B K Birla, Karmayogi industrialist who lived a Gandhian life

Topics Birla

Basant Kumar Birla
Basant Kumar Birla who transformed a cotton and textile group into a diversified business empire breathed his last in Mumbai on Wednesday. He was 98.

The youngest son of the legendary Ghanshyam Das Birla, father of Aditya Vikram Birla and grandfather of Kumar Mangalam Birla, Basant Kumar is survived by his daughters Manjushree Khaitan and Jayashree Mohta.

Known as a perfect gentleman in industry circles, Basant Kumar was mourned by many. 

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted, "Saddened at the passing of noted industrialist Basant Kumar Birla Ji. His contribution to education, through various trusts and institutions, is paramount. My condolences to his family, colleagues and friends."

Industrialist Harsh Goenka tweeted: B K Birla was a statesman of the business community, a visionary entrepreneur, a philanthropist, an educationist, a karmayogi for whom work was worship. He lived a Gandhian life leaving behind a fantastic legacy. 

Sanjiv Goenka said, "B K Birla was a doyen. He led transformational thoughts in Indian industry. The Goenka family and the Birla family have cherished very close relationships over decades and generations and to all of us in the family, it's a huge loss."

Basant Kumar got involved with the family business at 16. At 25, father, Ghanshyam Das handed over the reins of Kesoram Cotton Mills. Degrees were for employment and Basant Kumar, though he had joined Presidency College, never completed the course as East came calling. 

Elder brother L N Birla was travelling to Burma and other countries, and wanted Basant Kumar to join. But Birla had his exams in two weeks. The dilemma was finally settled when father Ghanshyam Das asked him, whether he wanted to be a clerk. It was the second time that someone from the Birla family was travelling abroad. 

Diversification was in his DNA and Basant Kumar grew the group into a diversified empire across cement, tea, textiles, tyre sectors. From a cotton textile mill under Kesoram Cotton Mills, business interest expanded into rayon followed by cement and tyre. Ghanshyam Das too had diversified from the ancestral pawn business into manufacturing and set up a jute mill in Bengal and bought an old cotton mill in Delhi. 

Century Textiles and Industries was a shining example of a successful diversification by Basant Kumar. From a single textile entity, under Century Spinning & Manufacturing Company, it was transformed into a powerhouse with interest in cement, pulp and paper and real estate. 

In 1987, to reflect different industrial activities of the company, it was renamed Century Textiles and Industries, that today has revenues of around Rs 4,000 crore and a profit of Rs 681 crore.  

Basant Kumar also weathered the transition from the days of the licence raj and permits to liberalisation. He had once said that the pre-liberalisation days were tough as corruption had set in after the first couple of years since independence and it was only once everything was de-controlled that companies started expanding.

But even as Basant Kumar expanded his companies, his was a cautious and meticulous approach. And till his health supported him, Basant Kumar would make it to office by 8:45 in the morning every single day. That hadn't changed till about  four years back even when all he wanted was to focus on his hobbies, the Birla Academy and the Sangeet Kala Mandir. 

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