The Cotton King - Govindram Seksaria

There was no stopping this man now, his appetite for growth and diversity was insatiable and the nation itself was too confining.

A short biography of one of pre-independance India's most successfull businessmen. By Shilpum Vaid

This may seem like it’s right out of Ripley’s ‘Believe It Or Not’. How else do you describe the tale of a sixteen year old boy who lost both his parents, and saddled with the responsibility of looking after his wife and 6 siblings in Nawalgarh, a part of the erstwhile state of Jaipur, Rajasthan, without any business worth mentioning, went on to becoming one of pre-independence India’s most successful businessmen?

Seth Govindramji Seksaria was born on 19th October 1888. He came to Bombay in the early 1900s and started his business under the name and style of Messrs. Govindram Seksaria.

India was then under British rule and the environment was not conducive for Indians to conduct their businesses. There was an obvious lack of support and encouragement from the government, planning for growth was risky, and to progress was both difficult and hazardous. Almost all key industries were owned or managed by foreign firms who had the full support of the government.

It was in such an uncertain business and industrial climate that he started his career as an operator on the Cotton Exchange, Bombay. Within a span of a few years, his firm was accepted to membership of the Cotton Contract Board formed by the government, and later became an original member of the East India Cotton Association. Success was already well and truly laid; Govindramji Seksaria was a name of consequence in the cotton market.

It was not to be expected that Govindramji would confine himself to a single line of activity. He entered the bullion market, the various commodity markets, as well as the stock exchanges in Bombay and elsewhere in the country. The firm became a respected member of the Marwari Chambers of Commerce, the Bombay Bullion Exchange, the Bombay Seeds Brokers Association, the Indian Merchants Chamber. Later, Govindramji became the founder of the Indian Stock Exchange.

There was no stopping this man now, his appetite for growth and diversification was insatiable and the nation itself was too confining. He became a member of the New York Cotton Exchange in the year 1934, a rare privilege for an Indian at that time, and remained a member of the exchange until his death. He also became active on the Liverpool Cotton Exchange. The Copper, Sugar and Wheat Exchanges of Britian and America also came under his purview.

On these international markets, his influence was as singularly felt as in the markets at home. The great business houses of America learnt to watch his moves as a guide to their own operations. At important international events, he would receive cabled requests from friendly business magnates for his views on possible market developments. His judgment in international commerce came to be respected and trusted.

After creating a stir in various market operations, he then moved on to the industry. In 1937 he founded Govindram Brothers Private Limited, the fountainhead of his industrial vision. Making a sound start with vegetable oils, he kept pace with the national development, diversifying into sugar, textiles, minerals, banking, printing and motion pictures.

Govindramji was a very strong believer in the prospects for real estate. He founded the Estate Investment Company as the platform for the vast real estate holdings he amassed. He was the founder chairman of the Bank of Rajasthan besides being closely associated with the Bombay Talkies.

An unassuming 'king'

The story goes that the president of the New York Stock Exchange and head of New York's leading cotton firm, on a globe trotting tour, met with Govindramji while he was in Bombay. He found Govindramji squatting on a 'gadda' with a group of people sitting around him. No one demanded the visitor's card, there was no need for a secretary to conduct the visitor about. The whole atmosphere was so simple, so informal, that the distinguished visitor took some time to re-assure himself that he was really at the headquarters of the leading cotton magnate and an important member of the New York Cotton Exchange - the 'Cotton King' as Govindramji had come to be called. The modesty and simplicity of Govindramji was remarkable. A couple of American businessmen, who saw him in his 'dhoti' and 'kurta' dealing in millions, wrote in the American papers, likening him to Gandhiji.

Unassuming to an extreme and never demanding recognition for his numerous social contributions, Govindramji always stayed away from public life. But his patriotism was real and his support to various causes in pre-independence India have had long term effects which can be seen and felt even today.

In 1940, he hosted the members of the AICC Working Committee at the Poona session. He was the principal donor at the establishment of the Bombay Hospital.
For a man who had received such international acclaim and recognition in his own country and founded numerous colleges, high schools and educational institutions, Govindram Seksaria had no formal education himself. He could not construct a simple sentence in English or in any other language, apart from his own mother tongue, which was Marwari! Public education had a special appeal for Govindramji and there are many institutions that bear his name. This trend was then continued by his son, the late Shri Kudilalji Seksaria, who established the Govindram Seksaria Educational Society, Indore which went on to set-up the Govindram Seksaria Technological Institute and a management college.

Govindramji Seksaria was more than just modest, little is known about his countless charities and he gave without affectation of generosity or patronage even as he earned without boast of ability or achievement. In his unmistakable style which was apparent through out his life time, he gifted half a crore Rupees in his last days to charity.
Govindramji Seksaria passed away in 1946 at a very early age of 58. Rich tributes were paid to him by press and other media. All the major markets in Bombay including the bullion exchange, cotton exchange, stock exchange remained closed as a mark of respect to the departed soul, a rare honor for an Indian at that time.
It was an unfortunate turn of events that Govindramji died only a year before his country's independence. The phenomenal growth seen today, of various Indian houses, is a post-independence phenomenon and there is little doubt that had he lived on for a few more years, he would be an industry leader to reckon with.

Shilpam Vaid is the great grandson of Govindramji Seksaria