Umesh Shahra – On Building a Legacy


Umesh Shahra, third generation leader, is now welcoming his son into the family legacy as the fourth generation to lead it. What the Shahra family started 60 years ago as an agro-trading business under the flagship brand Ruchi, has metamorphosed into the Indian Steel Corporation Ltd. today. Umesh talks about the struggles, the joy and the sine-qua-non of not only preserving but also advancing his family business.

Even though his path was set out since the beginning of his journey, Umesh knew this was where he wanted to be – leading the family establishment to greater success. Success means that the core values have to be strong. The ethos of a really successful business is formed by relationships, innovation, flexibility and loyalty, Umesh points out. “Just building customer relations is never sufficient”, he says “the seed needs to be watered to grow into a stronger bond, these relationships should be sustained and nurtured.”

In 2013, Indian Steel Corporation Ltd. came out with “pre-painted steel”, the first of its kind in the country – and the innovative product was a rage in India’s metallurgical industry! The inauguration of pre-painted steel was attended by the then CM of Gujarat – Narendra Modi and the business gained immense traction! Innovation is indeed the heartbeat of a business, the fuel that keeps it running and racing forward.

“I have always had a futuristic approach towards innovation in my field of work and thoroughly enjoy bringing something new to the table”

This drive to innovate is what has helped his business to stay ahead of the curve.

He strongly believes that as the market transforms through the years, what keeps a family business relevant is “its ability to change with the changing times”. This is apparent in the history of the Shahra family business that started with agro-trading, expanded into manufacturing of agricultural products, ghee, vanaspati and further moved on to establishing its first cement plant in 2011. Values intact, a business must possess the flexibility to adapt to different economies and stay ahead or at par with their competitors.

Mr. Narendra Modi present at the Ultrashine XL sheet launch in 2013 at Indian Steel Corporation Ltd., Kutch plant

In current times, many family enterprises have gone out of business – changes in mindset or lack of change altogether? As these questions strike me, I ask Umesh – is it tougher for family businesses to grow in this age? Unperturbed, Umesh calmly states that eras have nothing to do with success – it is values that are the evergreen fundamentals. Seemingly strong family businesses can come crashing down when loyalty and commitment take a back seat. This is what forms the foundation of a business built on trust, and once it’s damaged, there’s no turning back.

When asked about who it is that he looks up to for inspiration, Umesh gives a small laugh and says “Well, my grandfather, father, my son and I all have the same source of inspiration – the Tatas! It’s interesting how four generations of our family look up to the same guy, it must mean something.” Umesh observes that like Ratan Tata, he too likes to maintain a low-profile. This similarity has motivated Umesh to continue being a behind-the-scenes man, while letting his work make the noise.

His views on handing over the reins to the next generation are progressive and rational – he is certain that a business can only succeed if zeal is the fuel that drives it. If the passion doesn’t exist, the business doesn’t either! He suggests that the parent and the child have a frank and honest conversation to collectively decide what is good for the business. In conclusion to one of the most pressing matters that owners of family businesses contend with, Umesh says,

“Don’t be driven by emotion, think logically.”

A calm and self-contained person, Umesh’s eyes light up with a spark of ambition when he talks about his dream – the family business to complete a century! He hopes that under the guidance of his son, the 60-year-old family business will celebrate its 100 years of establishment, while continuing to grow, innovate and expand.

Umesh Shahra has always maintained a low profile despite his achievements as an innovative businessman. Indian Steel Corporation Ltd. was presented with the IMC Ramkrishna Bajaj National Quality Award in 2013, Rajiv Gandhi National Quality Award in 2015 and gained immense traction as manufacturers of a variety of steel and automobile parts. An alumnus of BITS Pilani and IIM Ahmedabad, Umesh always knew he was destined to join the legacy of his prestigious family business.