swadeshi brands. And it all began with one man who truly believed in the power of Make in India.

How Polson made butter a commercial product in pre-Independence India

Polson butter had monopolised the business by the 1930s and become a household name in India, much before the Amul revolution.


Much before India became independent and Anand Milk Union Limited started the Amul revolution, Polson became India’s first commercially made butter.

Launched by Parsi entrepreneur Pestonji Edulji Dalal in 1900, Polson was initially a coffee manufacturing company. It diversified into the butter business when a customer complained that there wasn’t enough butter for the armed forces. It set up its first dairy in Kaira, Gujarat.

Dalal’s nickname Polly was chosen and given a British twist to name the company ‘Polson’.

By the 1930s, Polson dominated the butter business in India.

“The brand was well distributed and advertised. So much so that Polson became a generic word for butter around the 1950s and 1960s,” advertising and marketing expert Navroze Dhondy said.

Polson butter had monopolised the business and become a household name in India.


A unique taste

Polson’s butter was salty, but nothing to write home about.

So, the marketing strategy had to make up for the taste. And it did.

Polson started offering gift coupons with each purchase, which could be collected and redeemed to buy toasters or mixers.

It was marketed as butter that children loved. “Guard their health and give them the best,” the ad read.

Polson’s brand connect was huge, pointed out brand and marketing consultant Harish Bijoor. “It was about wholesomeness, it was local and Indians trusted and loved it,” he said, adding that Polson’s image kept growing until the late 1960s when Amul entered the market.

The competition

If in the early 1900s Polson’s competition was households who were making their own butter, after the 1960s it was Amul.

“Most housewives and mothers would churn milk to make butter, buying butter was an alien concept,” pointed out an advertising consultant.

The butter, with its not so pocket-friendly pricing, was targeted at the affluent and Anglo Indians. “It was almost like a status symbol to have bought butter at home. Mind you these were the days when few homes had refrigerators,” Dhondy said.

The downfall of the brand started when Amul entered the market.

Dairy farmers in the country were in a deplorable condition. Dairy engineer Verghese Kurien was entrusted with the responsibility of spearheading the co-operative movement that went on to become the mammoth Amul. In the beginning, Amul found it difficult to beat Polson because Indians were used to the Polson taste.

But Amul’s branding and quality was far superior and Polson was soon wiped out of the market.

Bijoor pointed out that part of the problem was Polson’s own creation. “Polson thought small,” he said, adding that the brand may be dead but its recall value is still “huge” with many Indians.


How Polson made butter a commercial product in pre-Independence India

‘Robust model, good starting point’: 84-year-old innovator’s portable ventilator draws attention of industry leaders

The ‘Bharucha ventilator’, as he terms it, has been sold since the 1990s to nearly 150 individual doctors and hospitals.

Captain Rustom Bharucha’s portable ventilator has caught the attention of leading industrialists and doctors from around the world. (Representational Image)

At his tiny workshop on Pune-Ahmednagar Road, 84-year-old Captain Rustom Bharucha is getting ready to attend a 2 pm conference call with officials at Hella India, after which he will be meeting Bharat Forge officials who have shown an interest in his design of a portable ventilator. A team of scientists from some institutions in the city have already digitised his design, while small manufacturers have been incessantly calling him at the workshop number. The ‘Bharucha ventilator’, as he terms it, has been sold since the 1990s to nearly 150 individual doctors and hospitals.

Bharucha, who cycles 20 km to the city’s interior to pick up raw materials like aluminum sheets, iron bars and 80 other components, and then assembles them at his tiny workshop, has also caught the attention of Dr. Prashant Jha, who is treating coronavirus patients in London.

Nick Booker, co-founder of, a network of doctors and engineers across the world, says in the in the foreword of Bharucha’s manual ‘Introduction to Ventilator Therapy’ that they wanted to understand more about his work. “Humanity is facing a big challenge but many ideas come from everywhere across the world. This manual and the machines built by Captain Bharucha are packed with ideas and can inspire you to help others breathe again,” writes Booker.

Bharucha, who has a BSc degree from Gujarat University in 1955, used to spend his spare time at the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad and worked for India Radio and Electronics Corporation, assembling wireless sets for the police, and then at Century Rayon as an electrical apprentice. He joined the Territorial Army and was in charge of the wireless detachment supporting the first Maratha Inf battalion during the Goa operation.

He left at the age of 29 and started his own outfit to repair medical devices. In 1965, he was persuaded by his late brother Dr. Pervez to quickly design a pulse monitor that can detect cardiac arrest during surgery. His work was recognised soon, and he developed a telethermometer with rectal, skin and myocardial probes, apnea monitor for neonates and micronephelometer for lipid profile, and then an anaesthetic ventilator and advanced portable ventilator for critical patients.

His work was appreciated by the faculty at IIT Mumbai and Department of Instrumentation Science at Pune University. “With no formal degree in engineering, and going about my work by riding a bicycle… this made people wonder how I could have designed a ventilator,” he said, adding that he was nominated for a life time achievement award in medical instrumentation by the DRDO but was later rejected.

In the late 1970s, Dr. Ashok Kanetkar, a cardiac surgeon in Pune, urgently requested Bharucha to go to the Aundh Chest Hospital where a patient’s chest was open and the ventilator had stopped working. “I remember, within 10 minutes, I had fixed the fault,” Bharucha says.

Since then, he has been engaged in making ventilators, some of which he sold to individual doctors and hospitals at Latur and Aurangabad.

Dr. Sanjeev Deshpande, an anaesthetist who works at multiple hospitals in Aurangabad, said that despite limitations, the ventilator was useful during surgery.

In 2003, the Tata Consultancy Services sent a German team to visit his workshop and he received an order for 49 ventilators for rural Maharashtra. “The ventilator became popular and was used during the treatment of snakebite, scorpion bite and other poisoning cases,“ he said.

With the number of cororonavirus cases crossing 1,000 in India, an effort — called COVID 19 Ventilator project – is being coordinated by the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture – where several industrial houses are joining hands to get everyone on the same page.

Prakash Chhabria, chairman of Finolex Industries Limited, told The Indian Express that there were some brilliant minds in the city and his role was to bring together this group of doctors and engineers. “I have interacted with pulmonologists like Dr. Arvind Bhome and scientists like Prof L S Shashidhara who have a studied approach on the issue. These doctors and scientists guiding our engineers was the aim,” said Chabbria.

At MCCIA, Vice President Deepak Karandikar said, “There is also likely to be a shortage of personal protective equipment and ventilators and we are hoping to put our might together and work on a design that is compliant with what the medical fraternity’s needs. There are various persons who are making ventilators and this is a tricky process… There are lot of members who are actually employing whatever they can to finalise a perfect design. Everyone is on the platform – we are taking help from any source – Captain Bharucha’s ventilator is a very good starting point and will have to be upgraded before use”.

Dr. Arvind Bhome, a pulmonologist and intensivist for the past 40 years who had started India’s first ever mechanical ventilation workshop as the then chairman of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine, told The Indian Express that he has known Captain Bharucha for over 30 years. “Captain Bharucha is an honest and excellent human being. He is not trying to sell the ventilator but wants to share his knowledge of what goes into the making of a ventilator with anyone and everyone. The Bharucha Ventilator is a robust model that can work on a simple electric connection and can be operated manually. However, this model is more suited for peripheral areas and in desperate situations can be used to ventilate patients while transporting them from villages to nearby hospitals”.

Industrial firms have connected with Captain Bharucha. “Baba Kalyani — chairman and MD of Bharat Forge – did ask me whether the ventilator can help COVID-19 patients. I have said that it is a noiseless, genuine and innovative product but cannot generate pressure of more than 20 cm of water and hence the motor would not be sufficient to ventilate patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The motor should be able to generate pressure in the range of 5 to 60 and the patient should not be delivered pressure of more than 40. To increase the motor’s capacity, it would need multiple valves, metatronics to make it safe for the patient,” Dr. Bhome told The Indian Express.

He, however, pointed out that the model is safe to run at primary health care centres and can ventilate people with healthy lungs. “Modern electronic ventilators are not cheap but since we are dealing with a fast-spreading infectious disease , there is a need to design a safe ventilators so that healthcare providers do not catch the infection”.

Central Bank of India – a Pioneer

With all of you at home, let’s dwell into some Parsi history of an iconic banker…..
HDFC Bank is a giant in its own sense. Financial companies look up to it & Mr. Puri’s management style. But we all know nothing endures for ever. Here’s a story of a equally prominent Indian bank of its time that is still functional but hardly anyone cares today…..
This bank was registered in December 1911 with a paid up capital of a meagre 20 lakh. It was founded by a Parsi who started his banking career with Bank of India as an accountant. In those days, even if BOI was Indian sponsored, key managerial positions were all held by Europeans.
At Bank of India, our Parsi bawa reported to a guy called H P Stringfellow, a European ofcourse. He drew a salary of Rs. 5000/- a month while our Parsi bawa was paid Rs. 200 a month.
Not only were there huge pay disparities and humiliations, Europeans dominated banks were partial when it came to giving out credit to Indian entrepreneurs and businesses.
Our Parsi bawa didn’t like this. He wanted an Indian Bank managed by Indians. It was not easy. Early 1900s also saw rise of Swadeshi movement and after initial hesitation it was applied to the world of banking as well.
So one morning the young Parsi boy told his boss ( H P Stringfellow) that he has had it enough and that he will set up his own bank. His boss thought of his idea as a ‘huge joke’ but soon realised he was serious. Mr. Stringfellow asked our Parsi bawa to reconsider his decision.
But the young boy was determined and said to his boss – ‘Sir, I have made up my mind. I resign from the bank’s service. One day my bank will be bigger than yours’. Here’s the first connection of this Bank with HDFC bank
Thakoredas Parekh who worked with our Parsi bawa at BOI left along with him & assisted him in setting up his bank by joining as Superintendent of Current Account and Bills Department. It’s noteworthy that Thakoredas Parekh is Deepak Parekh’s grandfather.
But initial few years post starting operations were not easy. 87 banks failed between 1913-1917, starting before WW1 and accentuated by it. Notice the main cause of failure. 100 years later, anything has hardly changed when it comes to Bank failures.
Early on post the bank started its operations, there were multiple runs on our Parsi bawa’s bank too. Just 2 year in to operations, there was a major run on the bank. Directors of the bank pledged titles of their personal properties to pay to depositors.
Before 1923, Parsi bawa’s bank saw through another couple of bank runs. Each time coming out stronger purely on commitment and sincerity of its management. Then something extraordinary happened in 1923.
Not many know this, but Tata’s once owned and operated a bank too – for a grand total of 6 years. They had once set up Tata Industrial Bank (TIB) during boom of WW1 (1917). TIB had paid up capital of Rs. 2.3 cr and deposits totalling to ~6 cr. These were big numbers back then.
Post WW1, the TIB started to get into trouble. Once the boom of WW1 ended TIB’s industrial investments rapidly depreciated. TIB had also spent 66 Lakh on magnificent structures in Bombay & Calcutta. House of Tatas was also passing through a lean phase in early 1920s.
Imagine what history would have looked like had a bank from Tatas failed. Although a competitor bank, our Parsi bawa didn’t want TIB to fail. TIB failing would have put shutters on operational success of lot of other Indian sponsored banks.
That’s when Parsi bawa put up a bold scheme. Although less than one fifth in size, he wanted to Amalgamate TIB with his bank. In today’s parlance, purely by Balance sheet size, it’s like amalgamating SBI with HDFC Bank.
A few boardroom dramas later, TIB was amalgamated with our Parsi bawas bank in July 1923. Post amalgamation, the capital and reserves went 4x immediately. The staff of TIB was mostly European who slowly were replaced with Indians.
With this and some truly fantastic innovation mostly mastered by our Parsi bawa, the bank went on to become a force to reckon with in Indian banking industry. There were some firsts which came out from this bank. For example this bank was the first to launch a Safe Deposit Vault.
It was also first in India to introduce HSS passbooks and system of withdrawals by cheques in Savings Account. In 1924 it became the first to employ women assistants to serve lady customers and even maintained a separate department for them.
Infact India’s first woman commerce graduate Yasmin Surveyor was the first to join the women department at the bank. She got her commerce degree from Sydenham College.
Your Wealth RM selling you estate planning? Our Parsi bawa’s bank did it back in 1929. First one to start in India. Your banker sold you a savings account sighting free life insurance protection? Parsi bawa’s bank offered free life insurance if one maintained avg. bal. of Rs.10.
Parsi bawa also launched ‘Home Savings Safe’ account. When was the last time your banker asked you to save? These days it’s only about spending – CC, PL, Auto loans. At one point one in 15 Bombayite had an account with his bank.
By the time our Parsi bawa’s bank turned 25 years old, it was by far the largest bank in India with one third market share in deposits. To compare HDFC bank is also 25 year old and its market share is less than 10%. What are the industry first innovations from HDFC Bank?
You might say, ah HDFC bank today competes with SBI. Our Parsi bawa also had competition with SBI’s predecessor Imperial Bank which was must stronger than what SBI is today. Imperial Bank was not only a commercial bank then,it performed duties that RBI performs today
So which bank am I talking about? Our Parsi bawa’s name was Sir Sorabji N Pochkhanawala & his bank’s name is Central Bank of India. Sir Sorabji was only 30 year old when he founded Central Bank. Today Central bank’s Mcap is 6500 cr against 4.2 lakh crore of HDFC bank!
Proudly shared by Jehangir Bisney
Example of a true entrepreneur the likes of whom should motivate us. Being my grandfather’s brother here are a few interesting facts not in the article.He joined Elphinstone college but dropped out to work with Chartered Bank to support his family. He was a fast on the job learner and decided to self school to take and pass and obtain the British Banking certificate. He then started training young Britishers who went on to become bosses. He got fed up with the discrimination and decided to open a bank owned by & operated by Indians. HE WAS ONLY 27. When he went home and told his family, all except his young wife Sakerbai, were upset at his stupidity and did not talk to him for 6 months. The rest as described above is history. The English banks tried their hardest to sink his bank but he prevailed and he was recognized and Knighted in 1934. He passed away in 1937 at the age of only 54 partly due to diabetes and his love for food. Hopefully it will motivate someone as it did me. If you can dream it you can do it.
Edul Daver


In the late 1920s, Kapil Ram Vakil, a chemical engineer educated in England, saw the possibility of developing a salt works in the Kutch region, now in the state of Gujarat.
He approached the then Maharaja of Baroda, Sayaji Rao Gaekwad.
Always keen to develop his princely state, the Maharaja gave his assent.
In 1927, Vakil set up the Okha Salt Works and VT Krishnamachari, the Diwan of Baroda, laid the foundation stone.
A decade later, Vakil wanted to expand and set up a soda ash plant, but did not have the financial resources required.
He approached the Tatas.
They agreed to take over the company and Tata Chemicals was born in 1939. Vakil stayed on as its director.
Setting up a soda ash plant was no easy task.
At that time British chemicals giant Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), located in the Sindh province of what is now Pakistan, was the only company in the subcontinent with the necessary know-how and technology.
When the British were approached, they taunted Vakil, saying: “You put in salt and you get out salt.” Darbari Seth, a young chemical engineer who had recently joined Tata Chemicals, was stung by their arrogance and resolved to build the best soda ash plant in India.
That it was wartime compounded the problem, as the ship carrying the material to set up the plant was torpedoed and sunk.
JRD Tata was told by an international expert that he was in the wrong place doing the wrong job.
But he did not give up.
Finally, in 1944, the plant started production, with a capacity of 80tpd (tonnes per day).
In 1962, a capacity of 400tpd was achieved and in commemoration, the ‘four hundred tonnes production’ tower (FHTP) was erected in front of Mitha Mahal, the company guesthouse at Mithapur, where it still stands.
Today Tata Chemicals’ production capacity is 2,500tpd, and its Mithapur facility is one of the largest integrated inorganic chemicals complexes in India.
There have been many milestones on the way.
In 1957-58, a major expansion programme increased the production capacity of various products.
From salt and soda ash, the company moved into, among other things, caustic soda, liquid chlorine, hydrochloric acid, sodium bicarbonate and ethylene dibromide.
The first phase of the expansion plan was completed in 1959 with the setting up of the second lime kiln and the programme was completed in 1964.
In 1962-63, Tata Chemicals’ net profit went up nearly five-fold, from Rs1.69 million to Rs7.97 million.
But it was also a time of crisis.
There were no rains and Bhimgaja and Mithikhadi, the two lakes which the company and township depended on for water, nearly ran dry.
Apart from salt, water is one of the main raw materials for all of Mithapur’s products.
Without water the vast chemical complex just could not function.
But determination and innovation achieved remarkable triumphs in the face of dire adversity.
Tata engineers came up with ideas not only to conserve water, but to also produce treated seawater in place of fresh water, setting up a make-up water plant (MUW).
This translated into a long-term benefit for the company, creating a zero water-input capability, to continue operations whether there is or isn’t water supply from outside.
The initiative also drought-proofed the company in the event of erratic monsoons.
Self-reliance is a small word, but it has a big meaning for Mithapur, and is an important factor in its success.
Every year 111 billion litres of seawater are evaporated using solar energy to produce 1.1 billion litres of brine.
The amount of solar energy required to produce this is equal to 11 million tonnes of coal.
The brine is then crystallised to produce 2 million tonnes of solar salt, the essential raw material for 18 basic inorganic chemicals, including soda ash.
Soda ash is as fundamental to chemical industries as steel is to the engineering sector.
Liberalization and the turnaround
In the 1990s Tata Chemicals, like other companies in the sector, was hit by the changing global economy.
Till 1995-96, soda ash was a seller’s market but it slowly became a buyer’s market as more and more players entered the field.
In the salt industry too, new entrants drove up the competition.
The company’s salt works were the largest in India and second largest in the world, but the low entry barrier made it an attractive area, especially among regional players.
Like many large manufacturing companies in India, Tata Chemicals found it difficult to react swiftly to the demands of a rapidly changing marketplace.
This required the company to effect a transformation unlike anything it had even contemplated.
The focus was now on consolidation and overcoming the challenges faced in terms of cost, competition, quality.
It achieved ISO 9001 in 1996.
In soda ash, it became the lowest cost producer, and sustained operations in the face of cheap imports.
In salt, it retained its leadership position in the marketplace.
Four elements made the turnaround possible.
It started with people.
The company took a hard look at its human resources function, emphasising skill development, leadership programmes and customer awareness sessions.
Marketing was thoroughly revamped.
The Tata Business Excellence Model (TBEM), a framework which drives business excellence in Tata Group companies, was implemented.
The last part of the new equation was the decision to get out of businesses that were proving a drag, such as detergents.
The Tata Chemicals fertiliser division was set up at Babrala in Uttar Pradesh in a record time of 37 months at a cost of Rs14.75 billion.
It has an installed capacity of 864,600 tonnes of urea per year (nearly 12 per cent of the total urea produced by the country’s private sector).
It also houses an ammonia plant with a capacity of 1,520 tonnes per day and is considered to be one of the best industrial facilities in India, and among the most energy efficient globally.
Mithapur and Babrala
Both Mithapur and Babrala have townships privately owned by Tata Chemicals, offering all modern facilities, including schools, shops, a clubhouse, a library, as well as health and sports facilities.
Mithapur is situated in the Gulf of Kutch, which is a marine national park.
The employees and their children are very involved in protecting the environment and in nature activities such as turtle walks.
The sea, which is the source of the company’s raw material, is also home to a variety of migratory birds, among them flamingos and herons.
The Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development works with the villagers in and around Okhamandal at Mithapur and Babrala to develop the villages and their people.
Watershed and agricultural development are two of its many initiatives.
The company has also been at the forefront of helping the community by setting up relief and rehabilitation programmes in times of natural disasters such as the Morvi floods in 1979 or the cyclone that hit the Gujarat coast in 1998. The tragic earthquake in 2001 saw Tata Chemicals along with other Tata companies engage in relief on a war footing.
~Rama Hariharawami
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