MS Oberoi Biography

Known as the Grand Old Man of the Indian Hospitality business, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi was the founder of the well known Oberoi Group which today owns several luxury hotels, resorts and a luxury cruise line. His tireless efforts helped mark India as a major site for world tourism.

Mohan Singh Oberoi’s life is a literal rags-to-riches story. He was born on August 15 1898 in Bhaun, a small village in erstwhile undivided Punjab. His father Attar Singh Oberoi was a small time contractor in Peshawar. Unfortunately the young Attar Singh soon died because of a cholera epidemic, leaving behind his 18 year old widow Bhagwanti and small six month old son. They returned to Bhaun where he and his mother were sheltered by his grandfather.

After completing his basic education in the village school, he matriculated from DAV School in Rawalpindi. He then passed his intermediate examinations from Lahore. Later, he enrolled himself in a stenography course in Amritsar.

His first job was as a supervisor in a shoe factory. However the factory closed down and he was left unemployed. It was at this time that he was married to Ishran Devi from his native village. In 1922. he decided to apply for a government job in Simla. He did not get the appointment but with typical panache, he approached Mr. Grove, the manager of the luxurious Hotel Cecil and was hired as a clerk. Mr. Grove was succeeded by Mr. Clarke, who promoted the young man to the post of cashier and stenographer. Pandit Motilal Nehru, who was a frequent guest at the hotel was impressed by his dedication and hard work and rewarded the young Oberoi with the princely sum of Rs.100. By this time, the Oberois had two children called Rajrani and Tilak Raj.

In 1924, when Mr. Clarke decided to go into business for himself, he invited the industrious Oberoi to join him. The first business venture was a catering contract for the elite Delhi Club. The next project was leasing an old Simla hotel called the Carlton. Renamed to Clarke’s Hotel, it was soon a raging success. After five years, with the retirement of Mr. Clarke, Oberoi took over the business. It was the first of the hotels that Oberoi eventually acquired.

In 1938, he leased the Grand Hotel in Calcutta for a sum of Rs. 7000 every month. He turned around the fortunes of the ailing hotel with a brilliant move. World War II was on and Calcutta was teeming with soldiers. Oberoi completely refurbished the hotel and set up facilities to accommodate 1500 beds, which he then offered to the British army for a sum of Rs. 10 each. Oberoi was not just rewarded by success but he was also given the title of Rai Bahadur by the British Government for his efforts.

In 1943, he took over Associated Hotels of India Limited and gained control over hotels located in Delhi, Lahore and Rawalpindi. He then gradually added more hotels to the group beginning with establishments in Darjeeling and Orissa. He also had the innovative idea of using old palaces and heritage monuments as hotels thereby also ensuring that the buildings were properly maintained.

He envisioned the Oberoi Group as a premier Hospitality Agency catering to all aspects of the tourism industry. Under his leadership, the company diversified restaurants and tour services. Oberoi Group was one of the first companies to have women employees in the Hospitality Sector. He also founded the Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development.

He also had a successful political career. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha twice, in 1962 and 1972 and he became an elected member of the Lok Sabha in 1968. MS Oberoi has won several honors over his lifetime. He was chosen as an “Elite Winner of 1978” by Newsweek Magazine and honored by the Government of India with the Padma Bhushan in 2001.

He passed away at the age of 103 on May 3, 2002.