Obituary:Neville Wadia - People - News - The Independent

Obituary:Neville Wadia

Neville Wadia was the last of India's aristocratic taipans, who expanded his family textile concern into one of India's largest and donated lavishly for the welfare of the Parsee community to which he belonged.

For 25 years he headed Bombay Dyeing, still a byword for quality across India, but he was a part of the company for 44 years, joining it - even though his father owned it - as a shopfloor assistant. Wadia also gave a new impetus to his family's philanthropic tradition by building hospitals, colleges and baugs, or homes, for Parsees in the western port city of Bombay, where a majority of this dwindling community lives.

Though born a Christian - his father had renounced the Zoroastrian faith of the Parsees and converted to Christianity - Wadia became a Parsee a few years ago amidst much controversy. The orthodox Parsee clergy, tasked with preserving racial purity, objected to his conversion, strictly forbidden under Zoroastrianism, while the relatively liberal priests justified it on grounds that at heart Wadia was a true believer.

The Parsees are a small but high-profile community who migrated to western India from a small town called Par in Persia around the eighth century, to escape religious persecution. The light-skinned, handsome settlers were erudite, clever and natural businessmen and over the centuries established successful trading and manufacturing businesses in port cities like Bombay and Karachi (now in Pakistan).

Neville Wadia's father, Sir Ness Wadia, was one such entrepreneur, responsible for turning Bombay into one of the world's largest cotton trading centres in the late 19th century. The sudden rise in cotton prices which followed the drop in supplies from America during the civil war led to Bombay's astute Parsee merchants stepping in and making up the shortfall by exporting cotton from the fertile Deccan plateau in the south.

Soon, Bombay became a boom town and sensing its potential the British government, aided largely by the forward-looking Parsee community, developed this disease-ridden, swampy fishing village into one of India's major textile centres.

Neville Wadia, however, cut his teeth in the textile business the hard way. Brought up in opulence in England where he was born and educated, he was unceremoniously flung into work at Bombay Dyeing by his father in the early Thirties, starting at the most junior level in each department and slowly working his way to the top. He was paid no salary and given only a meagre allowance befitting a lowly employee.

This training proved invaluable to Wadia, who succeeded his father as chairman of Bombay Dyeing in 1952 and turned it into one of India's most successful and quality-conscious textile concerns. In 1971, however, the eccentric Wadia startled Bombay's conservative business circles by announcing his decision to sell up and settle abroad.

But Nusli, his son, then 26 years old, had his own ambitions of owning and running the company and devised a strategy to stop his father. With help from his mother and sister and influential family friends he began by garnering 11 per cent of the company shares and went on to persuade the employees to pool their savings and buy shares, thereby preventing the sale. The manoeuvrings worked and Wadia, forced to abandon his disposal plans, retired a few years later to be succeeded as chairman by his son.

Neville Ness Wadia was born in Liverpool in 1911, and was educated at Malvern College and Trinity College, Cambridge. Soon after graduating he married Dina, daughter of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and joined his father's textile business in 1933, supervising the loading of cotton bales on to trucks.

He became company chairman in 1952, retiring 25 years later. During this period cotton exports from India were growing and to help them expand he founded the Cotton Textiles Export Promotion Council, which he headed for 12 years. Wadia also contributed to building new wings and upgrading several hospitals in Bombay founded by his family, and established a commerce college in Pune, 120 miles south of Bombay, along with a host of charitable trusts for Parsees.

Quietly spoken and full of Victorian charm, Wadia loved nothing better than walking round the various hospitals and Parsee homes associated with his family.

Kuldip Singh

Neville Ness Wadia, industrialist and philanthropist, born Liverpool 22 August 1911; married Dina Jinnah (one son, one daughter); died Bombay 31 July 1996.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week