The former Reserve Bank of India building opened in 1939, the Mughal-e-Azam masterpiece from 1960, then the new RBI building built in 1980, and the nine km long Atal Tunnel opened in 2020.
What connects these three?
All of them were made by the growing engineering and construction empire of the Mistry family, whose billionaire patriarch Pallonji Mistry passed away in Mumbai on Tuesday at the age of 93. His funeral is scheduled for 11 am today in Mumbai.
For decades, he led the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, which built luxury hotels, stadiums, palaces, offices, residences, ports, and factories in 70 countries.
The family business was founded in 1865 when his grandfather, also named Pallonji, started a construction business with an Englishman named Littlewood Pallonji. The initial project was Mumbai’s first reservoir built on the highest point of Malabar Hill. When he died in 1921, his son Shapoorji took over. The company began doing business with the Tata family in the 1920s. Pallonji Mistry, who was born in 1929, joined the business in 1947 at the age of 18.
The group went on to build some of Mumbai’s iconic buildings that dot the city’s skyline today, including HSBC Bank, The Cricket Club of India, New India Assurance, the Reserve Bank of India buildings, Grindlays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and the State Bank of India. He also built famous studios at Mahalaxmi in Mumbai.
The company is also known for building the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the 20-story tower wing extension, as well as the Oberoi Hotel, both of which were attacked by terrorists in 2008.
Interestingly, the group had a brief brush with Bollywood when Pallonji’s father financed the biggest box office hit of his day in Hindi cinema, Mughal-e-Azam.
Released in 1960, it was the most expensive film of its time and took more than eight years to make. The Mughal-e-Azam script was reportedly presented to him as payment for a debt. The family did not invest in the movie business after that.
Towards the end of the 1960s, Pallonji led the company’s expansion into the Middle East. Construction in the Middle East, fueled by petrodollars, was booming, and under his leadership the company bid and won a bid to build the Palace of the Sultan of Oman in 1971 and many ministerial buildings there.
Pallonji took over the reins of the company in 1975, when his father passed away. When the Al Alam Palace in Muscat opened that year, Shapoorji Pallonji not only became the first Indian construction company to complete a project abroad, but the palace also became a showpiece of Indian capabilities for the world.
This was also a launching pad for the group to consolidate its presence in the Middle East and venture into Africa, where it has executed several flagship projects such as the Presidential Office in Ghana, the National Assembly in Gambia and the Ebene IT Park in Mauritius. .
Back home, the company also built the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1962, Mumbai’s World Trade Center in 1970, Tata and the twin 60-story residential towers called the Imperial in the city in 2010. The Imperial was the tallest skyscraper in the city. high in India for nearly a decade. Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, MCA Stadium in Pune, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, Park Towers and the Landmark Group Building in Dubai were also the company’s legacy.
Pallonji’s management style and desire to expand globally contrasted with that of his father, who reportedly traveled abroad only twice for medical treatment for some family members. Pallonji renounced Indian nationality in 2003 and became an Irish citizen after his marriage to Dublin-born Patsy Perin Dubash. But he continued to live in his sea-view bungalow in Mumbai’s Walkeshwar.
Pallonji Mistry’s 18.4% holdings made him the largest individual shareholder in Tata Sons. In early 2012, he stepped down as chairman of the Shapoorji Pallonji group and handed over the chairmanship to his eldest son, Shapoor Mistry.
He was often referred to as the “ghost of Bombay House” for his indirect influence on the affairs of the Tata Group. Bombay House is the headquarters of the Tata group. He always kept a low profile and avoided the media. The family is also lonely. Even the details of Pallonji’s marriage are not in the public domain.
Afcons, a unit of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, is known for executing some of the world’s most challenging and complex projects, including the 9.02-kilometre-long Atal Tunnel, which passes under the Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh. It is the longest road tunnel in the world above 10,000 feet. Afcons is also building the Chenab Railway Bridge in Jammu and Kashmir. Raised 359 meters above the riverbed, it will be the tallest single-arch railway bridge in the world.
The Shapoorji Pallonji group today has 70,000 employees worldwide. Pallonji Mistry’s personal philanthropy, always given in private and without fanfare, over the decades has also been significant.