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A Peep Into The Godrej Philosophy Of Growth

Pradeep Puri  |  BSCAL 

The Godrej story began not in Bombay, but in distant Zanzibar, in 1894, where young Ardeshir Burjorji Godrej, fresh from law studies in Bombay, had gone to argue a client's case on behalf of a well-known firm of solicitors. Refusing to twist the truth in his clients favour, Ardeshir lost the case, damaging his career as a lawyer beyond repair.

Returning to Bombay to a briefless future, he met Gandhiji, only to be deeply influenced by his zeal for winning freedom for the country. However, the two differed on the methods of achieving it. While Gandhiji was waging a political battle, Ardeshir believed firmly that unless India became economically self-reliant, freedom would remain a distant dream.

Swadeshi, in its truest and widest sense, could be the biggest single contributory factor towards the desired economic resurgence of the country and its political freedom. As enunciated by Ardeshir, this concept did not mean merely boycotting British goods and buying Indian goods. It propagated the philosophy that every country had to choose its technology, production, consumption habits and marketing techniques depending on its resources and based on its genius. Gandhiji himself became a willing adherent to this concept and was gracious enough to admit to Ardeshir that his eyes opened too late.

Ardeshir made a small beginning as an entrepreneur by hiring a tiny shed at Lalbaug for Rs 20 a month and started manufacturing locks on May 7, 1897. He could have done little else, given the fact that he had a capital of only a few thousand rupees and industrialisation was just picking up. From security engineering to soaps to typewriters to white goods, Godrej became a household name in India notching up a majority market share.

Whereas in volume I, Karanjia narrates the story of the struggle, determination and even disappointments of the founding fathers of the company, in volume II, he deals with a much more complex issue the philosophy of growth. He deals with the economic issues of divisionalisation and diversification of the company and the efforts made by the second and third generations Godrejs in taking the business to new areas.

Karanjia introduces the reader to the innovative management practices adopted by the inheritors of the Godrej name who are doing more, much more, than just living up to it.

The second and third generations, while adhering to the path laid down by the pioneering founders, have struck out on the paths of their own choice to meet the emerging global challenges. More than them growing with the enterprise, the enterprise has grown with them. They aren't basking in the reflected glory. The glory is theirs, too, to share, for adding lustre to the name.

As in the first volume, the second one gives the reader a good insight into the mindset of the builders of the Godrej name.

One not only learns of the pains and pleasures that they went through in their business, but also in their personal lives. The death of Ardeshirs teen-aged wife, Bachubai, who jumped off Rajabai Tower to escape a ruffian, and the stabbing of three members of the family following an inter-union rivalry, shows how the family put all these tragedies behind them to carry on with their business.

In recent years, Godrej has been struggling to cope with foreign competition in the domestic consumer goods sector. It made an unsuccessful attempt to team up with Proctor and Gamble to manage its soaps and detergents brands.

It is only recently that Godrej has been able to get the better of the situation with its refrigerators, revamped with GE technology, regaining market share. These details are all mentioned but somewhat in passing. This is perhaps expected of what is effectively an official history of the business house.

First Published: Wed, February 18 1998. 00:00 IST