THEIR London house in St James’s is worth £390 million – the third most expensive private home in the world. Last year, their total wealth rose from £19 billion to £22bn – the increase alone equivalent to four times the annual value of the UK fishing industry.
Of course, when you talk about the Hinduja family, it’s impossible not to mention their wealth, though what might really be worth knowing is how they acquired it.
The former Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph foreign correspondent, Dean Nelson has recently written a book on the subject. The answer, he claims, lies in exploring what he terms the “Indian art of problem solving”.
To illustrate his point, Nelson recounts the tale of how the brothers went to the aid of the Shah of Iran in the early 1970s when the country faced a serious crisis in its food economy that threatened social unrest. The Shah called in the Hindujas rather than home-grown officials “because they had acquired a reputation for getting difficult things done, and finding solutions where others scratched their heads.”
To back this up, Nelson quotes a remark by Goppichand Hinduja that a true entrepreneur will not stop until he finds “some ways and means” to solve a problem: “He will find some window – or find a way to fix the door.”
Back in Iran, the economy was booming due to rising oil prices, but the rocketing price of some food staples threatened stability, so the Shah asked brothers Gopichand and Srichand if they knew of a way to fill “each and every town and city of Iran with potatoes and onions”.
“Of course we do,” they replied, or words to that effect. Here, says Nelson, is where the brothers showed their entrepreneurial steel, since “the Hindujas had given their word” and “it had to be honoured, whatever it took”.
In the event, fortune favoured the brave. The Hindujas combed the international press, discovered a glut of the vegetables in the Indian state of Punjab and bought the lot. Now the task became political, because in order to reach Iran, their convoy of 1,400 trucks had to go through Pakistan, which had banned Indian lorries from its roads.
The forces of diplomacy were unleashed. Pakistan prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto finally agreed to a one-off convoy of lorries – though with the somewhat sticky condition that the drivers had to be “non-Indians”.
Insurmountable for some, not so for the Hindujas. “Many of the drivers were flown in from Seoul in South Korea and in just three weeks, they had assembled an army of truckers”, writes Nelson, that transported the huge shipment 1,200 kilometres to Zahedan in Iran, and thence to local markets. Prices stabilised, political crisis averted.
As globally diverse and technologically cutting-edge as the Hindujas’ business empire has become, Nelson suggests that at its core can be found the influence of ‘jugaad’. This Hindi word can have different meanings, but in this case implies a mixture of pragmatism, creativity, determination and thinking out of the box. “The practitioner of jugaadism,” Nelson says, “works around the problem, doesn’t take no for an answer and draws on willpower and lateral thinking to solve or bypass it.”
Fast-forward to the present and the Hinduja conglomerate has become one of the largest diversified groups in the world. It spans every continent, employs over 125,000 people and has offices in key international cities and all the major centres in India. Headquartered in London, it is run by four second-generation brothers – Srichand (the group’s chairman), Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok. Third and fourth generation members of the family also have key roles in the business.
The Hinduja family has always adapted to free-market reforms, moving quickly to embrace new markets and opportunities. As a result, the Hinduja Group has positioned itself across both old economy sectors (banking, finance, transport and oil), as well as new (technology, media and telecom). Today it has a presence across numerous industries including foundries, trading, motor vehicles, banking, call centres, power, media, real estate, surgical healthcare solutions and more.
When a huge business is spread around the globe, run by three generations of family members and characterised by extreme levels of diversification, you might expect some of the biggest challenges to be around cohesion. However, those who know the Hindujas say there is barely ever a crack in the controlling family edifice and that, as the latest valuation of their wealth might suggest, they run things with military precision.
In fact the company is divided into ‘verticals’, each overseen by a family member. As one commentator put it: “Today, the Hindujas have become the quintessential, multi-generational business family with the second and third generations taking care of various interests.”
The structure of responsibility, loosely speaking, is as follows: Ashok Hinduja, born in 1950, and based in Mumbai, looks after the group’s Indian operations. Prakash Hinduja, born in 1945 and based in Geneva, chairs the family’s European Group of Companies. Srichand, born in 1935 and based in London, is the chairman of Hinduja Group of Companies, Hinduja Bank of Switzerland and Hinduja Foundations. Gopichand, born in 1940 and based in London, co-chairs the Hinduja Group of Companies and chairs Hinduja Automotive Ltd, UK.
Explaining how the third generation of sons operates, Gopichand says: “Each member of the younger generation has been given one vertical. The policy of the group is ‘everything belongs to everyone and nothing belongs to anyone’. The third generation has turned out more intelligent, smarter and more capable than any of us.”
Sanjay, for example, is chairman of Gulf Oil International and also of Gulf Oil Lubricants India. Dheeraj is chairman of Ashok Leyland, which manufactures cars and buses in India. Ajay is a director of Amas Bank (Switzerland), Hinduja Bank (Switzerland) and IndusInd International Holdings. Ramkrishan is chairman of Hinduja Global Solutions.
One of those third-generation sons, who preferred on grounds of modesty not to be singled out for special mention, said: “Family unity has to be paramount… we know that many (other families) are not united but there is strength in unity. That is the core philosophy that the elders always explained to us.
“The second generation has pushed all of us (in the third generation) to take on the chairmanships of various companies. They themselves have not taken those roles. So that’s the level of trust they have placed in us.”
He added: “Our mentors have been our four fathers and uncles with their different skills. We have learnt from them and are handling different businesses today. We are operating in different sectors but ultimately everyone is together. Everything belongs to everyone, so there is no differentiation in that respect.”
The saga of the Hinduja Group started, appropriately enough, in Sind (in modern Pakistan), known as the ‘cradle of the Indus Valley Civilisation’. It was here that Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja, a budding teenage entrepreneur from the fabled town of Shikarpur, realised the excitement of “spotting opportunities, and seizing them wherever they surfaced”.
In 1914, he travelled to Bombay (now Mumbai) and then to parts of what is now Iran, setting himself up in business as a commodities trader, importing rugs, dates and saffron and exporting cloth, tea and spices.
The business went truly international in 1919 when an office was set up in Iran (the first outside India). Business boomed. Over time, Parmanand diversified into merchant banking and by the 50s and 60s, all four of his sons had roles in the family firm whose global outlook continued from its headquarters in Iran. In 1978, the Hinduja Bank was set up in Switzerland. However, a year later, when the Shah of Iran was forced into exile and the cleric Ayatollah Khomeini swept into power, the Hindujas moved their base to London.
In 1984, they acquired Gulf Oil International Ltd and in 1987 took over Land Rover Leyland International Holdings (UK) from Britain’s Rover Group. In 1993, the company established Ashok Leyland Information Technology and in the same year launched IndusInd Bank and cable television with Indusind Media and Communications Ltd in 1995.
Of the numerous companies in the conglomerate, Ashok Leyland is among the best known, being not only the second-biggest maker of commercial vehicles in India but also the world’s fourth-largest manufacturer of buses. The firm, which is headquartered in India, has a presence in over 50 countries.
Since 2016, Ashok Leyland has been increasingly setting its sights on the electric/hybrid vehicles market, having launched India’s first electric bus in that year. The company is also the biggest supplier of logistics vehicles to the Indian Army. It has supplied over 60,000 of its Stallion vehicles which form the army’s logistics backbone.
Gulf Oil Corporation Ltd is another flagship business. One of its operating divisions, Gulf Oil International, is one of the world’s largest petroleum product traders, with a major facility in China and expansion into the Middle East, Africa and the Asia Pacific region.
As well as having been the founder of the family firm, Parmanand Hinduja, who died in 1971, gives his name to the PD Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Mumbai, which was set up in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. So far, it has treated over 1.5 million outpatients, performed more than a million surgeries and 7.5 million lab investigations. Its lab is the first hospital laboratory to be accredited by the College of American Pathologists.
The Hinduja family’s annual Diwali party is one of the key fixtures in London’s social calendar. Leading British political and business leaders are regulars at the party, which is hosted at the family’s residence in Pall Mall.
The brothers are devout Hindus, vegetarians and teetotallers. As well as inculcating the family concept into their business enterprises, the Hindujas encourage every member of the group to practice the Vedic principles of work: “Service with devotion” and “willingness to see fulfilment of one’s self-interest in the active promotion of the interest of the collective”.
Their over-arching motto, as espoused by Parmanand, is “My dharma (duty) is to work, so that I can give.”