As safe as… Godrej

Vote of confidence The ballot box that Godrej made for India’s first general elections in 1952   -  Shashi Ashiwal / Godrej Archives

The group’s product portfolio ranges from soaps to safety devices to aerospace manufacturing

When independent India’s first general elections were to take place in 1951-52, the government had to find a manufacturer for the ballot boxes. It zeroed in on Godrej & Boyce, which was by then already known for its high-quality locks and lockers. The company’s factory in Vikhroli started operations in July 1951 and produced 15,000 ballot boxes a day to meet the order of 12 lakh boxes from 23 States. The cost per box: ₹5.

“With external locks proving expensive, Nathalal Panchal, a workman at Godrej, devised a unique locking system. It could only be opened by breaking a pre-impressed insignia and manipulating the locking lever through the aperture covered by the insignia,” explains Vrunda Pathare, chief archivist at Godrej. One of these ballot boxes adorns the conglomerate’s archives in suburban Vikhroli.

Back in 1947, Godrej was not only offering security solutions. The group had also started manufacturing cupboards and soaps. “Soap production was a result of the vow to use swadeshi products in pre-independent India. Sir Ardeshir Godrej came out with a washing soap bar in 1918 and toilet soap in 1920,” says Pathare. The first vegetable-oil soap was named ‘No. 2’ while No. 1 came in 1922. This soap continues to be popular in India even today.

The Godrej group’s history does not begin from the 20th century. It was in 1897 in a tiny shed in Mumbai’s Lalbaugh area that Ardeshir Godrej came out with a high-security lock, branded as Anchor. This shed eventually became the shopfloor for churning out various products using metal sheets. Today, however, operations have shifted entirely to Vikhroli.

Godrej was also called upon to provide safes for the Queen of England when she visited India in 1905. Today, Godrej Security Solutions caters not only to domestic clients but also exports to 45 countries.

The Group’s manufacturing extends even to aerospace components.

Generations of Godrej employees have grown up and followed in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents in the company.

Javed Khan, Head of Operations at Hubble (the group’s collaborative workspace division), says his grandfather Sikander Khan worked for 35 years in the electricity department and his father Amir Khan spent close to four decades in the group’s manufacturing division.

“After studying in the UK, I joined Godrej in 2010. I have worked in other companies too, but I find the working conditions the best here,” he says. The group not only takes care of employees’ housing, schooling and medical needs, it also offers freedom to work and execute ideas, says Khan. “There is a culture of promoting entrepreneurship within the organisation. My business idea has been sponsored by the group,” he adds.

Somewhat similar is the story of Khushnuma Khambatta, associate general manager at Godrej Interio. Her father worked for over four decades in multiple roles from marketing to manufacturing. He retired in 2014 while Khushnuma had joined the group in 2001. “When I was a kid, my father bought home books on the group. I grew up seeing a company that had an Indian fabric and a global vision. It made me want to work for Godrej,” she says.

After evolving from manufacturing to marketing, the Godrej group is now focussed on design and innovation.

It is this continuous reinvention of the group that stands it in good stead to thrive in the coming centuries as well.

Published on August 17, 2016

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