The Lalbhais –A Historical Perspective
The Lalbhais can trace their descent from Seth Shantidas (c.1590-1659), who was a dominant figure in the business and civic life of the city. He enjoyed the patronage of the Moghul emperors to whom he was a trusted jeweler. Shantidas was amongst the prominent financers of his time as well. He played an influential role amongst the Jain community of his time, and it was because of his influence at the Moghul court that Shah Jehan confirmed the rights of the Jains over the ancient shrines of Shetrunjaya. His grandson, Khushalchand, (1680- 1748) too occupied a place of prominence in the business and social life of the city. He saved the city of Ahmedabad from the marauding Maratha army in 1725 by paying a ransom of Rs. 5 Lakh on behalf of the whole city. For this act the grateful “mahajans” promised in perpetuity, a small amount collected as town duties on goods entering the city to Khushalchand and his family, and the title of Nagarsheth was bestowed upon him.
The current surname, Lalbhai, is derived from Lalbhai Dalpatbhai the great great great grandson of Khushalchand. Lalbhai was born around the time when the first textile factory in the city went into production. The first manufacturing company of the Lalbhai family, Saraspur Manufacturing Company was established in 1897. It started with producing cotton yarn. During the intensifying Swadeshi movement the second company Raipur Mills was established in 1905. Due to untimely death Lalbhai Dalpatbhai the reins of his businesses were handed over to his young sons including a seventeen-year-old Kasturbhai Lalbhai. Kasturbhai started the first large scale textile mill under the name of Asoka Mills in 1920 with a capital of Rs.12 Lakh at a time when the largest mills in the region were built with not more than Rs. 5 Lakh. 1930-31 saw the resurgence of second Swadeshi movement coinciding with the great depression. While different entrepreneurs reacted to the situation differently Kasturbhai saw this as the decade of prosperity and growth and established the flagship Arvind Limited in 1931 with an authorized capital of Rs. 25.25 Lakh. Kasturbhai had also floated mills for families of his three sisters under the name of Aruna Mills in 1928 and Nutan Mills in 1931 and Ahmedabad New Cotton Mills in 1938.
With the expansion Kasturbhai came to occupy the position of the biggest textile magnate in the country. Few groups could claim to have made such great strides during one of the worst periods in India’s industrial history. After a continuously successful period of four decades in the pre-independence era, the group entered into other fields such as dyes, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, etc. The first diversification started in 1939 with Anil Starch Limited. Atul Products Limited was established in 1952 for manufacturing textile-related chemicals and dyestuff. Atul formed joint ventures with Ciba-Geigy called Cibatul, with American Cynamid called Cynamid of India and with ICI of UK called Atic Industries. As time progressed the JV partners separated amicably and these companies exist in India today as full representatives of these global giants.
With the retirement of Kasturbhai and his younger brother Narottambhai from active business, the role of the patriarch fell on the shoulders of Arvindbhai. He along with his brother Niranjanbhai and his cousins Ashokbhai, Ajaybhai, Chinubhai and Vijaysinhbhai looked into the running of the textile mills, Siddharthbhai headed Atul Products, and Shrenikbhai, Anil starch. The group took over a sick company called Ahmedabad Laxmi Cotton Mills Co. Ltd. and merged with Arvind Limited and the unit was renamed as Ankur Textiles. The unit currently under Arvind Products Limited is today the country’s largest organized player in the voiles market. The group also invested in Anup Engineering Limited engaged in fabrication and set up Amol Dicalite in collaboration with General Refractories Limited, U.S.A for manufacturing filter aids and perlite products. With the third generation of Lalbhais retiring from business Sanjay, Sunil and Samveg Lalbhai, the fourth generation of Lalbhais, now oversee all the businesses.
Apart from the field of business the Lalbhais over generations have contributed to education, social and religious causes. Their contribution to education starting from Gujarat Vernacular Society in late 1800’s to the formation of Ahmedabad Education Society, (1936), which governs 11 leading colleges and 6 schools, and 4 other educational programs. Kasturbhai Lalbhai played a key role in establishing the Physical Research Laboratory (1948), ATIRA (1947) and the famed IIM Ahmedabad (1961). The Lalbhai family has been closely associated with the Jain trust called Anandji Kalyanji Trust, which is involved in propagating and maintaining Jain temples in western India. Shri Kasturbhai Lalbhai headed the trust for 50 years, followed by Shrenik Lalbhai for 30 years, and now, Samveg Lalbhai heads the trust. Sanjay Lalbhai heads Sharda Trust – Arvind’s CSR vehicle. Arvind is committed to upgrading the standard of municipal schools in Ahmedabad and work towards building a pool of bright employable youth.