There was a time when the Dalmia business empire was second to only the Tatas and the Birlas. Founded by industrialist Ramkrishna Dalmia, it boasted myriad businesses and was counted among the pioneers of Indian industry. It is to this great industrialist and his wife Saraswati that Vidyanidhi Dalmia (or VN Dalmia) was born in 1954.
The Dalmia business empire, incidentally, continues to influence the world of enterprise some eight decades later and the extended Dalmia family and its relatives still control companies in India and abroad that boast an aggregated turnover in excess of US $15 billion!
VN Dalmia graduated with a BA (Honours) degree in Economics from Delhi’s Shri Ram College of Commerce, and then moved on to the University of Virginia’s renowned Darden School of Business for his MBA. His journey as an entrepreneur goes back to the days when he was the commercial director of Dalmia Biscuits Pvt Ltd and executive director of Dalmia Dadri Cement Ltd—companies his father had founded together with his brother Jaidayal Dalmia and son-in-law Shanti Prasad Jain, under the then Dalmia-Jain Group. “Dalmia Biscuits then was India’s third largest producer of branded biscuits and confectionery, and I oversaw major expansion of the company together with revenue growth,” says Dalmia. Besides Dalmia Biscuits, he was also the executive director of Dalmia Dadri Cement Limited—one of the few cement producers in North India at the time—where he was able to conceive and undertake a major revival plan for the ailing company, with the involvement of central and state governments, banks and labour unions.
A builder of brands
Thereafter, he pursued several business interests, which included importing and servicing reconditioned automobiles from Japan, owning a Bollywood-themed restaurant in Gurugram called ‘Filmi Masala’, providing travel agency services and offering custom packaged tours in India.
In 2003, Dalmia began his long association with olive oil through Dalmia Continental Private Limited (DCPL), which was a part of the Dalmia Group of Companies that had been founded by his father. “My company, DCPL, was a pioneer in establishing the popularity and use of olive oil in India. Launched in 2003, its flagship product Leonardo Olive Oil became the country’s leading brand of olive oil,” says Dalmia. After a long, successful run of over 10 years, the brand, however, was acquired by Cargill India in 2014. The Leonardo Olive Oil story, incidentally, is now a case study at the Darden School of Business.
While consolidating his olive oil business, Dalmia had launched yet another cooking oil in India, canola oil, in 2007, which he marketed under the brand name ‘Hudson’. This too went on to perform well and become the second largest canola oil brand in the country. Hudson too was sold off in 2018 to Bunge India. These apart, Dalmia had launched a third brand of cooking oil, Marco Polo OliRyze, in 2013, which was a blend of rice bran oil and olive pomace oil. Apart from cooking oils, DCPL’s portfolio of brands also included Leonardo Olives, Leonardo Pasta and Leonardo Olive Oil Pickles.
Honour and recognition
Given his keenness to popularise and market olive oil in the country, Dalmia went on to be the founder president of the Indian Olive Association. Outside India, he was honoured with the ‘Premio Cultura Dell’Olio’ (olive oil cultural award) at Italy’s OlioOfficina Festival. That apart, for his contributions to foster friendly relations with Italy—on the basis of language, culture and socio-economic activities—he was honoured with the Italian knighthood titled ‘Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity’, in the rank of Commendatore (Knight Commander).
As an active member of Delhi’s business community, VN Dalmia has been associated with various chambers of commerce such as the PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry (a 115-year-old national business chamber and advocacy group), of which he was a long-standing member of the managing committee. Earlier, he was the president of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce-NIC, having received its Leadership Award in 2013 and has also served as the chairman of the India-Mexico and India-Colombia Joint Business Councils.
Having sold off his businesses recently, Dalmia has taken a sabbatical and now finds himself contemplating on the next phase of his successful entrepreneurial career.
Away from the world of enterprise, Dalmia participates in civil society and social welfare by contributing to the schools, hospitals and trusts run by his family across the country. Further, in line with the extended Dalmia family’s penchant for art, culture, literature and academics, he remained connected with his alma mater—the Darden School of Business—until recently, as a member of the Darden School Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Further, he is the president emeritus of the Darden School India Alumni Chapter. He also is an art collector, photographer, voracious reader and writer and a music enthusiast. On the home front, Dalmia’s son Pranav has just commenced his MBA programme at the Darden School of Business, while daughter Himani, now married, is discovering the joys and demands of parenthood .