Srichand Hinduja, businessman, 1935-2023 | Financial Times


Srichand Hinduja led a business empire that grew from a modest trading concern in India and Iran in the middle of the 20th century to a sprawling global network with interests spanning carmaking, IT and oil.

But for all his business achievements, in the UK Hinduja’s name evokes a passport row involving one of the architects of New Labour, Peter Mandelson, who resigned from Tony Blair’s cabinet over the affair.

Hinduja, who has died aged 87, was the eldest of a group of brothers known as India’s “fab four”. He was a ferocious networker who threw opulent parties for the rich and powerful, and cultivated contacts from George HW Bush to Michael Jackson. But he was also a deeply religious man who did not touch alcohol or meat and, before the onset of his dementia, would pray in a Hindu temple at least once a day.

Born in 1935 in the Sindh province of what is now Pakistan, Hinduja’s family settled in Tehran, Iran, where his father Parmanand had set up business as a dried goods trader.

The Hindujas expanded their interests in Iran, distributing Indian films dubbed in Farsi and providing uniforms for the armed forces. The brothers developed a relationship with the shah, and profited when the 1974 oil crisis pushed up prices. But they left the country shortly before the 1979 revolution. Hinduja moved to London along with his brother Gopichand, while Prakash went to Geneva and Ashok to Mumbai.

From his business headquarters in New Zealand House in London’s Haymarket, Hinduja, known as SP, expanded the family’s assets beyond an old-style commodity trading business. In 1987, they made their first sizeable investment in a public company, with the purchase of a majority stake in the automotive manufacturer Ashok Leyland.

Gopichand, Prakash and Srichand Hinduja in New Delhi in 2001. Srichand was the eldest of a group of brothers known as India’s ‘fab four’ © AFP/Getty Images

A broad range of other investments followed, from telecommunications to power. As of last year, the Hindujas were, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, Britain’s richest family, whose £28bn fortune includes interests in the IT provider Hinduja Global Solutions, IndusInd Bank and Gulf Oil International. The Hinduja Group employs about 200,000 people globally, and the family’s other assets include a home in London near Buckingham Palace.

As the head of one of Britain’s most prominent business families, Hinduja endeared himself to Conservative political heavyweights including the former UK prime ministers Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath and John Major.

He subsequently developed close ties with New Labour. Encouraged by Mandelson, who was then the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Hinduja came to the rescue of the government’s troubled Millennium Dome by providing funds for the project. Mandelson was accused of helping Hinduja secure British citizenship, and he was forced to resign in 2001 over the claims. A subsequent inquiry cleared the politician of any impropriety.

The brothers were for decades known for their close bond and liked to be seen together, even turning out in similar clothes. In an interview with the Financial Times in 1994, Srichand once explained that the family did not believe in wills. “All the children belong to everyone. Everyone works out of duty.”

Yet Hinduja was no stranger to tragedy. His son Dharam died in 1992 of severe burns. Press reports at the time said his death was a suicide pact with his new wife, and claimed the family had rejected the woman as a suitable bride. Hinduja did not accept either assertion.

Recent legal cases have laid bare a dispute at the heart of the family. In 2019, Hinduja lodged a civil lawsuit in London’s High Court against his three brothers over the validity of a letter that the four of them signed in 2014, which claimed that any assets held in any single brother’s names belonged to all four. The case has been stayed, and the two sides are seeking to reach a settlement.

In his later years, Hinduja was seen as more of a philanthropist than a tycoon, having made gifts to Cambridge and Harvard universities and to Indian hospitals. Yet until his health deteriorated, he was never far from the family’s business matters. As a patriarch, he remained dutiful until the end.