Dharampal Gulati, who started out selling spices from a nondescript shack in Delhi’s Karol Bagh and went on, at age 94, to become the highest paid CEO in India’s FMCG sector, blazed a trail of success over his decades-long career.
The second-generation entrepreneur and head of Mahashian Di Hatti or MDH (hatti loosely means a shack to sell things) had a rustic charm that wooed customers — it was plain to see when he himself appeared on television commercials endorsing Deggi Mirch, Chat Masala and Chana Masala, among the most famous products from the MDH stable, which has over 60 products.
Over the years, the MDH Dadaji or Mahashay as he was popularly known, became a household name.
Though the King of Spices is no more — he passed away in Delhi on December 3, aged 98 — generations of Indian households and many more will continue to thank him at their dinner tables.
Many of those households will belong to non-resident Indians, who carry bags of MDH masala packs while traveling from India. Some no longer need to — Gulati, realising the opportunity abroad, had expanded aggressively overseas.
Gulati was born in Sialkot, in undivided India, in 1923. He dropped out of school after grade 5 to help his father run the masala business in Delhi.
His father Chunni Lal Gulati founded MDH Spices in 1919, and Dharampal would later turn it into a Rs 1,500 crore empire.
The family migrated to India during Partition and moved to Delhi in search of work. Gulati opened a small shop in Karol Bagh and another in Chandni Chowk.
Starting with manually ground spices, MDH soon switched over to automatic machines to meet the fast-growing demand for spices. Today, spices worth crores of rupees are manufactured and packed by modern machines and sold throughout India and abroad by the company through a network of over 1,000 stockists and over 4 lakh retail dealers.
These machines have the capacity to produce 30 tonnes of spices in powders packed in different sizes (10g to 500g) in a day.
MDH started exporting its products across 100 countries and has several offices overseas, including in Dubai and London. Gulati’s son Rajeev handles overall operations and his six daughters oversee region-wise distribution.
Respected by rivals
Rajiv Shah, Managing Director of Everest Masala, told Moneycontrol about his many meetings with Gulati. Everest is the biggest player in the market, followed closely by MDH. “He was a great personality. He was not only active in his business but also in social work and religious work.”
Nitin Gupta, Transaction Leader for Consumer at EY, had also met Gulati a few years ago. He recalls Gulati being a man with an obsession for quality.
“He would never compromise on quality and at the same time, he was financially wise. He knew every aspect of his business right from procuring raw material to production to packaging to the market. He knew details about each and every masala. You can ask him on any masala and he would talk at length,” said Gupta.Gulati, who took home a Rs 21 crore salary in 2017, was said to donate nearly 90 percent of it to charity through his Mahashay Chunni Lal Charitable Trust. The Trust operates a 250-bed hospital in Delhi, along with a mobile hospital for slumdwellers as well as four schools.