Each of the four businessmen in Gita Piramal’s “Business Legends” – Kasturbhai Lalbhai, Ghanshyamdas Birla, Walchand Hirachand Doshi and J R D Tata – is legendary in his own way. However, Walchand Hirachand appealed to me in a special way. If Jamsetji Tata and Mahatma Gandhi epitomized systematic innovation then Walchand Hirachand epitomized non-systematic innovation. If Warren Buffett was paranoid about wide margin of safety then Walchand thrived on narrow margin of safety. Why do I call Walchand, the man behind several pioneering works in
Walchand was born on 23 November 1882 in
A turning point came when Walchand was twenty-one years old and frustrated with life. This is when he met Laxmanrao Phatak, a thirty-something ex-railway Brahmin clerk. Both shared a love for Marathi literature, theatre and movies. By the time the two met, Phatak had gained a thorough knowledge of the way the wheels of railway affairs revolved, what strings to pull, how to manipulate the allotment of funds and turn it to advantage. In 1903, Phatak and Walchand joined hands and bid for a tender to lay seven mile narrow gauge track near Barsi. Walchand convinced his father and uncle to put in Rs. 80,000 and a partnership registered in October that year was to last fourteen years and take both their careers to new heights.
Walchand entered shipping accidentally. Mr. Watson, a senior Crompton executive, told him over lunch in a train journey to
A series of surprises popped up as Loyalty commenced its first voyage from
Scindia decided to focus on cargo in Bombay-Rangoon sector, an area monopolized by BI. As expected, BI slashed its freight on rice from Rs. 18 per ton to Rs. 6. This tactic had worked for several of the 102 Indian shipping companies that went into liquidation since 1860 including Jamsetji Tata’s company. To fulfill cargo requirements Scindia started subsidiaries to trade rice and coal. Bill Gates of BI, Lord Inchcape offered Rs. 25 for every share which was traded for Rs. 6 on Bombay Stock Exchange to buy Scindia. Walchand went to meet Inchcape in
This is how Walchand describes himself, “I am a dreamer, oblivious to reality, creating friction where I should not, obstinate and opinionated, allowing no peace either to myself or others.” How many of us have an image of ourselves as rooted in reality as Walchand’s? And if we have how many of us have the guts to say it openly? Hats off to the daredevil!