Aditya Birla Group is one of India’s largest conglomerates and also claims to be the most international of the country’s major corporations. The company acts as a holding company for more than 72 manufacturing and services subsidiaries throughout India, and in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, China, Egypt, and Canada. Aditya Birla’s major subsidiaries include Grasim, the world’s leading producer of viscose staple fiber, and a manufacturer of rayon grade pulp, cement, sponge iron, textiles, and chemicals; Hindalco, a leading producer of aluminum and copper; UltraTech Cement, which produces portland cement and related products; Aditya Birla Nuvo, which manufactures clothing, textiles, and carbon black and is India’s second largest producer of viscose filament yarn; Indo Gulf, a fertilizer producer; Birla NGK Insulators (a joint venture with NGK of Japan), which is the world’s leading producer of insulators; and Idea Cellular Ltd., a mobile service provider jointly owned with fellow Indian conglomerate Tata Industries. The company also produces software and provides IT services, and operates a number of financial products subsidiaries. The company’s Birla Sun Life Insurance Co. is the second largest private sector insurance company in India, and its Birla Sun Life Asset Management Co. is the country’s fourth largest assets manager. In other areas, the company claims to be the world’s eighth largest producer of cement and the world’s fourth largest producer of carbon black. These operations combine to generate revenues of nearly $7.6 billion per year. The company is led by Kumar Mangalam Birla, son of Aditya Birla.
The Aditya Birla Group was founded in the 1960s by Aditya Birla, who started building his business empire at the age of 24. By then, however, the Birla family had been one of India’s most prominent industrial and financial families for nearly a century. The origins of the Birla family fortunes lay in the second half of the 19th century, when in 1870 Seth Shiv Narayan Birla launched a cotton- and jute-trading business in the town of Pilani, in Rajasthan, India. Despite the British occupation, and the attempt to establish monopolies by the British trading companies, Birla succeeded in building the family’s first fortune.
The next phase of the family’s success came at the beginning of the 20th century, when Birla’s grandson Ghanshyamdas took over as head of the family fortune. The younger Birla led the family into the industrial sector, setting up a jute mill in 1919. The Birla family also became important supporters of the independence movement led by Mahatma Ghandi. Ghanshyamdas Birla not only provided the financial backing for Ghandi, he also participated in the talks with the British that ultimately led to the country’s independence. The company’s wealth, and its intimate connection with the new Indian government, enabled it to emerge as one of a small number of Indian families that dominated India’s quasi-socialist economy through the end of the century.
With independence, Birla began developing his industrial empire in earnest. The family quickly branched out into a number of sectors. Just days after the country’s declaration of independence, for example, Birla founded Grasim Industrial Ltd., opening a small weaving plant in Gwalior. By 1950, Grasim had begun importing the recently developed rayon fiber, and it began producing rayon-based fabrics. In 1954, Grasim launched its own rayon production, opening a factory in Nagda. By the mid-1960s, Grasim also had launched production of the rayon pulp itself.
The family’s interest in textiles and rayon in particular led it to acquire another branch, Indian Rayon Corporation, in 1966. That company had been founded just a decade earlier, and in 1963 had expanded with the construction of its own viscose filament yarn factory in Veraval. As part of the Birla family holdings, Indian Rayon, which later evolved into the Birla group’s largest subconglomerate, Aditya Birla Nuvo, developed diversified operations, including the production of garments, textiles, carbon black, and insulators. The company also entered cement production, launching its own factory in 1985.
In the meantime, Birla’s industrial interests had led it into a new area, the production of metals, and specifically aluminum. The family established a new company, Hindalco, in 1958 and began construction of their first smelter. That complex, in Renukoot, launched production in 1962. By 1967, the company had set up its own power plant, in Renusagar, described by the company as “a significant strategic move.” The company later branched out into copper production as well.
The development of the family’s business interests had been turned over to Ghanshyamdas Birla’s sons, K. K. Birla, C. K. Birla, and B. K. Birla. While B. K. Birla took over the family’s raw materials and related industrial operations, his brothers took charge of other Birla family holdings, including Hindustan Motors, part of India’s big three automakers, and the Hindustan Times, one of the country’s major newspapers.