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Children of midnight G. D. Birla: The man who built the Birla empire!

MAJOR KULBIR SINGH. Dated: 8/12/2017 10:58:51 AM

Major Kulbir Singh
Ghanshyam Das Birla (10 April 1894 – 11 June 1983) was an Indian businessman and member of the Birla Family. Ghanshyam Das Birla was born on 10 April 1894 at Pilani village, in the Indian state then known as Rajputana, as a member of the Marwari community. Birla inherited the family business and moved to further diversify them into other areas. Of these, at least three contemporary family business groups existing in India today can trace their ancestry to him. Of these businesses, he wanted to turn the moneylending business into manufacturing. So he left for Calcutta in Bengal Presidency, the world’s largest jute producing region. There, he began “Independently as a jute broker”. In 1918, he established Birla Jute Mills, much to the consternation of established European merchants, whom the biased policies of the British government favored other than the local Bengali merchants. He had to scale a number of obstacles as the British and Scottish merchants tried to shut his business by unethical and monopolistic methods, but he was able to persevere. When World War I resulted in supply problems throughout the British Empire, Birla’s business skyrocketed. With an investment of 5 million. in 1919, the Birla Brothers Limited was formed. A mill was set up in Gwalior in the same year.
In 1926, he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly of British India. He became the founding president of Harijan Sevak Sangh founded by Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi in 1932 . In 1940s, he ventured into the territory of cars and established Hindustan Motors. After independence, Birla invested in tea and textiles through a series of acquisitions of erstwhile European companies. He also expanded and diversified into cement, chemicals, rayon and steel tubes. Ghanshyam Das Birla during the Quit India movement of 1942, had conceived the idea of organising a commercial bank with Indian capital and management, and the United Commercial Bank Limited was incorporated to give shape to that idea. Uco Bank, formerly United Commercial Bank, established in 1943 in Kolkata, is one of the oldest and major commercial bank of India.
Envisioning infrastructural development in his hometown, Birla founded the Birla Engineering College (rechristened as Birla Institute of Technology and Science in 1964) in Pilani and Technological Institute of Textile & Sciences in Bhiwani among other educational institutions in 1943. Both colleges have evolved over the years to develop into one of India’s best engineering schools. Now Pilani also houses a wing of Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute (CEERI), a famous residential, public school christened after Birla’s family and a number of polytechnic colleges. The town of Pilani and the local population enjoy a highly symbiotic relationship with these institutions, thereby stepping towards realising G.D.’s dream. TIT&S also evolved as Center of Excellence in Textile based education and training. Moreover, G D Birla Memorial School, Ranikhet, a premier residential school has also been established in his honour by Syt. B.K. Birla and is today one of the best residential schools in the nation and even The Birla School in Kalyan, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India was founded by his efforts with collaboration of Kalyan Citizens’ Education Society (KCES).
In 1957, he was awarded India’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India. There is a memorial to Ghanshyam Birla in Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London. It comprises a large statue overlooking the gardens with an inscription. He died in 1983 at the age of 90.
Birla was a close associate and a steady supporter of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he met for the first time in 1916. Gandhi was staying at Birla’s home in New Delhi when he was assassinated having lived there for the last four months of his life. Ghanshyam Das Birla was one of the most prominent Indian businessmen from the era when India was struggling to get freedom from the British Empire. He belonged to the Birla family and is the founding father of the multi-billion dollar Birla Empire. He came from a humble background of Pilani in India where his grandfather was into the business of money lending—a tradition in that particular community. But Birla had dreams bigger than that and took him to Calcutta. He started a jute firm in Calcutta and gathered the kind of success which was impossible for an Indian businessman to achieve in those hard times. This led to one success after another and soon he expanded his empire into manufacturing, tea business, banking, chemical, cement, etc. It was his early efforts that made the Birla Empire what it is now and his impeccable business sense earned him the India’s second highest civilian honor, the Padma Vibhushan.
Ghanshyam Das Birla was born in Pilani, a small village in Rajasthan state of India, into a Marwari Maheshwari family. His grandfather was a Marwari businessman and used to lend money for a living. Birla left Pilani for Calcutta in order to start his own business as he wanted to prove himself. He successfully established a dealership in cotton and as his business escalated he came back to Pilani again and got a mansion constructed for the family.
Later, Birla took over the family business and decided to expand it—he turned money lending business into manufacturing. He started a jute enterprise irrespective of the fact that British policies and rule supported European merchants more than Indian businessmen at that time. He saved his business many a times from getting shut down by the British and Scottish merchants. They tried to establish their monopolist ways by trying to pester him and harm his jute firm. It was during World War I when there was a supply problem all through the British Empire that Birla’s business became a great success. It was with such success that Birla decided to further diversify his business and with an investment of 5 million Indian Rupees he formally set up the Birla Brothers Limited in 1919. He established a factory in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh in the same year.
Besides being a successful businessman, he was also active in politics and social service. In 1926 he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly. He was the founding president of Harijan Sevak Sangh, an organization founded by Mahatma Gandhi. With so much success, Birla became a little bolder with his decisions in business and decided to take the risk of establishing Hindustan Motors in 1940. After independence Birla got into tea business and started his own textile industries.
In 1943, he established a commercial bank with Indian capital and management, which was named United Commercial Bank. Now, it is known as the UCO bank and is one of the oldest and major commercial banks of India.
He founded the Birla Engineering College which is now known as the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani and Technological Institute of Textile & Sciences in Bhiwani among other educational institutions. Birla established and pioneered a lot of new concepts in India during his time—he started a manufacturing business in Calcutta at a time when Indian businessmen were not given any preference over the British and Scottish merchants. He slowly expanded it into various industries like cement, chemicals, rayon, steel tubes, tea, banking, etc.
Birla was bestowed upon India’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 1957. He married twice in his lifetime. He had 3 sons from his first wife Durga Devi – Laxmi Niwas, Sudershan Kumar & Siddharth while his second wife Maheshwari Devi had two sons – K.K. Birla & Basant Kumar.
Birla died at the age of 90 on June 11th, 1983.
This great businessman was a long time supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and his policies. Gandhi was staying at his New Delhi home at the time when he was assassinated. Birla mansion at Pilani that Ghanshyam Das Birla built with his money from the jute factory in Calcutta is known as the Birla Haveli.


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