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 Pioneering Initiatives

 The Breakthrough

 Assam Company

 Tea Travels

 Early Entrepreneurs

 Memorable Heritage

 Making Waves

 Laying the Foundation

 A Time for Cheer

 Mergers & Acquisitions

 Core Values & Culture

 Loyalty & Commitment

 A Tradition of  Excellence

 Research &  Development

 Innovation &  Modernization

 Excellence the  Watchword

 Consistent Quality

Excerpts from "The Heritage of Indian Tea" - D.K. Taknet

A Memorable Heritage:

The Williamson Magor story began in 1868 when two young and enterprising Englishmen, James Hay Williamson and Richard Manuel Blamey Magor, got together at the Great Eastern Hotel In Calcutta and signed a partnership deed in April 1869. Over the following few decades, while remaining almost exclusively in the hands of the Williamson and Magor families, the company consolidated its position, expanding through mergers. Running the tea estates was left to the visiting agent, and the partners generally came to India only in winter, for a couple of months, for a leisurely trip around Assam.

A period of consolidation of Williamson Magor's position in the tea world began with the recruitment of young blood: O. J. Roy and Patrick Hay Williamson. O.J. Roy was the son of James E. Roy of Duncan Macneill who had been on friendly terms with Stephen Anderson for many years. Patrick Hay Williamson was the son of R.L. Williamson and consequently, the grandson of James Hay Williamson, one of the founders of Williamson Magor.

Patrick Hay Williamson was widely known as Pat Williamson, and his stylish and lavish lifestyle earned him the sobriquet 'the last of the nabobs'. His business acumen was worthy of emulation. Pat Williamson played a memorable role in helping the Assamese tea estates during the Chinese invasion. On the business side, his greatest achievement was the smooth transition of the British partnership of Williamson Magor into the Indian company of Williamson Magor & Co. Ltd.

Making Waves:

Independence in 1947 ushered in dramatic changes in the tea industry. Industrial giants moved into the large tea estates vacated by their European owners. These Indian entrepreneurs improved the quality and distribution networks by introducing technological changes. More importantly, the managing agency system that had been in vogue during the time of the British, gradually began to come apart in the late fifties and early sixties and was finally abolished in 1968.

It was a time when fortunes were being made and lost. 'There is a tide in the affairs of men,' Shakespeare pointed out of Julius Caesar, 'which if taken at the flood leads to fortune.' One man who was able to ride the wave of success and fortune was B.M. Khaitan and from the sixties the story of Williamson Magor is inextricably linked with him.

Britishers, who fondly referred to B.M. Khaitan as 'Birju', realized his business acumen in 1954 when he helped Williamson Magor at a critical juncture. Bishnauth Tea Co., Williamson Magor's flagship company, faced the threat of falling into the hands of Balmukund Bajoria who had accumulated a threatening 25 per cent of its shares, one per cent short of a controlling stake. To buy out Balmukund Bajoria required a lot of money which was available neither in London nor in Calcutta. Had Bishnauth been lost, it would have sent the signal that Williamson Magor was not strong enough to protect its company. Birju salvaged the situation, his family providing the money required to be paid to Bajoria.

Birju frequently proved to be the savior of the firm and Pat Williamson was instrumental in appointing him managing director on 18 January 1964. After Pat Williamson died in 1965, B.M. Khaitan became the chairman of Williamson Magor in 1966 and with it earned the affectionate appellation B.M. The event made news not just as another takeover of an industrial institution of Anglo-India, but also because of the deep underlying friendship and mutual regard shared by two individuals drawn from such completely disparate societies.

BM virtually turned the company around single-handed and soon established a reputation for total integrity and reliability. The managerial staff of the 'British' company were soon to find that their terms of employment and pay packets were improved considerably under the Indian chairman, a trend that has continued to this day. In the coming years, some of the most prestigious British tea companies would seek out BM as a partner or as the preferred choice for sale of their tea estates.

Laying the Foundation:

The Khaitans trace their lineage to a distinguished family, originally from Rajasthan. BM, the family patriarch, took over the reins of the company and firmly steered it to impressive growth in partnership with the Magor family based in the UK, During the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Assam Valley School, R.B. Magor remarked that it was unusual for an English family to still be in business in India after so many years and that this had only been possible because of his happy association with his friend Birju.

From behind the scenes, his wife Shanti, the consummate homemaker who always helps others, evidently played a major part in the eventual success of the Khaitans' association with the Magors. They have three children: Deepak (1955), married to Yashodhara Goenka; Divya (1966), married to Sandeep Jalan; and Aditya (1968), married to Kavita Ruia. Today, members of the Khaitan family are at the helm of the group.

A Time for Cheer:

Notwithstanding the growing menace of Naxalism in West Bengal, in December 1968 the management decided to celebrate Williamson Magor's centenary in style, believing it would cheer up everyone and indeed it did. Williamson Magor invited all the planters in Assam, a number of overseas guests and retired planters with their wives and for four days the entire Williamson Magor family celebrated with gusto, attending parties, cocktails and dinners, along with boat cruises, taking pride in what they had created. The centenary also marked the official opening of Four Mangoe Lane, the group's current headquarters. Incidentally, to this day no one knows how the 'e' attached itself to 'Mango'!

Earlier, on 24 January 1966, while laying the foundation stone of the building, R.B. Magor had said, "It has been a privilege to work with our new burra sahib and friend Birju Khaitan and although he has only recently ascended to the gaddi of Williamson Magor & Co. Ltd, all of us who have worked with him realize how singularly lucky and fortunate we are that, after Pat Williamson's untimely death, we have such a worthy chief. He is very well suited to carry on the firm's traditions and to expand our interests in the years to come and thus ensure our employees' future prosperity.'

Magor's words proved to be prophetic. In the momentous years following the centenary, the group has moved from strength to strength, building upon its traditions and corporate culture and striving for the prosperity of its employees and shareholders and the larger community enfolding the tea industry.

Mergers and Acquisitions:

Over the years the Williamson Magor group has built up an enviable track record of negotiated mergers, acquisitions and takeovers. BM says, 'The expansion of our entire business has been from the sixties, as one merger followed another in quick succession, including the merger of all the tea companies. We didn't enter much into Greenfield areas except in one or two cases for, during the eighties, mergers were the only way of expanding rapidly because putting up a greenfield project takes not less than seven years.' The merger of Macneill & Barry took place in January 1975 to form Macneill & Magor Ltd and wen many other tea companies merged with it, the company's name was changed to Williamson Magor & Co. ltd on 12 May 1992.

In 1985, Williamson Magor acquired India Foils Ltd with which it had a close relationship as the latter made the aluminium lining for its tea chests from Alcan, and later sold it to Sterlite industries owned by the Agarwalas. The next major step was to buy the tea companies within the McLeod Russel group with the help of the Gutheries, a prominent tea family in the UK. The McLeod Russel acquisition made Williamson Magor the world's larget private tea producer. However, it was the 1994 acquisition of 51.3 per cent holding of Union Carbide India Ltd, now known as Eveready Industries (India) Ltd, that catapulted the group into the big league and on to the media center stage. The group dedicated this deal 'To Calcutta with love'.

Williamson Magor celebrated its 125th anniversary in February 1994, organizing a grand function. Befitting its culture, the celebration was a great occasion to cheer up everyone with golf, races, chances and cocktails in an elegant environment. Lunch was organized at the Calcutta Club for two thousand people. It was not just a group function but was attended by leading personalities from Calcutta. The chief minister of West Bengal and Assam were also present and blessed the group's prosperity and its inclination to develop their states.

Under the visionary leadership of the Khaitans, the Williamson Magor group has today grown into a large conglomerate. Its track record is marked by a spirit of dynamism, discipline, hard work and a tenacious and relentless commitment to excellence. With its policy of progressive diversification, it has been pushing back the frontiers in tea, batteries and information technology. However, notwithstanding the diversification, tea continues to be the group's central concern. Although the group recently disposed of a few of its tea estates in line with its ongoing road map for restructuring, it still owns 29 tea gardens in Assam and the Dooars and produces nearly 35-8 m. kg of tea per year.

The boards of Eveready Industries (India) Ltd and Bishnauth Tea Co. Ltd have also agreed to the proposed merger of the two companies. In their opinion, this will consolidate and strengthen the entire tea operations of the two companies under one umbrella and enable the company to expand into the value added packet tea segment where Eveready Industries (India) Ltd has already carved out a niche for itself. The group has emerged as one of the largest producers of tea in the world, exporting over 11 m. kg in the face of stiff international competition and has earned a very well-deserved international reputation for consistent quality and rock-solid reliability.

Courtesy: The Heritage of Indian Tea - D.K. TAKNET

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