Tribute to Meghji Pethraj Shah: A global business pioneer from Gujarat

Tribute to Meghji Pethraj Shah: A global business pioneer from Gujarat

The Meghraj Group is celebrating 100 years in business this year and to commemorate that centenary, thought leader Professor Atul Shah reflects upon the enduring legacy of its legendary pioneer – businessman and philanthropist Meghji Pethraj Shah – in this special tribute.

Meghji Pethraj Shah was born near Jamnagar in Gujarat, India. At the young age of 11, he became a schoolteacher in his village and enjoyed learning and sharing.

In 1919, at the age of 15, Meghji left his home, and travelled to Mombasa, Kenya, where he found work in a shop. He became one of the pioneers of the historic migration from India of the Halari Visa Oshwal community, which has today become one of the world’s foremost business and professional diasporas, with huge accomplishments in manufacturing, trading, finance and the accountancy profession.

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In 1922, M.P. Shah left his job and moved to Nairobi, where he started his first business, Raichand Brothers, which was initially involved in retailing and wholesaling. Over the next 35 years, he created a business group of over 50 companies involved in distribution, trading, manufacturing and finance.

In addition to East Africa, he also set up and acquired companies in India and UK. He travelled extensively internationally evaluating business opportunities and meeting suppliers and customers. In business, he was adventurous and visionary, and an eager student, building important alliances with the British colonialists.

M.P. Shah retired from active business in 1954 at the young age of 49 and moved from Kenya to India, to devote most of his time, energy and money to charitable activities. He changed career from making to giving, and became a venture philanthropist, with a keen social vision in the areas of public education and healthcare.

He sponsored or built more than 100 schools, colleges, libraries, hostels and hospitals in India and Kenya, with a keen eye for sustainability. M.P. Shah ensured that there were partnerships with local government and community, for effective management and governance. Most of these institutions survive to this day, with some of the more famous being M.P. Shah Medical College in Jamnagar, M.P. Shah Hospital in Nairobi, M.M. Shah School in Mombasa, and M.P. Shah Education Complex in Jamnagar. Thousands of students and patients have benefited from this international philanthropy and continue to do so today.

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M.P. Shah’s sons, Vipin and Anant, started a commercial bank in London, Meghraj Bank, which provided critical finance to small and medium-sized businesses and start-ups from the Indian diaspora in the UK from the 1970s to the 1990s, at a time when other banks were unsupportive.

Meghraj Bank provided initial finance to a number of businesses that are very successful today. The business that M.P. Shah founded, Meghraj Group, celebrates its centenary in 2022 and his legacy lives on.

by Prof. Atul Shah

Atul Keshavji Shah is a thought leader, writer, lecturer and broadcaster and Founder of Masala Tour.

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