When Kumar Mangalam Birla walked into the sprawling Aditya Birla Group headquarters at Mumbai’s Lower Parel on January 30 this year, he was in for a pleasant surprise. There were giant banners all over, saying “We are proud of you” and his colleagues lined up to welcome their chairman with fireworks and confetti. The occasion was momentous: The 55-year-old Birla was among the Padma Bhushan award winners for 2023 for his contribution to “trade and industry”.
An emotional Birla, flanked by his mother Rajashree Birla, herself a Padma Bhushan award winner, and children, could only say: “Everyone, all of you make me proud”. The applause was deafening. Getting Padma awards has become almost a tradition in the Birla family — apart from Rajashree, the past award winners were Kumar Mangalam’s great grandfather GD Birla and uncle GP Birla.
The list of Birla’s achievements is long. When he took over the mantle of the group after the untimely death of his father, many had thought the burden of legacy would be too onerous for the young man. He has proved them wrong. In the 28-plus years that he has been at the helm, he has accelerated growth, increasing the group’s turnover 30 times, from $2 billion to $60 billion (as on March 31, 2022).
In the process, he has led 40 acquisitions, among the highest by any Indian multinational. The group is present in 36 countries across six continents with over 50% of its revenues coming from overseas operations.
The first acquisition was in 1999, when Indian Rayon acquired Madura Garments, the readymade garment division of Madura Coats, a subsidiary of Coats Viyella plc, UK. This helped the group cement its leadership position in the apparel business through an entry into the high value ready-to-wear segment. Through this acquisition, the group became the owner of premium brands such as Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Peter England and Louis Philippe.
In 2004, Birla acquired management control of UltraTech Cement, the demerged cement operation of Larsen & Turbo. A $7.1-billion building solutions powerhouse, UltraTech is the largest manufacturer of grey cement and ready mix concrete in India. It is also the third-largest cement producer in the world, excluding China. UltraTech is the only cement company globally (outside of China) to have 100+ MTPA of cement manufacturing capacity in a single country.
In 2007, Birla’s flagship metals company Hindalco bought Atlanta-based Novelis Inc, the world’s leading producer of aluminium rolled products and the largest recycler of aluminium. The company operates 33 facilities in nine countries with over 12,000 employees. Novelis has a global rolling capacity of 4 MT.
In 2012, Aditya Birla Nuvo acquired Future Group’s Pantaloons, entering multiple brands, store formats and a complete range across all categories — casual wear, ethnic wear, formal wear, party wear and sportswear for men, women and kids.
In 2020, Novelis acquired US-based global aluminium flat rolled producer Aleris. This acquisition positions Hindalco as one of the world’s largest aluminium companies, with a global footprint spanning 49 state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe and Asia.
Birla’s footprint isn’t restricted to industry alone. A graduate from London Business School (LBS), and an MBA from University of London in 1992, Birla now serves on the LBS’ Asia Pacific Advisory Board and is an Honorary Fellow of the School. He is also the chancellor of the Birla Institute of Technology & Science, BITSoM (School of Management) and recently launched BITS Law School.
Birla constituted a £15-million scholarship programme at the LBS in memory of his grandfather, marking the largest-ever endowed scholarship gift to a European Business School.
As if this wasn’t enough, he was the architect of the first-ever governance code for corporate India as he chaired the Securities and Exchange Board of India Committee on corporate governance. Outside the group, he has held several key positions on various regulatory and professional boards. He was a director on the central board of directors of Reserve Bank of India (RBI).