“Corporate Governance should be done more through principles than rules” –Adi Godrej
The Godrej group shares its identity with few select others on the list of India’s oldest companies established before an independent India. The fascinating 123 years journey began in 1897 when Adeshir Godrej and his brother Pirojsha Burjorji Godrej started Godrej and Boyce. The Godrej group is an Indian conglomerate operating in sectors as diverse as consumer products, food products, retail convenience stores, real estate, industrial engineering, electrical appliances, furniture, security and agricultural products under its subsidiaries Godrej Consumer Products, Godrej Industries, Godrej Properties, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd., and Godrej Agrovet. The Godrej group is ably led by Adi Godrej, his brother, Nadir Godrej, and their cousin Jamshyd Godrej to greater heights. The conglomerate continues to be one of the oldest and most respected Indian family businesses.
When ‘Make in India’ was not accepted
The story begins with a young Ardeshir Godrej who gave up law to pursue a dream in starting a business. At the beginning of his career he decided to work in a company till he could get his business idea up and running. He borrowed some money from a friend of his father, to manufacture scalpels, forceps, scissors and pincers. When he showed his pieces to the owner of the company he worked for, the owner was quite impressed by the high quality of the products and was even ready to buy it. But let’s not forget the year was 1897. Adeshir requested the product be tagged ‘Made in India’, and that was the end of his business venture.
After a failed attempt with medical equipment, Adeshir Godrej bought a small shed in Lalbaugh, Mumbai, to manufacture locks called ‘Anchor’. The high-security locks gathered popularity in Colonial India, laying the foundation for the Godrej Group. In 1909, the company added and patented the new springless lock.
By 1902, it started to manufacture steel safes noticing the incidence of thefts rising. In 1944, the safe business got a major boost with the incident of the freighter SS Fort Stikine. When it exploded on the Bombay docks, the only thing which remained unharmed were the fireproof Godrej safes allowing every item including paper to be retrieved in perfect condition from them.
Business was growing when Adershir Godrej decided to enter the slippery business of soap making. He incorporated Godrej Soaps Limited in 1918. In 1920, the company launched the first ‘vegetarian soap – Chavi’ replacing animal fat that became a big hit with the vegetarian community in India. What followed were other soaps called No.2, No.1, Vatni that came around 1932 which had a tag line – Made in India, for Indians, by Indians. Much later the name Cinthol would be etched in history.
In 1923, Godrej made its first steel cupboard or almirah. The eponymous range of steel cupboards has stood the test of time, with continued demand to date.
From ‘Swadeshi’ to ‘Make In India’
Today, the USD 4.15 billion global conglomerate group has contributed largely to the economic growth of a self-reliant India. From manufacturing the first indigenous safe, to vegetarian soap, Godrej was lying the foundation to a new modern India with products that were manufactured in India, affordable and at par with the world’s best. Its growth continues to emanate from its factory floors. The group now led by the third and fourth generations of the Godrej family is constantly innovating products, entering into mergers and acquisitions, and investing in emerging markets in Africa and Asia. It employs 28,000 employees and has business operations in 60 countries.
Here is the company over the years –
- 1951: Secured an order to supply 900,000 Godrej Ballot Box for India’s first General Elections in 1952
- 1952: The introduction of Cinthol
- 1955: Godrej Rima manufactures India’s first indigenous typewriter to replace Remington.
- 1958: In collaboration with General Electric makes first Indian refrigerator.
- 1961: Godrej Makes Forklift Trucks in India
- 1971: Godrej Agrovet Limited begins as an Animal Feeds division of Godrej Soaps
- 1974: Acquires the Vegetable oils division in Wadala, Mumbai.
- 1988: Forays into the construction business with Godrej Properties Limited
- 1989: First Indian company to introduce PUF (polyurethane foam)
- 1991: Enters Food business
- 1994: Transelektra the well-known Good Knight mosquito mats and Hit brand acquired
- 1995: Transelektra forges an alliance with consumer goods company Sara Lee USA
- 1999: Transelektra renamed Godrej Sara Lee Limited and incorporated Godrej Infotech Ltd.
- 2001: Godrej Soaps renamed Godrej Industries Limited. Godrej Consumer Products established.
- 2002: Godrej Tea Limited set up
- 2003: Godrej Global Solutions Limited enters BPO solutions segment
- 2004: Entered services segment by providing customers professional pest management services through Godrej HiCare Limited
- 2006: Foods business merges with Godrej Tea and is renamed Godrej Beverages & Foods Limited
- 2007: Godrej Beverages & Foods Limited signs a JV with The Hershey Company of North America as Godrej Hershey Foods & Beverages Limited
- 2008: Logo relaunch
- 2010: Godrej launches GoJiyo a free, browser based 3D virtual world
- 2011: With the end of typewriter era, Godrej & Boyce shuts down its typewriter manufacturing factory
- 2014: Godrej kick-starts Masterbrand 2.0 – bigger & brighter; Launches FreeG; India’s first non-web based mobile browsing experience
(Timeline Data Source: Godrej Group Wikipedia)
In safe hands
The third generation of the Godrej family took the company to greater heights. The unrelenting efforts of Adi Godrej, Nadir Godrej, and Jamshyd Godrej have helped make Godrej a global entity. When Adi Godrej joined the business in 1963, after earning a degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, he had two lines of businesses – Godrej & Boyce (manufacturers of locks, safes, refrigerators, steel cupboards), and Godrej Soaps Ltd. He added numerous product lines over the years and forayed into global terrain during liberalization. Nadir and Jamshyd helped pioneer profitable mergers and acquisitions (like Keyline Brands, UK, and Cosmetica Nacional, Chile) and Joint Ventures (with Darling Group, in Africa and Canon Chemicals, Kenya).
Today the fourth generation has entered the business. Tanya Dubash, Nisaba Godrej, Pirojsha Godrej, Navroze Godrej, Burjis Godrej, Sohrab Godrej, Nyrika Holkar attend board meetings and some also hold key positions in the organisation.
Philanthropy and Parsi have known to go hand-in-hand. The Godrej Group has built schools, dispensaries and a residential complex for its employees.
25% of the shares of the Godrej holding company are held in three trusts – Pirojsha Godrej Foundation, the Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Foundation, and the Godrej Memorial Trust. These trusts undertake various initiatives in healthcare (Smile Train), education (Teach for India) and environmental sustainability (WWF, Save The Mangroves). It also funds the Godrej Memorial Hospital.
To the next Century
From Home Appliances to Consumer goods the Godrej brand is celebrated in India. It has touched millions of lives and continues to do so. With a strong foundation, the company will hand over the reins from generation to generation to continue a legacy.