Jan. - Feb. 2002   
  Vol. 2 No.1   
Message from J. N. Godrej
Oddities, Eccentricities, Etc. Of Enduring Interest Archival Interest Corporate Commentary Back to Main Page Editorial

It was in the Biblical sense of the words that Pirojsha, Ardeshir Godrej’s younger brother, was a humble gardener of the earth.
In this awareness, Priojsha was way ahead of his times. Jean-Marie Pelt, Chairman of the European Institute for Ecology, stated at the inauguration of the Planet Earth exhibition at the Luxembourg Athena, on July 18, 1995: “Twenty-five years ago ecology lay at the gates of industry; today it forms part of everyday corporate life.?Characteristically, acting instinctively rather than consciously, more than 50 years earlier, Pirojsha took environmental conditions into account in his industries. Indeed, he had the innate good sense to make technical advances secondary to environmental and human considerations. So it came to pass that, envisioning the great garden township at Vikhroli, Pirojsha planted trees before laying the foundations of the factory buildings.


Every morning on his way to the Godrej office then situated at Lalbaug, through the narrow winding lane with tumbledown tenements on either side, Pirojsha would be troubled by the thought of how their dwellers managed to eke out a miserable existence. He became increasingly disturbed by the multiplying slums, the zopadpattis, in a rapidly growing, terribly overcrowded city and the degradation to which they led. Passing the tenements at Worli, built by the British for labourers, which had only slits for windows, he expressed regret that even in the daytime they were deprived of the gift of sunlight.

At the same time Pirojsha saw the need for change in the wider pattern, on a vaster scale. He may not have been a man of great knowledge, but certainly he was a man of sound instincts and wide sympathies. Instinctively he realised that industries wishing to build a lasting legacy would have to discharge their social responsibilities, even at the cost of cutting into profits. Costs incurred in the discharge of their social responsibilities are investments from a long term perspective since they bring in a lot of goodwill which can be encashed. Deep down he knew that this could establish a significant presence in the market for Godrej--conjure up an image of a solid, caring, professionally-managed organisation in the minds of customers.

If Ardeshir had an obsession and was a visionary, Pirojsha was hard-headed and practical, pre-eminently a consolidator, focussing on tending and nurturing the growing and already thriving industries Ardeshir had founded. Like Ardeshir, he too was obsessive in his quest for quality, making quality achievement the prime organisational objective, keeping in view profits also. Security engineering pioneered by Ardeshir provided several offshoots, which were now carefully exploited--safe deposit vaults in 1935 followed by steel cupboards and steel furniture fashioned from sheet and tubular steel, hospital equipment, steel windows and doors, library stacks, steel partitions, all reflecting the swift progress and change which industrial science was bringing into homes, offices, factories, hospitals and libraries.

Ardeshir had little or no regard for money as such. Pirojsha realised the value of money, if properly used, for national growth and prosperity--more particularly, for consolidation and expansion, for greater employment and bigger benefits to workers. He religiously ploughed back profits into the business and paid taxes to the State, thus exemplifying the new spirit in modern industrial outlook. Godrej policy developed around sound ethical lines, with service to the consumer as its keynote. This led to the marketing of standardised products, manufactured strictly according to specifications, at the best possible prices, even in boom periods, and assured after sales service. There are instances where Godrej brought down the price level to one-third of the prices of imported articles.

It wasn't easy going for Pirojsha any more than it had been for Ardeshir, particularly in the rapidly growing soap industry which was struggling for survival against the unequal competition from the formidable multinational Lever Brothers. But Pirojsha went ahead regardless, in the convention that quality tells, quality survives. In this he exemplified a virtue that he possessed to a greater degree than Ardeshir. This was a quality of perseverance, the hinge of all virtues. He had the further advantage Ardeshir never had -- three sons Sohrab, Burjor and Naval (and a daughter Dosa) who worked shoulder to shoulder with him. Later, Burjor's and Naval's children too carried the torch, in what was to become a big and remarkable undertaking run by a closely knit family.

Godrej was thus able to rise to the occasion when called upon in 1956 to manufacture 17 lakh ballot boxes, in a record time and at a reasonable cost, for free India's first elections, a momentous event in the history of democracy. Momentous, too, in the history of Godrej. For ballot boxes were the first products to be manufactured at the Industrial garden township at Vikhroli. This township, variously referred to as the pride of Maharashtra, a tourist attraction, an Eden of Contentment and an Industrial Wonderland, brought immense credit to Godrej, not only in India but in other countries as well.

In building this township, Pirojsha was to show he was a visionary, in fact one of the great visionaries of time. Among the factors responsible for this was Pirojsha's deep concern as a humanist with the problem of industrial slums and the degradation to which they could lead. He had read any hardly any books on management, but instinctively, with unerring insight he was conscious that working in a modern well-laid-out factory in pleasant surroundings and with amenities, would make work less arduous and more rewarding. Pirojsha despised laziness, and the indiscriminate charity that leads to sloth. Each man, he believed had the birthright to be given an opportunity to prove his worth.

How this township came to be built is quite a story. Lalbaug left no room for large-scale expansion. In the late forties, there were all indications that India would soon be free and freedom would open up undreamt-of opportunities and create unforeseen demands for growth. There was no alternative to reduce congestion but to shift the factory to new and bigger grounds. With his characteristic energy, Pirojsha set to work. He bought a tract of land in Vikhroli village at public auction. There were several pockets of settlers in the neighbouring areas whom he bought off one after the other, paying more in the process than he had done for the original piece of land. Considering today's prices, what he paid was a pittance, yet he had to sell his shares and almost everything he had to defray the cost, besides taking loans.

He did this against the advice of friends and well-wishers who sincerely believed he was throwing money away and being unmindful of his children. Other people, suffering from dole mentality wrote in the press  that Pirojsha could have better have better utilised the amount spent to provide relief to the poor in the community! But Pirojsha went ahead regardless. His prescience told him he was right. His vision of India’s industrial future couldn’t be confined to a Parel back lane.

On Sundays, accompanied by his architects, engineers and others, Pirojsha would go to Vikhroli to acquaint himself thoroughly with his newly acquired possession. Standing tall, his white hair ruffled in the breeze, he would gaze at the vast marshy expanse, seeing in his mind’s eye the lay of the land taking on the contours of his dream. Nobody who saw the humble shed being built to enable the architects and engineers to operate, standing forlorn in the vastness, could have visualised the transformation of the wilderness into an industrial garden township. Nobody, that is, except the father who had a dream, who had a son (Naoroji) to blue-print that dream.

Pirojsha paid as much attention to the design of the residential quarters as to the manufacturing plants. Large open spaces were provided and thousands of trees planted and flower-beds laid to make the environment a healthy and happy one.

Both Ardeshir and Pirojsha initiated the tradition in trusteeship. Ardeshir’s munificent donation of Rs. 3 lakhs for Harijan uplift to the Tilak Swaraj Fund, which Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged as the biggest donation he had received, initiated this tradition. Ardeshir’s no doubt were spontaneous gestures, but his brother Pirojsha codified philanthropy into a principle. He would often tell his son Sohrab, former Chairman of the Godrej group, that just because they made money didn’t entitle them to do with it whatever they willed. He provided well-ventilated housing for his workers at heavily subsidised rents, schooling for their children, medical relief, and other benefits like holidays with pay, gratuity, bonus, etc., that anticipated labour legislation in the country. There was also the Pragati Kendra for welfare work involving workers?wives. In addition to adult literacy, the Kendra provides training in gainful spare-time occupations like caning chairs, polishing chair frames, batik, pottery-making, and so on.

Family Planning has been successfully propagated in various practical ways within the Company and Udyachal School children are encouraged to plant trees to purify the environment. The immunization programme at Vikhroli came to be considered as the most successful in the city. A vast expanse of mangrove forest adjoining the township has been preserved at enormous cost, maintained and protected from poachers through the Soonabai Godrej Trust.

The Pirojsha Godrej Foundation, founded in 1972, is a charitable Trust open to the public at large and to all communities of people and constitutes one-third of the holding company. It renders educational aid to students going abroad and studying locally. It gives medical relief to the poor and those needing various treatments, surgeries, etc. It aids and promotes culture, fine arts and allied institutions connected with the same.

Pirojsha’s greatest achievement no doubt was that he built Godrej to last. As James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras put it in their Built To Last: “All individual leaders, no matter how charismatic or visionary, eventually die; and all visionary products and services--all ‘great ideas?-eventually become obsolete ... Yet visionary companies prosper over long periods of time, through multiple product life cycles and multiple generations of active leaders.? Pirojsha created the conditions that would enable Godrej to survive him. His leadership style provided the direction and communicated the vision which bound people together for a common objective. He built adaptive structures of the kind that could generate ideals and sustain them. With his foresight and skills, he was able to steer and lead people, to develop a proper focus for the future and a definite plan of action, which he shared with his sons and communicated to his managers and workers.

Pirojsha was not only a master consolidator, he was also the great visionary who conceived of a garden industrial township in which the giant airy manufacturing plants are subsidiary to the stately avenues of Ashoka trees, offering all visitors nature’s guard of honour, the bowers of bougainvillaea, the abundance of crotons, the vast lawns and gurgling fountains, and greenery all around giving the aspect of a botanical garden or nature reserve.

The winds of freedom in Pirojsha’s struggling years have given way to the swirling winds of economic change, even headier and more invigorating. Pirojshanagar, so aptly named, is like a giant stirring to meet the awesome challenges of the 21st century.

How Pirojsha adhered to service-after-sales was strikingly demonstrated half a century ago in 1946.Onhearing from a customer that liquid was oozing from inside of his safe, Pirojsha had a reason to suspect that moisture-generating and fire-resisting compound supplied by a manufacturer of international repute was faulty, that water should generate only during a fire. This defect could be and was rectified, but only by getting back not only that safe but hundreds of others from all over the country even though the owners were reluctant, on Pirojsha's initiative  and at his expense, completely changing the composition, and carefully packing and returning the safes to their delighted owners-all involving heavy unexpected expenditure through no fault of Godrej. The compound had not been tested because the supplier was a compnay of international repute. By taking this step Pirojsha ensured future security for all these safes, should any be caught in a  fire. More important, it built enormous customer goodwill.