The story of a company’s evolution is of great importance. It can play an important role in building trust and respect. The year 1888 saw the beginning of the Kirloskar Group which has been shaped by moments of inspiration, perseverance, and courage.
Furthermore, India’s first iron plough from the Kirloskar Group, not only became an instrument of wealth for the entire society but also kick-started an industrial revolution in India. Today, building on its core engineering strength, the group’s scope of operations spans across a wide spectrum of industrial equipment ranging from pumps & valves, eco-friendly diesel engines & silent generating sets, air & gas compressors, air-conditioning, refrigeration equipment, and also a wide range of anti-corrosion coatings and castings for the automotive sector.
“Dedication, hard work and efforts are a reflection of creation of wealth and resources. For their efficient distribution, they have to be first created.”
Laxmanrao Kashinath Kirloskar (20 June 1869 – 26 September 1956) was the founder of the Kirloskar Group and the township of Kirloskarwadi, amongst India’s first industrial townships. He was an entrepreneur who had a love for machines and was passionate about manufacturing newer tools to ease man’s life. He also had an ability to grab business opportunities at the right time.
The Kirloskar saga began in 1888 when Laxmanrao Kirloskar set up a small bicycle repair shop at Belgaum on Kirloskar road, which was later named after him. Strongly believing that agricultural implements must fit the milieu they are used in, he manufactured India’s first iron plough, which was also the first Kirloskar product, and chaff-cutters. In the early days, Laxmanrao met with opposition from farmers who believed that iron ploughs would poison the land and make it infertile. These superstitious farmers were extremely hard to convince and Laxmanrao took two years to sell his first iron ploughs. Originally intended as an essential aid to agriculture, the plough soon became an icon of reform and revolution.
In January 1910, the Municipality of Belgaum ordered Laxmanrao to vacate Belgaum to make room for a new suburb. He struggled to find a suitable place, until, the Raja of Aundh offered help, not just as a friend, but also as a Ruler concerned for his state’s industrialisation and the benefits to be derived from it. Therefore, he offered Laxmanrao a loan of ten thousand rupees, without interest, and 32 acres of arid wasteland near a renowned railway station, named Kundal Road. This became Kirloskarwadi and the factory for Kirloskar Brothers Limited, fulfilling one of Laxmanrao’s dreams – to build his own industry and community for his employees.
Driven by his faith in human ability, Laxmanrao banded together 25 workers and their families and succeeded in transforming the barren, cacti and cobra infested expanse into his dream village. His judgment of character and indifference to superficial social, economic and educational qualifications, gave him the uncanny ability to unlock potential in seemingly ordinary people. He even hired two ex-convicts who became the night guards of Kirloskarwadi.
Shantanurao Kirloskar, Laxmanrao’s eldest son moved to Pune to initiate a new aspect of the group’s activities – diesel engines. His experience of trying to secure the land for his factory in Pune was quite different from his father’s in Kirloskarwadi. He had to face the tangle of red tape and public resistance to acquisition of land for industrial purposes.
Finally, after arguing that “factories have a longer life than human beings”, Shantanurao Kirloskar won a place for Kirloskar Oil Engines Ltd. (KOEL), soon after signing an agreement of collaboration with Associated British Oil Engines Export Ltd. of UK. This collaboration, incidentally, was the first of its kind between an Indian and a foreign company that signified a bridging of the technological gap between east and west. The factory gave India her first vertical high-speed engine; fulfilling another dream of Laxmanrao’s – to make engines for farmers.
Laxmanrao Kirloskar was a man who believed that an understanding of one’s environment and reality was essential to the manufacture of path-breaking industrial implements. He was not only an industrialist but also a great social reformer. When blind orthodoxy was rampant in rural areas, he advocated the removal of untouchability. He also trusted in the goodness of man.
The Departments of Posts, Union Government of India issued a postal stamp for Laxmanrao Kirloskar on 20th June 1969 marking 100 years of his birth anniversary.
“Don’t worry about the future, create it.”
Shantanurao Laxmanrao Kirloskar (28 May 1903 – 24 April 1994) was a visionary who played a vital role in the growth of Indian industry and agriculture in the 20th century. A man of principles, his keen business acumen, global perspective and innovative streak coupled with strong determination, hastened India on the path to economic success in the pre-independence era. He was a futurist who viewed India as a part of the rest of the world and worked towards making India globally competitive. He often said, “I never wanted to be an industrialist. Our goal was to start a movement to make our country a strong, industrial nation.”
The son of Laxmanrao Kirloskar, SLK, as he was popularly known, became one of the early Indian’s to graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1926 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering.
SLK was one of the early successful entrepreneurs of India. Building on his father’s foundations, SLK developed the small venture of Kirloskar Brothers (KBL), incorporated in 1920, into a group of companies with branches all over the world. He established an engine company, which became the largest diesel engine factory in India with the highest export earnings. He was also responsible for bringing Cummins to India as he had close ties with Robert Huthsteiner, who was the president of Cummins, USA at the time. Kirloskar Cummins Ltd. (KCL) was established in 1961 and the partnership allowed Cummins to further their global manufacturing strategy. SLK’s next objective was to diversify in such a way that Kirloskar-made engines would serve a variety of applications in India and the international markets.
It was typical of SLK never to be swayed by anything foreign. He had immense faith in the capacity of Indians to produce as good, if not better, quality tools as anywhere in the world.
SLK was a pioneer in exporting engineering goods. He exported the first consignment of diesel engines to Germany in 1954, when nobody had thought of exporting such sophisticated products. He became the chairman of Engineering Export Promotion Council in 1957. In the 60’s, the engine company took over F H Schule GmbH of Hamburg, West Germany and invested heavily in GG Dandekar. To promote exports, offices were set up at Rotterdam, Holland, Bangkok, and Thailand, at a time when globalisation was a scarcely uttered word even in the developed countries. He also set up assembly plants in Malaysia and Philippines to cater to the local markets and a worldwide distributers network.
SLK had the courage to take on challenges towards achieving his goals and could look ahead of his time. As he saw it, India’s road to political and economic independence lay through industrialisation and increased production. He often criticized the socialist part India took after independence and was convinced that India’s political system was not conducive for building an industrial nation. He often said, “Economic preparedness is as vital as military preparedness.” He believed that machines were essential in giving more employment to people and generally improving the quality of life. He, therefore, concentrated on the sound management of the Kirloskar enterprise, building more and still better machines and creating more jobs.
In the 1960’s when he criticized the government policy for its economic planning, the importance given to the public sector, the licensing policies etc., many socialists ridiculed him. But he kept on propagating his thoughts though they were unpalatable to some. And, after 1991, government policies endured a change in privatisation, relaxation of industrial licensing, economic liberation, reduction in economic planning etc. His views on emphasizing quality and globalisation had also been accepted by all. In a way, this is a great tribute to his foresight and forward-thinking attitude.
SLK always encouraged ancillary industries, going out of his way to help struggling entrepreneurs. He helped many entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground, providing loans as well as expertise. SLK was not only one of India’s greatest Industrialists but was also closely associated with many social institutions. His concern for cleanliness was not restricted to his factories alone, and he started a movement called ‘Sundar Swachcha Shala’ or ‘Clean and Beautiful Schools’. He firmly believed that the habit of cleanliness had to be inculcated in one’s childhood, and would inspect schools in Pune.
SLK practised what books began to emphasize after he passed away. He always kept the customer in mind and respected dealers in times when they were generally considered a necessary evil.
SLK was an engineer, a technocrat, a golfer, one who enjoyed cooking, an economist and an artist who engraved one word on the minds of his fellow workers – quality. He saw to it that the products would be one step ahead of the needs of the time. He created a business empire that experienced one of the highest growth rates in Indian history. Today, the Kirloskar Group is one of India’s most respected engineering conglomerates.
For his immense contribution to trade and industry, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1965; one of the highest Indian civilian awards. In 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then prime minister of India, released a commemorative postage stamp marking SLK’s 100th anniversary. He penned an autobiography under the title Cactus and Roses.
Chandrakant Kirloskar (30th June 1928 – 31st March 1987) was a visionary, who carried forward the legacy of his grandfather and father. He strongly believed that sustained growth could only be possible through self-reliance and being self-sufficient.
He always gave paramount importance to the research and development activities, which according to him are the backbone of engineering activities. He also strongly believed in setting up the systems and processes that even the companies from overseas would like to emulate.