With just around a month to go for the re-launch of the East India Company — the world’s first multinational whose forces once ruled much of the globe — its new Indian owner says he is overwhelmed by “a huge feeling of redemption”. It’s been a long and emotional journey for Sanjiv Mehta, a Mumbai-born entrepreneur who completed the process of buying the East India Company in 2005 from the “30 or 40” people who owned it.
With a $15-million investment, Mehta is poised to open the first East India Company store in London’s upmarket Mayfair neighbourhood in March. And then there is the inevitable — and daunting — task of launching in India, a country whose resources, army, trade and politics it had controlled for some 200 years.
It’s a task that Mehta has not taken lightly. “Put yourself in my shoes for a moment: On a rational plane, when I bought the company I saw gold at the end of the rainbow,” he said. “But, at an emotional level as an Indian, when you think with your heart as I do, I had this huge feeling of redemption — this indescribable feeling of owning a company that once owned us.”
With its own Elizabethan coat of arms — now owned by Mehta — the company, started in 1600, was made responsible for bringing tea, coffee and luxury goods to the West and trading in spices across the globe.
By 1757, the company had become a powerful arm of British imperial might controlling key trading posts in India. In 1874, the British government nationalised the company, opportunistically blaming the 1857 uprising on its excesses.
“When I took over, my objective was to understand its history. I took a sabbatical from all other business and this became the single purpose in my life.”
He travelled around the world, visiting former EIC trading posts and museums, reading up records and meeting people “who understood the business of that time”.
The relaunched company, with its headquarters on Conduit Street in Mayfair, is set to open a diverse line of high-end, luxury goods in London in March and in India some time this year. EIC products in India will include fine foods, furniture, real estate, health and hospitality. Indo-Asian News Service