When Dilip Piramal, the executive chairman of VIP Industries Ltd, took over the business in 1973, the sales figure was R50 lakh. Under his able leadership, the company became the market leader with the current market capital being R1,500 crore. We meet Dilip, who is also the president of Indian Merchants’ Chamber, and wife Shalini Piramal, the president of Indian Merchants’ Chamber Ladies Wing, to know more about their work and life together.
“Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup
And I’ll not ask for wine…”
“CAN YOU TELL ME WHO WROTE THIS?” HE ASKS WITH A JOVIAL SMILE. WE ARE talking to Dilip Piramal, the executive chairman of VIP Industries Ltd, about his company, his life and interests, and we thought we had done our research well. However, the question leaves us stumped. As we mumble, he replies with an even bigger smile, “It is Song: to Celia by Ben Jonson, one of the most romantic poems I’ve read.” We realise there are many facets to Dilip Piramal, who is also the president of the Indian Merchants’ Chamber.
We meet Dilip Piramal, 66, and wife Shalini Piramal, 51, at the 10-storey Piramal House off the Worli seaface. While Dilip and his family occupy the sixth, seventh and eighth floors, his brother Ajay Piramal and the family of their deceased brother Ashok Piramal have three floors each to themselves. The sprawling Piramal House overlooking the Bandra-Worli Sea Link was built by Dilip’s grandfather, the late Piramal Makharia, in 1938 and was redeveloped in 2010.
The Piramals are originally from the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan, which comprises the political districts of Jhunjhunu and Sikar. “We come from a place called Bagar, which is in Jhunjhunu district; it’s about 180 km northwest of Jaipur and 220 km southeast of Delhi.” It was Piramal Makharia who had migrated to Mumbai around 110 years ago and set up the family business. While Dilip visits his hometown once every year, he
has spent his entire life in Mumbai, having schooled at
St. Xaviers Boys Academy, Mumbai, and graduated from Sydenham College, Mumbai.
The journey begins
The VIP Industries Ltd was established in 1971, and the first plant was set up in Nashik, Maharastra. When Dilip took over in 1973 the sales figure was R50 lakh. However, his perseverance ensured that VIP became one of the strongest Indian consumer brands, whose current market capitalisation stands at R1,500 crore. While there were very few rival Indian brands till the year 2000, the market share changed for VIP Industries when global leader Samsonite entered the Indian market. “We were the leading luggage brand in India and didn’t have any competition till 2000, when Samsonite, the only multinational company in the world in luggage, entered India. But I am very happy to say that in spite of Samsonite’s presence here for more than 15 years, India is the only country where they are not market leaders. They have operations in about 120 countries, and they are market leaders everywhere else,” Dilip explains.
Dilip was the first brother to break away from the family business, when he took over VIP Industries from luggage veteran Jal Engineer.
Taking life head on
Talking about challenges, Dilip sounds as resilient as his brand VIP is known to be. He feels that though it has been a long journey, it is his philosophical nature that helped him stay afloat. “Life is never smooth; there will always be challenges and problems and I take them in my stride. I am realistic and equanimous and know that things can’t always go the way you want them to,” he says. Instead of blaming luck and despairing, Dilip feels entrepreneurs should rather try to find a way forward when the going gets tough.
When he isn’t working or attending IMC meetings, Dilip enjoys listening to old Hindi movie songs. His wife, Shalini, shares the same passion. “Music binds us,” she says. Inspired by her parents’ love for songs by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Kishore Kumar and Mohd Rafi, Priyadarshini Piramal, their nine-year-old daughter, is learning to play old melodies on her keyboard. There are microphones, music systems and musical instruments in different corners of the spacious house, a testament to the family’s musical inclination.
The role of luck
Shalini is the president of the Indian Merchant Chamber ladies wing, an offer which she says came as a big surprise to her after Dilip became the president of the chamber last year. When he was invited to be the president of the main chamber, by protocol she was asked to take over as the president of the ladies wing. It was more than 10 years of marriage and with her daughter grown up, Shalini felt it was time to step out of her comfort zone and make a difference in the society. “The tenure of a president is only for a year, and by the time one understands how the organisation functions and starts doing constructive work, the term comes to an end. I plan to continue my social work independently after I step down as the president of the IMC ladies wing this June,” she says. Having always wanted to be involved in charitable work, Shalini feels she is lucky to have been given this opportunity.
However, Dilip doesn’t like to attribute too many things to luck. “What does luck mean? Let’s say we start a new project and the economy is not very stable, that is bad luck. For example oil prices are low now, and so it can benefit certain businesses. These are all external factors that may influence your life or business,” he says.
It is Dilip’s perseverance that makes VIP Industries a market leader in India with around 50 per cent market share in the organised sector. In the international market, VIP is on the list of top five luggage companies. Radhika Piramal, Dilip’s second daughter from his first marriage to Gita Piramal, has taken the company to greater heights as the managing director of VIP Industries Ltd. Radhika did her graduation from Oxford University (UK) and MBA from the Harvard Business School.
According to Dilip, the success of a consumer brand like VIP depends on two factors: the growth of the overall market [like the GDP growth rate in India] and the company’s competitive position in that market. “Our competitive position is strong and with India poised for robust economic growth, our growth figures are also good. Currently, we are growing at about 20 per cent,” he says. The growth rate wasn’t this high even last year, which Dilip attributes to the economy not developing fast enough. “Our growth rates haven’t been so great in the last 15 years. I hope India’s economy is on a much better footing now and I would like to see growth of at least 15 per cent if not more every year; that should make us a strong, formidable company,” he says.
With strong entry barriers in the luggage business, building foreign markets has been quite challenging for VIP Industries. Nonetheless, it has a strong presence in the Gulf countries. “We set up a plant in Bangaldesh in 2014 to manufacture products for the Indian market. However, we do not plan to set up any more plants on foreign shores as we pin our hopes on the ‘Make in India’ campaign,” Dilip says.
Charity runs in the family
Dilip Piramal’s grandfather was instrumental in establishing the Piramal Education Trust, which is now run by different branches of the Piramal family. “My grandfather was attached to his hometown and would go there every two-three months. Most business families from Rajasthan build schools or hospitals or temples in their hometowns and we have been no different. My grandfather started a pathshala for the underprivileged, after which we built a girls’ school there. My father and I have tried to continue the tradition started by him,” Dilip says with a smile.
For Shalini, education of girls and empowerment of women are equally important, and she feels women who are eager to work should be encouraged. Talking about an exhibition organised by the IMC Ladies Wing last year at Dome @ NSCI, Mumbai, for which she had screened women entrepreneur applicants, she says, “It was amazing to see that so many women choose to work from home since they are not allowed to take up a job outside.” The need of the hour, she feels, is to encourage women to work, provide them with skill development opportunities, and give them a platform where they can put their skills to use.
Role as IMC president
Dilip Piramal feels the role of the Indian Merchants’ Chamber has undergone a sea change in the last two decades. One of the key functions of the chamber was to disseminate business information received from the government; but with the advent of technology, 24/7 news channels and the internet, this role is gradually becoming defunct. “I remember during the budget, the chamber used to hold special presentations. Now, live television enables citizens to watch the budget while the finance minister is presenting it,” he says.
With India’s economic progress, the number of business firms is increasing and so the IMC now has more people to interact and deal with. “The government is on a
reform mode, which includes tax reforms for businesses. So the need to present our case before the government is not as strong now,” Dilip says. The IMC president’s term is only for a year. With nearly 2/3rd of his term over, Dilip feels he has been continuing the good work of the chamber these past months and he is satisfied with his team and its functions.
When we ask Dilip Piramal how his Marwari background helped him in his journey, he replies nonchalantly, “I don’t think it makes much of a difference. Today nobody cares where you come from as long as you perform well.” He does agree that being born to an industrialist family helps in building connections, but that it no longer is restricted to a particular geographical zone. “Today I’m speaking in English and have lived in Mumbai all my life. So, you see we are all becoming increasingly cosmopolitan.”
His wife, Shalini, was born in Delhi and moved to Mumbai when she was young. “I did a fashion designing course from Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai, but could not pursue my career after my father fell ill and passed away.” Coming from a nuclear family, marriage was a huge but successful transition for her, and she gives all the credit to her husband. Talking about the extended Piramal family, which includes Urvi Piramal, wife of the eldest brother the late Ashok Piramal, and her family, and younger brother Ajay Piramal and his family, Shalini says, “They are such dignified and gracious people. Dilip has been my support, both at home and at work.
Dilip and Shalini Piramal’s lavish house is tastefully furnished, with exquisite artefacts and stunning paintings highlighting the couple’s taste for art. It is no surprise that Dilip was instrumental in the setting up of NCPA’s (National Centre Performing Arts, Mumbai) Piramal Gallery in 1987, which is India’s first gallery that promotes the art of photography.
When not working, Dilip Piramal loves to read and travel, which he wants to continue with renewed vigour this year. Shalini wants to pursue her new-found calling—championing the cause of women empowerment. “The IMC Ladies Wing recently donated a huge sum to Vivek Oberoi’s organisation ONE Foundation. I plan to work on more such projects during my tenure and after that as well,” she tells us.
Dilip loves to go on holidays and tries to take time out even when he is travelling for work. “Once my tenure as the president of IMC is over and my responsibilities are fewer, I will tour India extensively,” Dilip says with a smile. Lugging his luggage in a VIP, we guess.