Ghanshyam Das Birla was the Founder of Birla Brothers Limited, a leading producer of tea, textiles, cement, chemicals, rayon, steel tubes, among others. He laid the foundation for what later became a billion-dollar empire. A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, he was advised by him on several matters. Birla founded several educational institutions, including the prestigious Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) in his hometown, Pilani, which is now one of the leading engineering institutions in India. He was the Founder of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, in 1957.
Here are a few interesting facts about him:
- He was very active in politics and dedicated a lot of his time and energy to Gandhi's Khadi movement.
- He was a nationalist businessman who started from scratch and built a huge business empire in less than 20 years
- When his wife Maheshwari Devi died, he left his children under the care of his joint family. When his children became old enough, they were sent to learn business under the guidance of other merchants of his community. This taught them how to earn money and provided them with a livelihood. It was in this way that they were exposed to the world of business.
- In 1926, he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly of British India.
- Gandhi spent his final days in Birla’s home in New Delhi, having lived there for the last four months of his life.
- During the Quit India Movement in 1942 he developed the idea of starting a commercial bank. Thus was born The United Commercial Bank Limited. Now known as UCO bank, it is one of the oldest commercial banks of India.
- His contact with Englishmen began during the British rule when he was just 16 years. It was then that he started an independent business as a broker. The Englishmen were his clients.
- He was also made to go underground for three months after being associated with the famed Rodda-Cartridge affair.
- In the 1940s he established Hindustan Motors.
- While he did business with the English, he was often humiliated since he wasn’t allowed to use the lift or their benches while waiting. These events in his life triggered his political interest.
- He published the letters between himself and Mahatma Gandhi in four volumes titled Bapu: A Unique Association.
- With the money from the jute factory in Kolkata, GD Birla built the Birla mansion which is known as the Birla Haveli.
At a time when it was unimaginable to even think owing a thriving business, this self- made man built and expanded his businesses in leaps and bounds. To this day his legacy continues to dominate the Indian business world.
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