Khimji Ramdas Group of Companies
Khimji Ramdas Group
This is a newspaper article selected for the excellence of its content.
World's only Hindu Sheikh traces his roots to Gujarat
Runa Mukherjee Parikh| May 11, 2013
Early History: 1870s
It was in 1870 that Ramdas Thackersay set sail from the coastal town of Mandvi to relocate his growing business to Muscat for faster access to strategic ports. His forefathers, dhow merchants from Mandvi, had landed in Sur in the mid-1800s.
This 1870 voyage, however, was different. A decision had been taken that the son would stay back at one of the ports where the trade had been profitable and the hospitality had been gracious and welcoming. The father was Ramdas Thackersay and his son was Khimji Ramdas. They may not have known it at the time but their decision was to build a business that went far beyond the simple trading they practiced at the time.
As traders, they brought grain, tea and spices from India and took away dates, dry lime, and frankincense from the sultanate of Oman. Muscat was, at that time, a very active port. Thackersay's son, Khimji Ramdas, followed him and together, they sowed the seeds of a global enterprise that is today one of the largest business groups in Oman.
Khimji Ramdas Group of Companies passed on from generation to generation and, in 1970, Thackersay's great-grandson, Kanaksi Khimji, took over from his father, Gokaldas, after finishing his education in Mumbai. Today, with an annual turnover of more than $1 billion, the group is the chosen partner of more than 400 top global brands in consumer products, lifestyle, infrastructure, projects and logistics. It has business operations in India and UAE and is a corporate member of the World Economic Forum.
"We see achievements as milestones in the quest for excellence. We just want to be the best," says the 77-year-old tycoon, Kanaksi Khimji. Not sales and volumes, Khimji believes that the most important measure of success for his family's business is how far it has helped advance the national development plans laid out by Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said. In fact, Khimji with his Indian roots was one of the first to embrace Omanisation, a directive to train and empower Omani professionals. Such a rare honour makes Khimji the most distinguished Indian in this Middle Eastern country.
However, it is Khimji's philanthropy that has made him a legend across the world. In 1975, just five years after taking over from his father Gokaldas, Kanakbhai, as he is fondly known, founded the first English Indian School in Muscat. There are 19 Indian schools catering to around 35,000 students in Oman today. Probably the finest jewel in his crown is the title of Sheikh conferred on him by the Sultan, the first-ever use of the title for a member of the Hindu community.
"Though my family hails from Kutch in Gujarat, we have always identified with Oman as our home country," he says. "I was offered the nationality of Oman in recognition of all the goodwill created by my ancestors. It is a gift that I accepted twenty years late. But I am glad I finally did."
When Kanaksi Khimji took over the family business in 1970, motorized navigational ships weren't launched in Oman yet. Earlier, during the two World Wars, the Khimjis were chosen as supplier for provisions for the entire base of allied forces. "This gave us the opportunity to earn revenue and strengthen our base. We quickly learnt the art of supply chain management and maritime shore support," says Pankaj Khimji, son of Kanaksi Khimji and director of the group.
Life before the Omani Renaissance, though, was tough. "The pre-70s were very different as there was no electricity or piped water. We went to wells to take bath and clean clothes. At least one lantern was required to walk on the streets after sunset. It was a close knit community that lived in Muscat and Muttrah. The gates of Muscat closed at sundown," recalls Kanakbhai.
"We stuck to our core business of trading and prospered with the Renaissance setting in. We were expanding as the country grew economically, and we struck roots across the country," he adds.
The first bank to be set up in Muscat was HSBC, its building constructed by the Khimji Ramdas (KR) group more than 60 years ago. Before that, trading was done by barter or through silver. Bait al Falaj, now known as Ruwi, was the first airport in Oman which too was built by the Khimji group. It was the Khimjis who first acquired the Ford dealership in 1969 and, interestingly, the sultan of Oman had ordered their first car.
Not sales and volumes, Khimjis believes that the most important measure of success for their family’s business is how far it has helped advance the national development plans laid out by Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said. In fact, Khimji with his Indian roots was one of the first to embrace Omanisation, a directive to train and empower Omani professionals. Such a rare honour makes Khimji the most distinguished Indian in this Middle Eastern country.
Kanaksi Khimji, born in 1936, took over in 1970 from his father Gokaldas, who was a son of Khimji Ramdas. He led the group in playing a role in the development plans of Oman. In recognition of this, Kanak bhai, as he is popularly known, was conferred two rare honours by the government of Oman. He was among the first to be offered the Omani citizenship, which in those days, was a rare honour for a non-local and non-Muslim. More importantly, in a historic first he was bestowed the title of Sheikh by the government of Oman, which was an unprecedented gesture. He is the only one among the entire Indian diaspora in the Middle-East to have been officially conferred the title of Sheikh. The term “Sheikh“ is an honoured social position in West Asia’s layered society that connotes respect and regard and informal authority. It reflects an acknowledgement of leadership of a tribe or community or clan. The title is generally hereditary though probably needs to be given official recognition at every generational change.
As an expression of the trust and acceptance enjoyed over the generations by the Indian community in Oman, two temples were allowed to be built in the capital Muscat, the first and the only instance in the Gulf Arab countries until recently. There is also a locality in Muscat called Muttrah which is said to be named after Mathura, the famous Indian city near Agra. Also, another place in Muscat is called “Darsait,” which in Arabic means “House of Sait,” apparently indicating a wealthy Indian man had lived in that place. (Seth is a popular term for wealthy businessperson in Hindi and ‘dar’ in Arabic means house). In India, the ruling family of Oman has long association with Mayo College in Ajmer, Rajastan and as a mark have endowed a building there which stands named the House of Oman.
Sources of this section, circulated on Whatsapp, include:
~ Heritage: Khimji Ramdas