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Ghanshyam Das Birla was one of the most prominent Indian businessmen from the era when India was struggling to get freedom from the British Empire. He belonged to the Birla family and is the founding father of the multi-billion dollar Birla Empire. He came from a humble background of Pilani in India where his grandfather was into the business of money lending—a tradition in that particular community. But Birla had dreams bigger than that and took him to Calcutta. He started a jute firm in Calcutta and gathered the kind of success which was impossible for an Indian businessman to achieve in those hard times. This led to one success after another and soon he expanded his empire into manufacturing, tea business, banking, chemical, cement, etc. It was his early efforts that made the Birla Empire what it is now and his impeccable business sense earned him the India’s second highest civilian honor, the Padma Vibhushan.

Ghanshyam Das Birla was born in Pilani, a small village in Rajasthan state of India, into a Marwari Maheshwari family. His grandfather was a Marwari businessman and used to lend money for a living.

Birla left Pilani for Calcutta in order to start his own business as he wanted to prove himself. He successfully established a dealership in cotton and as his business escalated he came back to Pilani again and got a mansion constructed for the family.

Later, Birla took over the family business and decided to expand it—he turned money lending business into manufacturing. He started a jute enterprise irrespective of the fact that British policies and rule supported European merchants more than Indian businessmen at that time.

He saved his business many a times from getting shut down by the British and Scottish merchants. They tried to establish their monopolist ways by trying to pester him and harm his jute firm. It was during World War I when there was a supply problem all through the British Empire that Birla’s business became a great success.

It was with such success that Birla decided to further diversify his business and with an investment of 5 million Indian Rupees he formally set up the Birla Brothers Limited in 1919. He established a factory in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh in the same year.

Besides being a successful businessman, he was also active in politics and social service. In 1926 he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly. He was the founding president of Harijan Sevak Sangh, an organization founded by Mahatma Gandhi.
With so much success, Birla became a little bolder with his decisions in business and decided to take the risk of establishing Hindustan Motors in 1940. After independence Birla got into tea business and started his own textile industries.
In 1943, he established a commercial bank with Indian capital and management, which was named United Commercial Bank. Now, it is known as the UCO bank and is one of the oldest and major commercial banks of India.

He founded the Birla Engineering College which is now known as the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani and Technological Institute of Textile & Sciences in Bhiwani among other educational institutions.

Birla established and pioneered a lot of new concepts in India during his time—he started a manufacturing business in Calcutta at a time when Indian businessmen were not given any preference over the British and Scottish merchants. He slowly expanded it into various industries like cement, chemicals, rayon, steel tubes, tea, banking, etc.

This great businessman was a long time supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and his policies. Gandhi was staying at his New Delhi home at the time when he was assassinated.

Birla mansion at Pilani that Ghanshyam Das Birla built with his money from the jute factory in Calcutta is known as the Birla Haveli.