Dwarakanath Tagore was a western-educated Bengali elite and an acknowledged civic leader of Kolkata who played a pioneering role in setting up a string of commercial ventures—banking, insurance and shipping companies—in partnership with British traders. In 1828, he became the first Indian bank director. In 1829, he founded Union Bank in Calcutta. He helped found the first Anglo-Indian Managing Agency (industrial organizations that ran jute mills, coal mines, tea plantations, etc.) Carr, Tagore and Company.
Gourmohan Dutta is the founder of the iconic brand of West Bengal, Boroline. He was already an established trader of imported goods, when he was swept by the fervour of Swadeshi Movement to help his country contribute to her economic self-sufficiency. Indigenously manufactured antiseptic cream entered the Indian market in a big way when Boroline began to be manufactured in Dutta’s house in 1929. The famous elephant logo of Boroline, created by Dutta, signifies steadiness and strength; the elephant god, Ganesha is also a good-luck charm for businessmen. Because of this logo, Boroline, with its legendary green tube, is also known as ‘hathiwala cream’.
To manufacture the all-purpose skin cream, Dutta founded GD Pharmaceuticals Limited. Boroline's brand image is the brainchild of the founder's son, Murari Mohan Dutta. In the late 1950s, Boroline had surged with concepts like brand image, rural marketing and event sponsorships. The brand took to the streets during festivals, cheered players in the grounds during cricket and football matches and launched a blitz of newspaper, magazine, radio and outdoor promotions. The four brands owned by the company include Boroline, Eleen hair oil, Suthol antiseptic skin shower and Glosoft facewash, of which the first of course is the most well-known.
The company is into a lot of social work. From across India, numerous economically under-privileged, terminally ill patients, and children requiring heart surgery have received financial assistance for treatment from the company. In 2009, in the 80th year of Boroline’s existence, Raima Sen was chosen as its first ever brand ambassador, in order to appeal to a younger pan-Indian audience.
BN Dey – Keo Karpin light hair oil is a household name in West Bengal. BN Dey was the person who started the company which manufactures this product. BN Dey was a business stalwart of Kolkata. In 1941, with the aim of serving society, Dey started a small retail store in the southern part of Kolkata. It was named Dey’s Medical. Soon it became immensely popular.
During the Second World War, the shop started by JN Dey maintained a steady supply of life-saving drugs amidst a general shortage. This won him immense popularity from the medical profession. The need for self-sufficiency for post-independent India and the encouragement of medical professionals prompted JN Dey to start manufacturing drugs. That was in 1957.
Various dosage forms of drugs, like capsules, tablets, granules, powders, ointments etc., of all the important categories of medicines – antibiotics, corticosteroids, vitamins, antidiabetics, antipyretics, analgesics, antiasthmatics, antiinflammatory, etc., are now manufactured by Dey’s Medical in its factories in Kolkata and Allahabad. Keo Karpin is undoubtedly Dey’s most famous brand. Another of its popular products is milk of magnesia. The company has tied up with Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB) for development and standardisation of Ayurvedic formulations.
Prakritinath Bhattacharjee was an entrepreneur from Shibpur who founded a factory in 1941 to manufacture edible chemical oils. The factory was located on Narkeldanga Main Road. In 1942, he formed a partnership with Panchanan Mondal. Shalimar Chemical Works Limited was officially launched in 1945 as a partnership business between Bhattacharjee and Mondal. Bhattacharjee expanded base to southern India, to Hyderabad. A major reason was that most of the raw materials were sourced from the south. The manufacturing of the ever popular Shalimar’s Coconut oil began at a two-room facility in Chetla in Kolkata in the 1940s, and is a market leader in eastern India today. Gradually the company expanded base in and around the city and its kitty of products as well to spices (which is also a market leader in eastern India), edible and hair oils.
Surendra Mohan Bose – Duckback is a name synonymous with waterproof clothing in India. In earlier times, and even now, school life would not have been complete withour a Duckback bag. The founder of the Duckback brand was Surendra Mohan Bose. The name ‘Duckback’ comes from the fact that water never stays but always flows down from a duck’s back. The company Bengal Waterproof Limited, which manufactures the Duckback range of products, was the result of an attempt at a swadeshi enterprise, when people in British India, on Gandhiji’s call, had started boycotting British-made goods. Bose was an opponent of British rule in the country.
While in prison in Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh during the time of the First World War, he became aware of the poor condition of clothing of Indian soldiers. Many Indian soldiers died because of lack of groundsheets, raincoats or boots. In 1920, Bose, along with his brothers Jogindra Mohan, Ajit Mohan and Bishnupada, went on to form the company, manufacturing raincoats, backed by a unique manufacturing methodology which came to be known as the Duckback process. This process is the USP of the brand, and is still a trade secret. In fact, during the pre-independence era, Duckback advertised itself as ‘Entirely Indian—Indian capital, Indian labour, Indian materials and Indian brain’.
SM Bose, who had studied at Berkeley and Stanford Universities, had an interest in catering to the military but the initial objective was triggered by nationalism. Besides raincoats and children's school bags, the company also manufactures ice bags, air pillows, hot water bottles, etc.
Prafulla Chandra Roy was a famous chemist, educator and entrepreneur. He was the founder of Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals, India's first pharmaceutical company. He is the author of A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to the Middle of Sixteenth Century (1902). PC Roy was a brilliant, who completed higher studies at Edinburgh University. On returning to India, he started advocating starting of businesses by Indians to establish self-sufficiency. In 1901, he started Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, India’s first pharmaceutical company, at 91 Upper Circular Road (later named in his honour as Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road).
The company became the first Indian company of its kind to manufacture quality chemicals, drugs, pharmaceuticals and home products, employing indigenous technology, skill and raw materials for production of quality drugs and pharmaceuticals, and chemicals with indigenous technology to cater to the needs of millions. The reputation of the company grew, and Roy added funds to the company to increase the scale of production.
From a beginning with one factory in Maniktala in Kolkata in 1905, three more factories were established – in Panihati, in Mumbai, and in Kanpur. Since inception, the company was very quality-conscious and produced various products of British Pharmacopoeia standard. Eminent Doctors with nationalistic feeling like Dr RG Kar, Dr NR Sarkar, Dr SP Sarbadhikari, Dr Amulya Charan Bose, etc. came forward and patronised the products. The company is a household name in especially in Bengal and its popular products are Hospitol, Naphthalene Balls, and Phenyl. The company is now a public sector undertaking of the government of India.
Rajendra Nath Mookerjee, who was awarded the honorific ‘Sir’, was a pioneering industrialist. He studied engineering for three years at present day Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur then located at Presidency College, Calcutta. His contribution to the industrial development of the country is enormous. Along with Sir Acquin Martin, he founded Martin & Co. and contributed to the success of Bengal Iron at Kulti. Then he joined GH Fairhurst in founding the iron and steel factory: The Indian Iron and Steel Company (IISCO) in Burnpur. His other contributions include the Palta water works and the Victoria Memorial.
He also pioneered the laying down and operations of Martin's Light Railways. On an almost equal footing in terms of industrial achievements is Sir Biren Mookerjee. Biren began his career with getting the chairmanship of the Steel Corporation of Bengal (SCOB), which set up the steel plants at Kulti and Burnpur. SCOB was later merged with IISCO. The World Bank’s loan for IISCO, which Sir Biren and other representatives managed to get for IISCO in 1953, was the first instance where it had advanced any loan to any industry in the private sector. Sir Biren was an imposing leader with a dynamic personality, galvanising a team at Burnpur to produce results.
The Birlas – Ghanshyam Das Birla was born on April 10, 1894 at Pilani village, in Rajputana, as a member of the Marwari Maheshwari community. He left Pilani for Kolkata, using his modest capital to establish a dealership in cotton. Birla inherited the family business and moved to further diversify them into other areas. Jute, cars, chemicals, cement and rayon were his major interests.
The Birlas are one of the biggest industrial families in India. Branches of the family are settled in Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. However, their roots lie in the City of Joy. Basant Kumar Birla, the youngest son of philanthropist Ghanshyam Das Birla, was born on February 4, 1921. By fifteen years of age, he was already actively associated with a large number of companies and eventually became the chairman of Kesoram Industries. In this role, he concentrated on the industries of cotton, viscose, polyester and nylon yarns, refractory, paper, shipping, tyrecord, transparent paper, spun pipe, etc. He later established Indo Ethiopian Textiles Share Company, for which the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, awarded him the medal of the Order of Menelik II, the highest Ethiopian award.
Krishna Kumar Birla was the second son of Ghanshyam Das Birla. He also served as a Member of the Rajya Sabha. Birla was one of the industrialists who supported economic reforms in India in 1991. Birla was the group chairman of the Zuari-Chambal group of companies with a turnover of over Rs.10,000 crores. CK Birla Group is a diversified conglomerate with interests spanning across industries such as cement, consumer electricals, precision bearings, heavy engineering products, paper, building products, automobiles, auto components, healthcare, education and ITES.
The Birlas are also into a lot of philanthropy. Among the institutions run by the Birlas in Kolkata are Modern High School for Girls, Calcutta Medical Research Institute, BM Birla Heart Research Centre and Birla Industrial and Technological Museum.
The Emami Group – The journey began way back in 1974, when the chartered accountants, Radhey Shyam Agarwal and Radhey Shyam Goenka set up Kemco Chemicals, an ayurvedic medicine and cosmetic manufacturing unit in Kolkata. In 1978, they acquired Himani Ltd, which had become sick, and started making their ayurvedic cosmetics there. 1984 saw the launch their flagship brand, Boroplus, first the antiseptic cream and later prickly heat powder.
Today, Boroplus is one of the largest-selling creams, not only in India but also in Russia, Ukraine and Nepal. In the 1990s, another flagship brand was launched, Himani Navratna Cool Hair Oil. Later Emami and Himani were merged and became Emami. Emami came to national prominence when it signed on Madhuri Dixit as a brand ambassador in 2002 for hair oil, sunscreen lotion, shampoo, fairness cream and talcum powder.
Today Emami is one of the leading cosmetics brands of India, with 40 lakh retailers selling 250 products, including Boroplus Antiseptic Cream, Zandu Balm, Fair and Handsome fairness cream and Navratna Cool Oil.
Rama Prasad Goenka was the founder and chairman emeritus of RP Goenka Group. He was the grandson of the first Indian to be appointed chairman of the Imperial Bank of India (now State Bank of India), in 1933. In 1950, the Goenkas acquire two British trading houses - Duncan Brothers and Octavius Steel. RPG Enterprises was established in 1979 after the businesses of RP’s father were split up after his death, with RP getting Phillips Carbon Black, Asian Cables, Agarpara Jute and Murphy India.
The 1980s saw further acquisitions by the RPG Group, starting with CEAT Tyres in 1981. It then went on to acquire KEC (1982), Searle India, now RPG Life Sciences (1983), Dunlop (1984), Gramophone Company of India Ltd, now Saregama India (1986), and finally, in 1989, a massive tranche consisting of CESC, Harrisons Malayalam, Spencer & Co. and ICIM. Because of these acquisitions, RP Goenka came to be known as the 'takeover king' in his heyday. By 2012, RPG Group was split up between the two sons of RP, Harsh and Sanjiv. The elder son, Harsh Vardhan Goenka got to keep the brand, RPG Enterprises, while Sanjiv Goenka grouped the companies in his kitty under the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group.
Sanjiv Goenka is the younger son of the country’s ‘takeover king’, the late Rama Prasad Goenka. He is the chairman of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, which was formed after RPG Group was split up between the two sons of RP. He has the more consumer-facing companies, including power company CESC Ltd, retailer Spencer's and music label Saregama (earlier HMV). The group has interests across diverse business sectors – power and natural resources, carbon black, IT and education, retail, media and entertainment, and Infrastructure. It has assets of over Rs 23,250 crore and employee strength of more than 50,000. CESC is the flagship company of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group.
The RP-Sanjiv Goenka group companies have a combined revenue of Rs 9,000 crore and an asset base of Rs 14,000 crore. Sanjiv Goenka’s taking over of Firstsource Solutions Limited diversified the group into the ITES field. In April 2001, he took over as the youngest-ever president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). He has a keen interest in higher education and has been chairman of the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, is a board member of the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata. He is also the honorary consul general of Canada in Kolkata.
Harshavardhan Neotia is the current chairman of the Ambuja Neotia Group. He was born and brought up in Kolkata. He attended La Martiniere Calcutta for Boys and graduated in Commerce from St. Xavier's College, Kolkata. He also holds a management degree (Owner President Management Program – OPM) from the coveted Harvard Business School.
He is the founder of one of the first joint sector companies in India, “Bengal Ambuja Housing Development Limited” in partnership with the government of West Bengal. The idea behind this joint sector venture was to promote social housing development in urban India. Under his guidance, Ambuja Realty Group has developed many properties across India.
Harshavardhana Neotia's maiden project, 'Udayan' was declared a ‘Model Housing Project’ by the union government. He is also the pioneer of modern Public–private partnership (PPP) housing system in Kolkata. He also serves as a member on ‘Board of Governors of IIM Calcutta. His company Ambuja Realty Group has developed many modern, plush and remarkable real estate projects in West Bengal including Udayan, The Condoville Kolkata, Neotia Vista and Ganga Kutir.
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv