Business News/ Companies / People/  SP, Hinduja group chairman, family patriarch, dies at 87

MUMBAI : Srichand Parmanand Hinduja, (SP) chairman of the $70 billion Hinduja Group, who was deemed to be the family patriarch as eldest among the four Hinduja brothers, and a man whose life across India, Iran and the UK was dotted with success, controversy and tragedy, died in London on Wednesday after a prolonged illness. He was 87.

“Gopichand, Prakash, Ashok and the whole Hinduja family, with a heavy heart, regret to announce the passing away of our family patriarch, and chairman of the Hinduja Group, Mr S.P. Hinduja today," a spokesperson for the family said in a statement. “He was a visionary and mentor to the family, bestowing the founding principles and values of our late father, P.D. Hinduja. He played a very important role alongside his brothers in building a strong relationship between his host country, the UK and his home country, India."

During the last few years, SP battled illness and was under nursing care. He had long been the face of the family, having built the group along with his brothers, collectively known for their formidable networking prowess and business acumen. They grew their family business, which includes commercial vehicle maker Ashok Leyland and private bank IndusInd, to several businesses across 38 countries, in sectors such as oil lubricants, chemicals, energy and IT. The group employs more than 200,000 people.

The Hinduja family, founded by Parmanand Hinduja, had modest beginnings before SP and his brothers steered the group to chase larger ambitions and become one of the earliest Indian billionaires to have made money abroad.

The Hinduja family’s origins can be traced back to the Sindh region, home to many intrepid traders. They made a mark by trading in spices, textiles and dry fruits with Iran.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, had ambitious plans to make Persia a modern nation. In response to Shah’s desire to improve Iran’s power industry, the Hinduja family jumped at the opportunity to build metal pylons. Following the Shah’s ouster by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, the Hinduja family moved to London. Sixty years after Parmanand first established a business for his family in 1919, the family’s Iran sojourn came to an end.

In those days, Bollywood films were dubbed in Farsi for the locals, which helped enhance Hindujas’ social capital in Iran.

In 2022, the Sunday Times Rich List pegged Hindujas’ net worth at more than £28 billion.

While he witnessed the fabulous growth of the family business and its wealth, his life was also beset with hardships and a few personal tragedies.

He lost his son, Dharam, in a tragedy in 1992 after the conservative family resisted the young scion’s romance with a girl outside their community. His wife, Madhu, passed away in January.

He had to shoulder family responsibilities quite early in life. He was the second son of Parmanand Hinduja. Girdhar Hinduja was the eldest, and he passed away in 1963 at the age of 33, leaving SP, 28 at the time, to help his father steer the business.

Over the next half-century, SP transformed the Hinduja group into one of the biggest Indian business houses, taking the reins after Parmanand died in 1971. Along with fame, the brothers also found themselves implicated in many controversies. The biggest of such cases was the accusation that the family acted as a conduit for bribes on behalf of the Swedish arms maker Bofors. The Bofors controversy, however, came unstuck, and the courts absolved them of any wrongdoing.

SP, however, abandoned the pursuit of wealth in recent times, having decided to pursue religion while his brothers took the reins of the group.

An inkling of a change taking place in the businessman’s mindset was seen quite early. In a 1999 interview, Srichand told journalist Pritish Nandy: “Dharma taught me how to overcome my intense personal grief and transform it into a meaningful and relevant mantra. A mantra of hope. That is what keeps me going today."

Throughout SP’s life, he struggled to build the Hinduja business house, carrying on operations that stretched across continents from London, with India forming the fulcrum with two flagships—Ashok Leyland, the truckmaker and IndusInd Bank, a private bank.

SP and his three brothers—Gopichand, 83; Prakash, 78; and Ashok, who is in his early 70s—agreed to a pact in 2014 that all assets held in any brother’s name belonged to them all. In 2015, Srichand sued his three brothers, claiming the agreement had no legal effect. He has two daughters—Vinoo and Shanu. Vinoo, who had been granted lasting power of attorney over his affairs, continued the dispute after Srichand developed dementia in recent years.

In a statement, the sisters mourned their father’s passing. “SP will be remembered for his great contributions in bringing India and its culture to the global stage through his work and philanthropic efforts. SP passed away peacefully this morning, looked after by members of his family, and we are at peace knowing that he will be reunited with his beloved wife and son in the afterlife. We will continue to uphold SP’s legacy and values," they said in a statement.

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Updated: 18 May 2023, 01:20 AM IST
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