'Guj CM has really impressed me'
Udit Prasanna Mukherji | TNN
B K Birla was his usual jovial self when we caught up with him recently on a Monday morning over a cup of tea. Excerpts from the interview.
|How was the industrial scenario in India before independence? Also, tell us about your association with Kolkata and how it has changed over the years as a place to do business.
It was quite buoyant during the 40s. The whole world was engaged in World War II. We used to supply medicines to the British army during the war. Kolkata was commercially very prosperous just like Mumbai is today. Since Kolkata was the strategic headquarters for the Allied forces in South-East Asia, trading business was booming here along with tea and jute.
Kolkata is still my favourite city. But in last 30-40 years, Kolkata has lost its economic power. No major industry has come up during this period and a lot of companies have left the city because of frequent strikes and bandhs. It is really unfortunate. Here we get good doctors, engineers, writers but not entrepreneurs. Sometimes, I feel bad about it. Now, there is some effort to bring in industry. Only the future will tell whether it will be successful or not.
You have met stalwarts like Gandhiji and Sardar Patel and have also interacted with current politicians.
YOUNG AT HEART: B K BirlaWhat's your take on today's politicians?
The Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has really impressed me. I was there last year along with Kumar for a project of Century Textiles. When we approached Modi, he said you don’t have to apply, the land will be given in two days and he did that. We have already started work there. He is a very good administrator.
Kesoram, the company where you started your career, has now become the biggest company of the group. What are your plans for the company?
Kesoram has two major divisions — cement and tyre — that account for 94% turnover of the company. I am expanding both the cement and tyre businesses. This year Kesoram has touched a turnover of Rs 5,000 crore. In tyre, we are entering the radial segment, which is the future of this trade.
|The company is investing over Rs 800 crore for setting up two radial facilities in Haridwar and Balasore. While the Haridwar facility will be for bus and truck radial, Balasore would be for passenger car radials. Both the facilities will be operational by the end of this fiscal. We are also investing in two cement units — Kesoram Cement and Vasavdatta Cement. The combined cement capacity of the company would cross 7 million tonne soon.
Kumar Mangalam Birla, your grandson, is already on the board of Century Textiles and this is the only company of the group which has headquartered in Mumbai. Where is the company headed? Besides, what's your vision for the other company's in the group?
We are developing real estate under this company. Our plan is to develop the closed Worli mill land into a commercial complex. There will be a hotel there as well. We have already started discussions with hospitality groups for the proposed hotel. They will run the hotel and will pay us a fee. The first phase of the project has already started. This is also the first real estate project of the group. The company has also started textile project in Gujarat.
|The other companies are also doing reasonably well. We are now merging Mangalam Timber with Mangalam Cement so that Mangalam Timber can utilise the huge reserve of cement. Now, there is great opportunity in MDF (medium density fibre board) which we want to tap. Similarly, Jayshree Tea is also doing quite well. It has recently entered the sugar business by through an acquisition.
You have recently raised your holding in a lot of group companies. Is there any particular reason behind this?
There are three group companies where our holding is less than 30% or just above that like Mangalam Cement and Century Enka. I personally want to have close to 50% stake in all the group companies so that my daughters and grandchildren never face any problem. Kumar Mangalam would inherit most of my major companies. He is a great businessman and will take them to great heights. My elder daughter Jayshree will manage Jayshree Tea and ECE Industries along with her husband. My granddaughter (the daughter of Manjushree Khaitan) will manage Mangalam Cement. Manjushree is looking after the operations of a few Kolkata companies.
TIMES BUSINESS Saturday, October 9, 2010