Raj Bagri, who died here on Wednesday, was the longest serving chairman in the history of the London Metal Exchange (LME) and was known for contributing to several social causes, including those of the Indian community in the United Kingdom.
Born in Kolkata on August 24, 1930, Bagri was described as a self-made man with several achievements in the world of business, particularly in metals. He is particularly known for modernising the LME.
“He was a pillar of the Indian community. He came to this country at a young age and gained much respect. It is a big loss to us. He had a quiet, understated personality and contributed much to the community,” industrialist Swraj Paul told Hindustan Times on Thursday.
CB Patel, community leader and publisher of Gujarat Samachar, said: “He was a totally self-made person, a humble man, but always strove to cherish and maintain values. Many individuals and institutions have benefited from his support and advice.
“Bagri’s handling of the copper scandal in 1996 as LME chairman was exemplary,” Patel added.
In September 2000, Bagri led LME’s demutualisation, which changed its foundations by transferring the market from a cooperative style structure to a private shareholder-owned exchange. This, in turn, accelerated the market’s modernisation, ensured its continued growth and retained its dominant position as the world leading metals exchange.
His work and life inspired many.
Karan Bilimoria, member of House of Lords and founder of Cobra beer, told Hindustan Times, “From the time I started my business as a young entrepreneur, he was an inspiration to me as an Indian who had become such a hugely successful businessman, shattering all the glass ceilings and reaching the very top as the first member of the ethnic minority communities to head the London Metal Exchange – amongst his many achievements. I had the privilege of working alongside him in the House of Lords when I joined 10 years ago. There is no taking away the sadness at this time, however his inspiration will live on forever and his legacy will be continued by his very impressive son, Apurv Bagri who is a chip off the old block. Lord Bagri was always a thorough gentleman, mild in manner and always kind and generous.”
Bagri’s fascination with the world of metals was evident when, regaining consciousness from a medical condition after a protracted period earlier this month, his first question to his son Apurv was: "What’s the price of copper?"
He was awarded a royal honour (CBE) in 1995 and made a peer in the House of Lords the next year. He gave up his seat in the House in 2010 when rules changed and he preferred to retain his non-domicile status for tax purposes.
Bagri also oversaw the introduction of an electronic trading platform at the LME, launching LMEselect in February 2001, based on his belief that the exchange could not let technology move ahead without it.
Bagri lost his father when he was three, and his mother sent him to work at 15 as a filing clerk for a metals firm in Kolkata in order to understand the value of money – this was when his love affair with metals began. The young Bagri, apprenticed with the Binani family’s Metal Distributors company, learned quickly and became passionate about the metals world.
He eventually convinced his bosses to send him to Malaysia to pitch to a major tin producer in Penang. He later moved to London, eventually moving there permanently with his wife Usha after persuading his bosses to allow him to set up a trading firm, Metal Distributors (UK).
Unable to become a member of the LME due to Indian foreign exchange controls at the time, Bagri continued to run Metal Distributors (UK) but also set up Metdist, which finally joined the LME a decade later after he worked assiduously to persuade the LME to open its door to foreign membership.
He created the Bagri Foundation, a UK registered charity, in 1990, providing philanthropic assistance through education, relief work, the advancement of health and the preservation of Asia’s cultural heritage.
Bagri leaves behind wife Usha and son Apurv and daughter Amita, who lives in India.