“If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India” - Max Mueller
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Europeans came to India in waves. Some went back, but quite a few stayed behind, bitten and hopelessly charmed by the India bug. Max Mueller is probably one of the better known of the Indophiles, but the list can get quite long when one really starts to pen it down.
One such story is of the Hayward family, a name made famous as one of the most popular beer brands in the country today. It all began with the pioneer Eric Hayward, who came to India in 1904 to work at his maternal uncle’s chemical plant - his father at the time was a doctor with the Indian Medical Service. Four generations on, the Hayward family still has its roots firmly planted in India. Today, the family legacy is being rediscovered by 25-year-old Ben Hayward, in a four-part web series. Ben, Eric’s great grandson who has been raised in the UK, travelled across the country from Kolkata to Amritsar and Goa to visit family and acquaintances, while documenting the brand’s journey, and re-kindling the relationships that his family had built over the last century.
“I had heard a bit about our family heritage while growing up. An alcohol brand doesn’t interest you when you are young. But you soon realise how cool it is. So, I decided to spend my summer in India to discover more about my family’s legacy,” Ben told HT.
When Eric came to India in the early 1900s, he found a country that had just begun to sow the seeds of industrialisation. Homegrown maverick Dorabji Tata took forward his father Jamsetji’s dream by setting up India’s first steel-making company in 1907, while in 1911 Ghanshyam Das Birla expanded his trading business by building jute, cotton and sugar mills. Eric was also quick to realise the latent potential of India and soon diversified from the chemical business by expanding a small distillery within the company that at the point made only country liquor. He set up the Bengal Distilleries Company and started producing gin, vodka and brandy.
Eric may have been the pioneer, but it was his son Tony Hayward who really drove the business and established the family name in India. Tony joined his father’s business after returning to India from England post World War II, where he had been enlisted with the Royal Navy. In 1958, the family decided to sell the business to Shaw Wallace, a British-owned trading house. Tony decided to stay on with Shaw Wallace, soon leading operations for South India.
“Somehow I never realised how big the Haywards brand was till I got here and saw the billboards in Bangalore. I got in touch with a lot of family contacts in my travels across six weeks,” said Ben, who is today a finance professional with an asset management firm. Ben was based out of Gurgaon till a few weeks back, and has now moved to Dubai.
He added, “Many of my grandfather’s (Tony) associates are very old today, but it was great reminiscing with them about the days when they helped build the brand across the country.”
As India’s post-independence economy started its upward trajectory, Tony also rapidly rose within the firm, finally taking charge and becoming Chairman and Managing Director in 1970. The Haywards liquor brand flourished under the Shaw Wallace umbrella, and was soon extended to lager beer starting 1974. The beer range was then expanded with the strong Haywards 2000 variant, before adding the now famous Haywards 5000 which became India’s bestselling strong ale.
Outside Shaw Wallace, he was also a face for the Indian industry and British commercial interests (in India), first by leading the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and then the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India as its President in 1977-78.
Tony Hayward retired from the company and left India in 1978; he was knighted in that year for services to Anglo-Indian business. He then moved to Singapore, where he successfully revitalised the trading arm of the Guthrie plantation group and led its sale to Malay-Chinese investors. Tony was also a director of a Hong Kong-based trading group, Li & Fung, and later chairman of the Baring Peacock Fund, an investment trust specialising in the Subcontinent. He retired to Sandwich in Kent, UK, passing away in 2011.
The Haywards brand was finally sold to one of the world’s largest brewers SABMiller in 2005, and is today one of the country’s top-selling beer brands with a leadership in markets such as Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
The Haywards’ romance with India, however, does not end with Tony. Two of his children, Charlotte and Simon, today operate a hotel in Goa called the Vivenda Dos Palhacos. The hotel used to serve free Haywards beer to guests, and now runs a contest where person who drinks the most beer will get the tab waived off. “Before this visit, I’ve been to India probably twice before. The last time was 10-12 years ago when the whole family met to celebrate my grandparent’s 50th marriage anniversary,” said Ben.
Asked if he would love to come back to India and work for a brand that bears his name, Ben said in humour, “Never say never. My grandfather spoke very fondly of India. And if I get an opportunity to work here from SABMiller, I will surely consider it.”
To know more about the legacy behind your favourite beer brand, catch Ben’s journey through India in a four-part webseries called ‘2 Men and a Beer’.