East India Company – Owning a Company that Once Owned Us
East India Company, the company that ruled India for more than 200 years. A group of merchants with a sole motive of trading in / with India and other neighboring countries established the company in 1600. Queen Elizabeth I gave them the monopoly privileges and full control over the trades with East Indies. After the establishment of East India Company, the first ship that came to India was in the year 1608 at the port of Surat. In 1615, Sir Thomas Roe gained the right from Mughal Emperor Jahangir to establish a factory resulting in the first British factory set up on Indian land Surat.
The main trading commodities were indigo dye, cotton, opium, saltpeter, spices, silk and Tea. Gradually the company took over all the administrative tasks and start ruling. British people working in India under “The East India Company” flagship took all the major decisions, be it administrative functions, trade or any commercial pursuits. In the year 1757, the military power of the British was at peak after the battle of Plassey and the soldiers started ruling aggressively. The rule lasted for over 100 years until 1858. It was in the year 1857 that some Indian rebellions could not digest the fact that some foreign people are ruling their country, their land. They came forward and formed groups to end the “British Raj”.
However, the company dissolved on 1st January 1874, but for a long period the merchants still enjoyed the monopoly trade and privileged position in all trades with India. These trade monopolies and privileges lead to the fire of resentments among the various other competitor countries and began to battle each other to rule over India.
Sanjiv Mehta, an Indian entrepreneur, bought the East India Company in the year 2005. He managed to buy share from 30 -40 shareholders of the East India Company. After acquiring the company, he planed to re-launch “The East India Company” as a new brand to market a range of fine luxury foods, and has identified, tasted and sourced over 350 products. These products falls under the categories such as Tea, Chocolate, Coffee, Wines, Jams, Mustard and Biscuits, as well as a range of corporate and occasion based gift boxes, hampers and trunks.
For Sanjiv Mehta it has been a long emotional journey and has a satisfaction that now he owns a piece of history. Mehta says, “I’m overwhelmed by a huge feeling of redemption.” At one point in time the company generated half of world trade and employed a third of the British workforce which is commendable. Today Mehta is the sole owner of East India Company with an investment of $15 million.
His aim is to open his first East India Company store in London’s up market Mayfair neighborhood and then in other parts of the world. In an interview, Mehta said “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.”
“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. When I took over the company, my objective was to understand its history. I took a sabbatical from all other business and this became the single purpose in my life.”
Mehta spend a considerable amount of time, money and effort traveling around the world visiting museums, former EIC trading etc. He also read all the records of East India Company and met people who had a fair knowledge of business of the time when company was established.
Mehta says : “There was a huge sense of responsibility – I didn’t create this brand, but I wanted to be as pioneering as the merchants who created it. The Elizabethan coat of arms stands for trust and reassurance, but we are not repeating history. It took me four years to do the brand positioning and put up the milestones.”
The re-launched brand “East India Company” will market the high-end luxury goods of India, in London. “India is the spirit of the East India Company in many ways – it evokes a huge amount of connectivity and emotions, it’s also a major ambition to bring Indian products to the rest of the world. Today there is no single brand name from the East that can stand alongside, say, Hermes or Cartier from the West. The East India Company has that ability.”