from "The Heritage of Indian Tea" - D.K. Taknet
A Memorable Heritage:
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.
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
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
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.
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
for enquiries and orders:
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