Kasturbhai Lalbhai was one of India’s pioneering industrialists of the twentieth century who played an active role in public policy and the establishment of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.
He was born on 19 December, 1894, in Jhaveriwad, Ahmedabad, in a business family of Nagarsheths, traditionally mercantile city-chiefs. He quit studies at an early age to look after the family business after his father’s untimely death. He found his calling in the cotton mill industry and after working at Raipur Mills, owned by his family, he founded several other mills, including Arvind Mills in 1931. Outside business, he also played a role in politics as he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly in 1923 and participated in the Swadeshi movement of the 1930s. He held several leadership positions and was the President of the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries or FICCI (1934), a Director of the Reserve Bank of India (1937-1949) and signatory to the famous Bombay Plan of 1944 that laid a blueprint for economic development in Independent India.
He co-founded the Ahmedabad Education Society (AES) in 1936, which gave birth to a wide range of educational institutions in Ahmedabad. Along with Vikram Sarabhai, he was also instrumental in establishing the Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Association (ATIRA) in 1947. When the location choice of a new management institute was under discussion, Lalbhai galvanized the industrialists of Ahmedabad city to pledge monetary support to the institute. This ready financial support was a crucial factor in locating the IIM in Ahmedabad in 1961 and the IIMA Society that was formed to govern it included several local industrialists.
Despite Lalbhai’s key role in setting up IIMA, he declined the Chairmanship because he wanted the institute to have representation and standing from people beyond Ahmedabad. He served on the Board of Governors of IIMA for several years and played an important role in key decisions made during the founding years of the Institute. Crucially he served on the Buildings Committee, and his vision for top-class architecture brought several eminent architects to Ahmedabad, including Louis Kahn, to design educational institutions. His eye for architecture also restored many Jain temples through the Anandji Kalyanji Trust that he chaired.
Kasturbhai Lalbhai died on 20 January, 1980, in Ahmedabad. His son, Shrenik Lalbhai (1925-2014), did his MBA at HBS, was a part-time faculty at IIMA in its initial years and later served on IIMA’s board for many years. Kasturbhai Lalbhai’s biography, The Dynamics of a Tradition: Kasturbhai Lalbhai and His Entrepreneurship was written by Dwijendra Tripathi, IIMA faculty, in 1981 and the material used to write it was donated to the National Archives of India in Delhi. IIMA continues to honour him by hosting the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Chair Professorship in Entrepreneurship and having the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Management Development Centre (KLMDC). A museum in his name has been established in Ahmedabad by the Lalbhai family.