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India at 75: Munjals to Mahindras - 20 visionary industrialists of India

In the decades since Independence, the enterprises steered by these business leaders have morphed into giants. Here's a look at 20 visionary industrialists of India

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India's business leaders | Baba Kalyani | Bharat Forge

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Brijmohan Munjal
Brijmohan Munjal

1. Baba N Kalyani: Forging a future

Baba Neelkanth Kalyani steered into international markets at a time when Indian manufacturing was yet to be recognised. In the past five decades, he has transformed into one of the world’s largest forging companies with a manufacturing footprint across Germany, Sweden, France and North America, and a presence in a wide range of sectors: auto, defence, aerospace, oil and gas, electric mobility, railways, renewable energy.

Baba Kalyani

Baba Kalyani

When he joined the business 50 years ago, he realised the company would have to compete based on technology, and decided to move away from the conventional hammer to the modern press technology. He invested in creating scale far beyond what a company of this size could imagine. Critics who called it the “white elephant” were soon silenced.

Also read: India at 75: From Ambanis to Bajaj - 20 doyens who shaped India's business

2. Raunaq Singh and Onkar Kanwar: On a roll

The spirit of entrepreneurship that consumed India in the days following Independence spawned many entrepreneurs. Raunaq Singh, founder and chairman of Raunaq Group of companies, which included Apollo Tyres, was one. The beginning was modest — with manufacturing of steel pipes in Kolkata. But he soon diversified: into engineering services, international trade and financial services.

Raunak Singh and Onkar Singh

Raunak Singh and Onkar Singh

In 1974, Singh acquired the licence to operate a tyre company in Kerala, and Apollo Tyres was registered. It took off in earnest once Onkar Singh Kanwar, Raunaq Singh’s eldest son, took charge. Today, it is one of the country’s most successful tyre manufacturing companies with factories across India and Europe. Kanwar, now chairman and MD of Apollo Tyres, has been at the helm since its inception — turning it from a single-unit manufacturing firm to a multinational enterprise with six plants worldwide.

3. Ekta Kapoor: ALT Ekta

Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, television soaps that started in the year 2000 and ran for eight years, are coming back this year. In the normal course, this would not be worth mentioning in a 75 Years of Independence special. Except that the two shows reshaped Indian television and played a hand in making Ekta Kapoor of India’s undisputed drama queen, a moniker that has only become more apt with each passing year. Kapoor celebrated the return of the two soaps in Instagram posts using words to the effect that this brings back old memories. Those memories must feel really old, given how much Indian television, Balaji, and Ekta Kapoor have changed in the interim.

Read more: India at 75: Tatas to Naik, Murthy - 25 towering business leaders of India

Balaji Telefilms' shareholders reject Ekta, Shobha Kapoor remuneration deal

Ekta Kapoor

Accused of producing anti-feminism shows (such as the two mentioned above), Balaji ventured into film production and churned out films (such as Dirty Picture and Udta Punjab) that are anything but. She formed a subsidiary, ALTBalaji (ALT ostensibly is short for alternative) to get into B2C content on digital. In 2019, Kapoor, who is single, announced the birth of her baby boy, Ravie, through surrogacy. Anti-feminist, did you say?

4. Brij Mohan Khaitan: Batteries to brews

From a supplier of packaging materials and fertilisers to partner of Williamson Magor & Company (WMG), one of India’s top managing agency firms, Brij Mohan Khaitan’s story reflects a wave of Indianisation sweeping through post-Independence India. In 1961, when Bishnauth, a part of WMG, was being raided by a Marwari businessman, Khaitan stepped in as a white knight. He not only made it to the board of directors, assumed the role of managing director and later, chairman, but also went on to become the world’s largest bulk tea producer. But what put him in the national limelight was the acquisition of Union Carbide (now Eveready Industries India) in 1993.

brij mohan khaitan

Brij Mohan Khaitan

At $96.5 million, it was the biggest corporate takeover of its time, and Khaitan pipped the Wadias of Bombay Dyeing to it. By the 1990s, the group comprised a long list of companies with diverse business interests. But between early and mid-2000, the focus narrowed down to the crown jewels — Eveready, the country’s largest dry cell battery maker, and McLeod Russel, the largest bulk tea producer. Khaitan died in 2019. In Eveready, the group now has a small stake, but it retains its grip on tea, which is one of the world’s largest.

5. Vijay Kirloskar: Electric force

The beginnings go way back in time, to decades before Independence. To 1888, to be precise, when the Kirloskar group started as a bicycle repair shop from where it transitioned into one of India’s largest motor companies and business houses. In 1940, the manufactured India’s first vertical diesel engine, following up with the country’s first AC induction motor in 1942. The Kirloskar Electric Company, headed by Vijay R Kirloskar today, too, was established pre-Independence, in 1946 —and it paved the way for an indigenous electrical manufacturing industry. It produced India’s first transformer in 1953, and 20 years later, started overseas operations.

Vijay Kirloskar

Vijay Kirloskar

Vijay Kirloskar came to head the company in 1994 as chairman and MD, and has since driven international collaborations. Kirloskar Electric now caters to core sectors like power generation, transmission and distribution, transportation, renewable energy, sugar, steel, cement, and so on.

Also read: India at 75: Gupta to Mallya - 6 leaders who began well but lost their way

6. F C Kohli & Subramaniam Ramadorai: The IT visionary

Can one even begin to talk about India’s IT services sector without doffing one’s hat to Faqir Chand Kohli, founder and first CEO of (TCS) — the country’s largest and the world’s second-largest IT services player? Kohli was the CEO of TCS for three decades, before he stepped down in 1996. He firmly believed that IT was a key instrument for nation-building.

F C Kohli & Subramaniam Ramadorai

F C Kohli & Subramaniam Ramadorai

He passed on the baton to an equally competent colleague, S Ramadorai, who took the company to new heights but never lost sight of Kohli’s vision: that TCS would contribute to nation-building. Ramadorai, who had joined TCS in 1969 as junior engineer, set up its US global operations in 1979. When he became CEO in 1996, the company had a revenue of $155 million and a headcount of 6,000. By the time he retired, in 2009, TCS was a $6-billion giant with over 200,000 employees.

7. Uday Kotak: Sound moves

From an aspiring cricketer to India’s wealthiest banker, Uday Kotak’s has been a remarkable journey. He started out with a bill discounting business, moved to car financing, and then through the ’90s, as India’s financial sector opened up, rode the waves of change. He went into partnership with two major global players — Goldman Sachs and Ford Motor Company — and as the new millennium dawned, got the coveted banking licence.

Uday Kotak, Executive Vice Chairman & MD,  Kotak Mahindra Bank. (Photo: Kamlesh Pednekar)

. (Photo: Kamlesh Pednekar)

Today, Kotak Mahindra is one of India’s most valuable banks and also offers services such as investment banking, insurance and brokerage. Kotak was also instrumental in the resolution of one of India’s biggest financial services meltdowns, involving Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services, which went belly up in 2018.

Disclosure: Entities controlled by the Kotak family have a significant holding in Business Standard Pvt Ltd

8. V Krishnamurthy: Man who watched over PSUs

Venkataraman Krishnamurthy started his career as an airfield technician during World War II. He would later shape India’s public sector undertakings, creating the manufacturing base upon which the private sector flourished. From a young general manager at the Bharat Heavy Electricals plant in Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) in 1967, he’d rise to become BHEL’s CEO, restructuring and transforming the flailing public sector behemoth.

Also read: India at 75: Nooyi to Pichai - 4 Indians who made it big on global stage

V Krishnamurthy

V Krishnamurthy. Illustration: Ajay Mohanty

As founder chairman of Maruti Udyog Ltd (MUL), he is known for introducing the iconic Maruti 800 and later formalising the tie up with Suzuki Motor Corp. And when he took charge of SAIL in 1985, he made it better than private steel manufacturers. From Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai to Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, the Padma Vibhushan awardee worked with all. His death, at age 97 on June 26 this year, truly spelt the end of an era.

9. Verghese Kurien: White knight

If India is the world’s largest milk producer, the bulk of the credit goes to Verghese Kurien. The brain behind India’s most celebrated experiment in social and economic cooperation, he helped establish (Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union); and the National Dairy Development Board (which sells milk and milk products under the Mother Dairy brand and edible oils under the Dhara brand); and connected farmers directly to consumers, removing the middlemen.

Verghese Kurien

Verghese Kurien

The ‘Milkman of India’ and father of the 1970s White Revolution, Kurien pioneered the Anand model of dairy cooperatives and replicated it countrywide via Operation Flood. Since 1970, Operation Flood has built the foundation for milk production, processing and marketing of milk across the country through a network of village cooperatives. In his memoirs, I too had a Dream, Kurien famously wrote: “One cannot help but wonder what India would be today if we had a thousand Dr Kuriens with this type of vision and with similar commitment, dedication and national spirit.” Just wonder.

10. Vikram Lal and Siddhartha Lal: Modern rides classic

The father-son engineer duo of Vikram and has steered the family business, Eicher Motors, for years now, and each time in a new direction. Vikram Lal (now retired) joined the business in 1966, taking over from his father, Man Mohan Lal, under whom the company sold imported tractors (it was founded as a tractor company called Goodearth in 1948 and had later partnered with German tractor firm, Eicher).

Siddharth Lal

Siddharth Lal

If the second generation brought manufacturing of light commercial vehicles into the family business, with Siddhartha joining, bet big on Enfield motorcycles. Eicher had acquired Enfield India in 1994 and renamed it Royal Enfield. After Siddhartha took over from his father, the company began combining the classic with the modern and has since introduced a range of middleweight motorcycles than just a couple of variants of the Bullet.

From having been reduced to a niche in India at one time, the Royal Enfield range is now a sought-after lifestyle choice for youngsters as well as serious bikers, giving lighter and cheaper bikes a run for their money. It has also established itself as a formidable brand in the middle-weight segment in various mature auto markets.

11. Kasturbhai Lalbhai: Global swadeshi

India’s largest denim manufacturer, (formerly Arvind Mills), retails its own brands — Flying Machine, Newport and Excalibur — and licensed international ones — Arrow, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein. But not many know that its co-founder, Kasturbhai Lalbhai, had in the 1940s decided to shun western clothing and adopt khadi.

Kasturbhai Lalbhai

Kasturbhai Lalbhai

Lalbhai co-founded Arvind Mills in the spirit of Swadeshi — creating a capacity to compete with the world’s finest textile mills. Soon, he was exporting butta voiles to Switzerland and the UK. The firm would also establish India’s first dye and chemical plant (Atul Products) to reduce the dependence on imports.

Flying Machine, India’s first denim apparel brand, was launched in 1980 for the aspirational youth and as the economy opened up, Arvind shifted its focus from domestic to international markets.

Lalbhai also played a crucial role in institution-building: he was co-founder of the Ahmedabad Education Society, which initiated Ahmedabad University, and donated land for IIM Ahmedabad.

12. Arvind Mafatlal: Journey through acquisition

Born in 1873, Mafatlal Gagalbhai, founder of Mafatlal group, made a living by selling textile products door to door. His big break came only at the age of 31, when, along with a friend, an Englishman, he took over the management of Shorrock Mill in Ahmedabad. Of the initial equity capital of Rs 3.25 lakh, Mafatlal picked up 30 shares of Rs 1,000 each while his father took another 30. The rest, as they say, is history as Mafatlal expanded in Gujarat by acquiring textile mills in the region.

In 1944, one of the founder’s sons, Navinchandra Mafatlal, took over the family business. After almost a decade, the founder’s grandson Arvind Mafatlal took charge of the group companies and started diversifying into multiple industries like chemicals, plastics, finance, engineering — and also information technology. Mafatlal also set up business partnerships and joint ventures with global giants like Shell, Hoechst, and Monsanto. In 1990, Arvind’s son Hrishikesh Mafatlal took over the reins of the company and consolidated the group’s position.

However, unlike other post-liberalisation business groups like Ambani and Adani, the Mafatlal group remained a laggard in terms of market capitalisation and revenues.

13. Keshub Mahindra and Anand Mahindra: Revved up

Year 1947 was special for the Mahindra Group, when the first batch of Jeeps, Willys, flagged off its journey. What started in 1945 as Mahindra & Muhammad (by brothers K C and JC Mahindra and Malik Ghulam Muhammad) became Mahindra & Mahindra post-Independence. The company truly gained momentum when KC Mahindra’s son, Wharton-graduate Keshub Mahindra, joined the board in 1948 and became chairman in 1963. He was a big-picture man, who was determined not to let speed breakers like the Licence Raj interrupt his entrepreneurial journey.

Keshub Mahindra and Anand Mahindra

Keshub Mahindra and Anand Mahindra


His nephew, Anand G Mahindra (JC Mahindra’s grandson), has diversified the group further since taking over as chairman. The list of areas that the Mahindra Group today operates in is long: automobiles, aerospace, agribusiness, construction equipment, defence, energy, finance and insurance, IT, leisure, hospitality, logistics, real estate, retail…. Innovation and jugaad — both get a big thumbs-up from Anand Mahindra, on Twitter too.

14. Mammen Mappillai: Forcing the pace

A share of can send you back by Rs 80,200 (as of July 21 on the BSE). It is India’s most expensive stock with its m-cap at Rs 34,004 crore. has an enviable legacy — it pioneered the manufacturing of nylon tyres in India, the most common variety in use before radial tyres became popular in the early 1970s.

K M Mammen Mappillai

K M Mammen Mappillai

The man behind this success story was K M Mammen Mappillai. He built the company in 1946 in a shed in Chennai. It then manufactured toy balloons without machines. Brand building came through its association with cricket and car rallies, and the firm sponsored cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara.

When the Maruti 800 was launched in 1983, the brand rode on tyres. In 1967, it became the first Indian company to export tyres to the US. MRF is owned by the same Syrian Christian family that owns Malayala Manorama, one of the largest circulated newspapers in the world.

15. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: Biotech queen

Born to a middle-income Gujarati family in Bengaluru in March 1953, wanted to be a doctor. When she couldn’t secure a scholarship to study medicine, she took her father’s advice, turned her attention to fermentation science and went off to Australia to get trained as a brewmaster — a “man’s world” where she was seen as a misfit.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Biocon

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

An encounter with the founder of Ireland’s Biochemicals turned her attention to enzymes. And in 1978, she started from a leased garage in Bengaluru with an initial investment of Rs 10,000. The journey started with an enzyme called papain. has since grown to become a name to reckon with in the biotechnology space. A self-made billionaire, Mazumdar-Shaw is a risk-taker and continues to invest in the R&D of biologic drugs that hold the key to the future of healthcare.

16. Pallonji Mistry: Construction pioneer & more

Pallonji Mistry, who died in June this year, was called the Phantom of Bombay House for his powerful yet silent presence in the building that houses the Tata Group’s headquarters in Mumbai. The Mistry family is the single largest shareholder in Tata Sons, the group’s all-powerful holding company, outside of Tata Trusts. Pallonji joined it as a director in 1980. But, it is believed, he never interfered in the management.

Pallonji Mistry

Illustration: Binay Sinha

Outside of Bombay House, the Mistry family was a looming presence on Mumbai’s corporate skyline and beyond, since Pallonji had taken the family’s construction business international as early as the 1970s, constructing landmark buildings in West Asia including a palace in Muscat for the Sultan of Oman.

The veil of quietness was blown away in 2016 when Pallonji’s son Cyrus, who had become the chairman of Tata Sons, had a bitter falling out with his predecessor, Ratan Tata, leading to a prolonged battle in the media and law courts. It did not end well for the Mistrys.

Pallonji had divided his shares in Tata Sons and his business equally between his sons, Shapoor and Cyrus.

17. Sunil Mittal: At the forefront

He can easily be called the telecom czar of India. From leading mobile telephony in the mid-1990s to being a weighty industry voice for decades, Sunil Mittal, 64, has stood the test of time. Born in Ludhiana, he started dabbling in small business when he was not even 20. Then came his tryst with telecom in 1990 when he set up Bharti Telecom Ltd.

Bharti Airtel, Sunil Mittal

Sunil Mittal

Mobile telephony was still a few years away and his company dealt with fax machines and push-button phones. The founder of Bharti Enterprises, straddling a range of businesses from telecom to insurance, payments bank to real estate, is counted among the richest people in India with a networth of over $14.8 billion, according to Forbes.

Son of a Congress politician (Sat Paul Mittal), has stayed away from the heat and dust of politics. But he has had to face the heat of intense competition, especially when Reliance Jio hit the ground running a few years ago. Bharti Group has sure lost the top position in subscriber numbers to Jio but knows how to remain in the forefront. He has already sounded the bugle by stating that the Bharti group would be at the forefront in bringing 5G connectivity.

18. Gujarmal Modi: It started with sugar

Modi Sugar Mills. Modi soap factory. Modi tin factory. Modi Oil Mills. Modi Rubber. Modi schools and colleges…. This Marwari from Mahendragarh, Haryana, had a giant footprint. And a steely spine. The story goes, when Gujarmal Modi outbid an Englishman at an auction in India during British rule in 1926, the frustrated Brit retaliated by calling him, “You dirty Indian”. Furious, Modi beat him up.

Gujarmal Modi

Gujarmal Modi

Industrialist, philanthropist, patriot, such was Modi’s influence that a city was named after him: Modinagar. It was for decades a vibrant industrial hub. Modi had started out with Rs 400 in his pocket in 1932. By the time of his death in 1976, he’d built one of India’s biggest business empires, with assets worth Rs 900 crore.

But he died without a will and as with many business families, it triggered a public war for his fortunes. By the time the family arrived at a compromise in 1989, Modinagar was on a decline.

19. Brijmohan Lall Munjal and Om Prakash Munjal: Heroes of the wheel

They built the world’s largest bicycle company. And it all started as a small bicycle spare-parts business in Amritsar after Partition dislodged the Munjal family from what was their home in Kamalia, now in Pakistan. The venture didn’t take off, so the family shifted base to Ludhiana, now the industrial hub of Punjab. And so began Hero Cycles’ journey. Ten years on, by 1966, the Munjal brothers — Brijmohan Lall and Om Prakash — were churning out 100,000 bicycles a year. Then 500,000. Then over 2.2 million. In 30 years, Hero Cycles had pedalled its way to the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer.

Brijmohan Lall Munjal and Om Prakash Munjal

Brijmohan Lall Munjal and Om Prakash Munjal

The cycles were being sold in some 90 countries. The brothers were unstoppable — even when a strike hit the company. Om Prakash Munjal simply rolled up his sleeves and got down to making bicycles as the workers watched. The Hero Group expanded to motorbikes, auto components and so on, now also under Hero Motors. When the Japanese Honda came along, Hero Honda was born. When it moved away, Hero MotoCorp came into being. The Munjal brothers have passed away, but what a revolution they started.

20. N R Narayana Murthy: Putting values into business

is known as the “father of the Indian IT sector”. He founded Infosys in 1981, which became the first IT company from India to be listed on NASDAQ. From a capital of $250, the firm has grown to become a $16.31-billion (FY22 revenues) company with a market capitalisation of approximately $104.71 billion.

N R Narayana Murthy

N R Narayana Murthy

Murthy conceptualised, articulated, and implemented the Global Delivery Model (GDM), which has become the backbone of the Indian software industry. The model is based on principles of collaborative distributed software development and has resulted in the delivery of superior-quality software to global customers on time and within budget. Murthy also introduced the concept of a 24-hour workday.

Under his leadership, Infosys became the leader in innovation — in technical, managerial and leadership training, software technology, productivity, customer focus, and physical and technological infrastructure.

He has received the Legion d’honneur from France, CBE from Britain, and Padma Vibhushan from India. The Economist ranked him among the 10 most admi­red global business leaders in 2005.


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First Published: Thu, August 11 2022. 18:00 IST


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