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  • 29 Jan 2021 15:30

An entrepreneur, a visionary, a philanthropist

Mr. Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi was born on August 15, 1898, in the erstwhile undivided Punjab. He was barely six months old when his father passed away. He grew up under the love, guardianship and supervision of his grandfather, who made sure that he received the best education and upbringing. He completed his primary education in Rawalpindi and moved to Lahore for his bachelor's degree. Shortly thereafter, to flee the plague, he went to Shimla and found a job with a monthly salary of Rs. 50, as a front desk clerk at The Cecil Hotel, which The Oberoi Group acquired in 1944 and still owns today.

The beginnings of a hotel chain legacy

Mr. Oberoi’s work ethics and dedication saw him grow at his job with Shimla’s Cecil Hotel, which led Mr. Ernest Clarke, the Manager, to quickly promote him.. Mr. Clarke later bought the Carlton Hotel in Shimla, which he renamed ‘Clarkes Hotel’, and offered Mr. Oberoi the job of General Manager there. In 1934, Clarkes Hotel became the first property Mr. Oberoi acquired, after Mr. Clarke had returned to England. He did so by mortgaging his wife's jewellery and all his assets. With this purchase, The Oberoi Group came into existence.

“My life has been achievement-oriented. I started off as a coal clerk at the Cecil Hotel in Shimla. But I always had dreams and I worked my way at fulfilling those dreams.”

With his diligence, enthusiasm, intelligence and entrepreneurial spirit, Mr. Oberoi went on to take over operations at the 500-room Grand Hotel in Kolkata, as well as purchase shares in Associated Hotels of India (AHI), which owned Cecil and Corstophans hotels in Shimla, Maidens and Imperial hotels in New Delhi, and a hotel each in Lahore, Murree, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. In 1943, Mr. Oberoi acquired controlling interest in AHI, thus becoming the first Indian to run the country's largest and finest hotel chain.

Leading the Indian hospitality industry

Having consolidated his early ventures, Mr. Oberoi went on to become the first Indian hotelier to enter into an agreement with an internationally renowned hotel chain, to open India’s first modern, five-star hotel in the country – The Oberoi Inter Continental in New Delhi – in 1965. The ‘I-Con’, as it became popularly known, offered facilities that could not be matched by any other hotel in the country at that time.

After that, there was no looking back. In 1966, The Oberoi Group established the prestigious Oberoi School of Hotel Management, recognised by the International Hotel Association in Paris. In 1973, the 35-storey Oberoi Sheraton opened in Mumbai. Realising that the hotel and hospitality business are greatly dependent on travel agents, he decided to establish his own travel agency. Today, Mercury Travels, part of The Oberoi Group, ranks among the leading travel agencies in India.

With foresight and imagination, Mr. Oberoi converted old and dilapidated palaces, historical monuments and buildings into magnificent hotels, such as The Oberoi Grand in Kolkata the historic Mena House Oberoi in Cairo and The Windsor in Australia. The Oberoi Cecil, Shimla, built in the early 20th century, reopened in April 1997, after extensive and meticulous renovation.

“I have been able to accept the challenge and make good — there is comfort in knowing that whatever little I have achieved, has also helped to raise the prestige of my country.”

A visionary leader

  • First Indian to work in association with international chains to attract international travellers to India. This led to a heavy influx of international travellers and foreign occupancy soared to an average of 85% .
  • First to employ women in his hotels, and establish a chain of ancillary industries producing and supplying items, such as consumables and stationery of the highest quality
  • First to start flight catering operations in India in 1959

Honoured with awards and recognitions

  • Conferred the title of Rai Bahadur by the British Government in recognition of his services to the Crown (1943)
  • Hall of Fame: the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)
  • Man of The World award: the International Hotel Association (IHA), New York
  • Presented the Order of The Republic, First Class by the President of Egypt
  • Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration from the International Management Centre, Buckingham, UK
  • Newsweek named him one of the Elite Winners of 1978
  • The PHDCCI Millennium award in 2000 in recognition of his entrepreneurial and business success
  • Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2001

Going global

To place The Oberoi Group on the world map, Mr. Oberoi exported management expertise to Australia, Egypt and Singapore, where the Group took charge of the management of existing luxury hotels. The success of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts overseas, in the face of global competition, greatly enhanced the image of the Group. Today, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts in Indonesia, Egypt, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and India add value and distinction to their host countries.

Setting a strong foundation for the future

Under Mr. Oberoi’s dynamic leadership, The Oberoi Group introduced its second brand of five-star hotels, 'Trident', to India. Presently, there are 10 Trident Hotels in India and one in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

In the luxury category, the Group opened:

  • The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur (1997)
  • The Oberoi Cecil, Shimla (1968)
  • The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur (2002)
  • The Oberoi Vanyavilas Wildlife Resort, Ranthambhore (2001)
  • The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra (2000)
  • Wildflower Hall, An Oberoi Resort, Shimla in the Himalayas (1995)
  • The Oberoi Beach Resort, Lombok, Indonesia (1997)
  • The Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali, Indonesia (1978)
  • The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh, Egypt (2001)
  • The Oberoi, Mauritius (2001)
  • The Oberoi Zahra, Luxury Nile Cruiser, Egypt (2007)
  • The Oberoi Philae, Luxury Nile Cruiser, Egypt (1995)
  • The Oberoi Marrakech, Morocco (2019)
  • The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al Zorah (2017)
  • The Oberoi Sukhvilas Spa Resort, New Chandigarh (2016)
  • The Obeori, Madina
  • The Oberoi, New Delhi (1965)
  • The Oberoi, Gurgaon (2011)
  • The Oberoi, Bengaluru (1992)
  • The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata (1968)
  • The Oberoi, Mumbai (1973)
  • The Oberoi Vrinda, Luxury Kerala Cruiser (2003)

“You think of money and you cannot do the right thing, but money will always come once you do the right thing, so the effort should be to do the right thing.”

Mr. Oberoi’s grand vision and energy emanated not only from a passion to grow his business, but also from the desire to see his country get on par with the best of global peers. He was among the first to recognise the potential of the tourism industry in India, its ability to contribute to domestic economic growth, and generate direct and indirect employment. The standards of excellence set by the Group continue to serve as global benchmarks for excellence.

With his passing on May 6th , 2002, Mr. Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi left behind a legacy that underscores entrepreneurial brilliance and leadership excellence. His son, Mr. P. R. S. Oberoi took over the position of the Chairman of the Board of EIH Limited, and continues to carry forward our founder’s vision and values, stewarding the growth of The Oberoi Group to new heights of success.