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Dr. Nandlal Tolani

Every business and industry has felt the necessity of a leader at one time or another. A leader, who inspires an entire generation of ambitious entrepreneurs, improves the lives of many and creates opportunities for the society and country at large. Such a leader is also revered as Guru by many. Every industry has its own heroes. Those who have set new standards in terms of achievements, quality of service and ethics. Such leaders always live in our hearts and inspire us. Dr. Nandlal Pribhdas is one such example from the Indian Maritime Industry.

Son of Pribhdas and Puni Tolani, Dr. Nandlal Tolani hailed from a district town called Larkana, in the province of Sindh, in undivided India. Born on February 15, 1924, into a family of Zamindars with a modest life style, he grew up among 6 siblings and 38 cousins, flying kites all summer, relishing mutton and rabri and had his first beer at the age of 17. He graduated from King George V Institute of Agriculture, Sakrand with first class honors with distinction and stood second in the university. His enthusiasm for further education took him to Cornell University, USA to complete a Masters in 1947, returning to a partitioned India.

A salaried job was not going to cater to the responsibilities he had to fulfill, so it was the construction business that he ventured into. With a new bride in 1950, he entered into earthen dam construction which took them to the interiors of India living in the wilderness in a thatched hut, with the fields for a toilet and a kerosene lantern for light. An intellectual giant, a glutton for work with natural leadership qualities and the courage to take on challenges established the company as a quality and reliable business house. Dr. Tolani well understood the importance of maintenance; he would say “the better they are serviced the more service they will give”. He was able to get 30,000 hours of working out of a machine that was designed to give 10,000 hours.

Averse to corruption, which became a raging disease in the construction business, he returned to his alma matter for a PhD in Agricultural Economics, which he completed in 22 months, a record that is held till today. On his return to India, looking for a cleaner business, Dr. Tolani entered shipping. A high level of fleet maintenance and a humane approach to the human resources were the key to his success.

Dr. Tolani preferred actual business to subsidies. In situations where the company could earn demurrage waiting for barges, he would make arrangements to bring in additional barges so that he could finish discharging and move on to the next opportunity. Further, in the 1980’s recession, the Indian shipowners were given foreign exchange credit facilities, at a high cost to the government. Despite being an unpopular move with other shipowners, Dr. Tolani repaid this loan prematurely, as soon as the company was able to fund the market rate through its earnings.

In business Dr. Tolani had acquired a respectable position. He was approached by the Sindhu Resettlement Corporation (SRC), Gandhidham for help with a spinning mill which had become a sick unit. Despite the various activities in his own business he embarked on this project on a completely voluntary basis. He carefully studied the textile industry, approached the bank for fresh loans and invested time into the management and training of the personnel. In due course he turned the mill around to a profit making entity with loans paid, and handed over the mill back to SRC.

While leading a flourishing business house, Dr. Tolani had the ability to take on bridge, sailing, and swimming with the same zeal as he did his business. With a commitment to promote sailing and bridge, he set up platforms for competition and training of the youth. Dr. Tolani represented India internationally in the game of bridge.

Guided by his father’s philosophy that business has no place in society unless it contributes to societal development and that education was the only way India could progress, Dr. Tolani continued his father’s legacy by establishing the Tolani College of Commerce and Tolani Maritime Institute, both of which are institutes of high caliber today. Traveling to TMI was a pilgrimage for him.

At 75 a severe head injury almost took him away from us, but timely and appropriate medical care and his will power to never give up gave us 17 more great years of Dr. Tolani. During these years, he saw Tolani College of Commerce being reaccredited with an A grade and also saw the growth and flourishment of TMI. Dr. Tolani was conferred the Varuna Award for his contribution to maritime education.

On August 14, 2017 Dr. Tolani’s soul left his body but having touched so many lives, he lives on in each one of us.

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