On December 3, 2020, Indian businessman Mahashay Dharampal Gulati, CEO of MDH, passed away at the age of 97, due to a cardiac arrest.
A man who survived India’s partition and the changing fabric of the Indian economy to emerge as one of the country’s finest businessmen, despite being a school drop-out, Mahashay Dharampal Gulati’s life is truly an inspiration.
Born in Sialkot (in present day-Pakistan) in 1923, Dharampal ji was the son of Mahashay Chunni Lal Gulati, the founder of Mahashian Di Hatti, known as MDH today.
What started as a small shop in Sialkot in 1919, is today a 2000-crore business empire with offices in India, Dubai, and London. And the company’s second-generation entrepreneur, the late Dharampal ji was instrumental in making MDH the brand that it is today.
Dharampal ji was in the fifth grade when he had to drop out to help with the family business. And that’s when he began learning the ropes of the business with his father. However, like millions of other people, the 1947 partition forced them to shut shop and migrate to India. At the time he only had ₹1,500 with him.
Dharampal ji and his family moved to Amritsar and spent some time in a refugee camp, as they tried to get back on their feet. Dharampal ji took odd jobs to survive, including buying a tonga with his meager savings and giving rides to people, till he could finally set up a small shop of spices in Karol Bagh, Delhi.
Slowly, he expanded the business to open a second shop in Chandni Chowk. 12 years after partition, in 1959, he bought a plot of land in Delhi’s Kirti Nagar, to set up his own spice factory. At a time when people favoured freshly grounded spices over packaged products, Dharampal ji took the plunge and decided to venture into the packaged spice market.
India has an ancient history, where every household across the country would grind spices manually to make their own blends to create a distinct taste in dishes. I visualised the concept of ready-to-use spices and merely made this process easier.
-Dharampal ji to Gulf News
Additionally, considering that his success so far had been driven by word-of-mouth publicity, he decided to reiterate the quality standards of the products by using his own face on the packaging. Thus began his journey to becoming one of the most recognizable brand ambassadors in India.
That one spice factory has today turned into “five state of the art plants” and fifteen factories that serve 62 products in over 150 different packages, and supply to 1000 dealers.
And Dharampal ji or Mahashay ji as he came to be known, continued to be the face of MDH with his ever-smiling face becoming a part of almost every Indian kitchen.
Because even when the company and the brand grew in power, he continued to be the group’s brand ambassador – because it was his product in the market, and he was the one the consumers had placed their trust in.
In 2017, at the age of 94, he became India’s highest-paid CEO by drawing a salary of ₹21-crore. And with the second-largest market share in India for spices, he truly became the ‘spice king’ of India.
In an interview with Economic Times, Dharampal ji shared his business mantra:
My motivation to work is being sincere in product quality sold at affordable prices. And nearly 90% of my salary goes to charity in my personal capacity.
His business mantra certainly aligned with the company’s vision, because even as a nonagenarian, he visited his factories daily, and personally met the dealers to ensure everything was in order.
Additionally, in his position as a CEO for almost 60 years, he helped set up 20 schools and 1 hospital for the underprivileged. In 2019, he was conferred with India’s third-highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan.
In a country known for its spices, MDH became the symbol of flavor and authenticity because of Dharampal ji’s hard work. His sprightly smile and trademark turban became a part of the very fabric of India’s consumer markets. And through products that are intrinsic to every Indian household, his legacy will continue to live on.
May his soul rest in peace.