By Drew McLachlan
One of the most esteemed members of Britain’s metal trading community, Lord Raj Kumar Bagri, who was the longest serving and first non-white chairperson of the London Metal Exchange (LME), died last Wednesday (26), aged 86, in London.
His fellow peer, Lord Swraj Paul, told Eastern Eye: “Lord Bagri was a very great contribution to the Indians who came here and became successful businessmen and made India proud.
“He was a pillar of Indian society. The (younger generation) has a lot to learn from his life and his contribution.”
“he was a pillar of indian society.”
Lord Bagri is survived by his wife Usha Maheshwary, whom he married in 1954, their son Apurv, who took over the running of his company Metdist and their daughter Amita, wife of the Indian industrialist CK Birla.
Lord Bagri was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1995 and a life peer two years later in the 1997 New Year’s honours list.
In 2002, the Copper Club presented him an Ankh Award, the highest symbol of recognition within the copper industry, for his lifelong contribution to his industry.
His son Apurv will receive the same award later this year.
Raj Kumar Bagri lived in London, after moving to the city in 1959 to set up a UK office for Calcutta-based company Metal Distributors.
He began his long and illustrious career at the age of 15 when he left school to become a clerk at Metal Distributors. He made a name for himself at 19 by convincing tin-smelters in Penang, Malaysia (then part of Malaya) to sell directly to the company, rather than through British-owned trading houses. His pitch was successful despite having contracted typhoid the night before.
His own firm, Metdist, was accepted as a partner by LME in 1970, becoming one of the first non-British companies to do so. The esteem he held amongst LME members would go on to define the later years of his career.
He spent the next decade representing Metdist in London, along with building his business interests in southeast Asia. He became a board member of LME in 1983 before becoming vice chairman in 1990 and president in 2003, a position he held for three years.
Lord Bagri’s tenure as chairperson, from 1993 to 2002, made him the longest-serving chairperson in LME’s history.
He ensured LME’s dominance in global metal trading by pushing for demutualisation in 2000, allowing it to become a shareholder-owned business. He also pushed for its first electronic trading platform in 2001, leading LME into the modern era.
Lord Bagri was also key in leading the LME through the 1996 Sumitomo copper crisis, when the global metals world was rocked by the actions of a rogue trader.
Nigel Dentoom, CEO of CCBI Metdist, said: “(Lord Bagri’s) influence, determination, and success in leading the exchange successfully as chairman are embodied in its history. Both the LME and the global physical markets will sadly mourn his passing, but his legacy will live on.”
As a philanthropist, he founded the Bagri Foundation, which since 1990 has provided assistance through education, relief-work, the advancement of health and the preservation of Asia’s cultural heritage.
He was also a founding trustee and patron of the Sangam Association, which was set up to minimise the hardships faced by immigrant women. Charity manager Daksha Chauhan-Keys said he “played a crucial role in shaping us as an organisation that we are today” and referred to him as a “true friend and guide to Sangam”.