Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi
Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi was born on 15th August, 1898 in erstwhile undivided
Punjab, which is now in Pakistan. He was only six months old when his father died. Success
and fortune did not, therefore, come easily to him. Initiative, resourcefulness and hard work,
combined with the capability to face and overcome the most overwhelming odds can best
characterise this phenomenal entrepreneur.
Mr. M.S. Oberoi completed his primary education in Rawalpindi and moved to Lahore for his
Bachelor’s degree. Shortly thereafter, to flee the ravages of a virulent plague, he went to seek
his fortune in Shimla, the summer capital of British India. Arriving penniless, he found a job at
a monthly salary of INR 50, as the front desk clerk at the Cecil Hotel. Today, The Oberoi Group
owns the hotel The Oberoi Cecil where the young Mr. Oberoi found his métier.
The diligence, enthusiasm and intelligence displayed by Mr. Oberoi impressed Mr. Grove, the
manager of the hotel. A quick learner, Mr. Oberoi did not restrict his efforts to fulfilling the job
description of a desk clerk but sought and shouldered additional responsibilities. A few years
later, when Mr. Clarke acquired a small hotel he asked Mr. Oberoi to assist him. It was here, at
Clarkes Hotel, that Mr. Oberoi gained first hand experience in all aspects of operating a hotel.
In 1934, Mr. Oberoi acquired his first property, The Clarkes Hotel, from his mentor by
mortgaging his wife’s jewellery and all his assets. Four years later, he signed a lease to take
over operations of the five hundred rooms Grand Hotel in Calcutta that was on sale following
a cholera epidemic. With his customary confidence and sheer determination to succeed, he was
able to convert this hotel into a highly profitable business venture.
Over several years, Mr. Oberoi had purchased shares in Associated Hotels of India (AHI),
which owned Cecil and Corstophans hotels in Shimla, Maidens and Imperial hotels in Delhi
and a hotel each in Lahore, Murree, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. In 1943, Mr. Oberoi acquired
controlling interest in AHI. He thus became the first Indian to run the country’s largest and
finest hotel chain. In the tumultuous years just prior to Indian independence, Mr. Oberoi met
and intimately interacted with the would-be leaders of Free India, all of whom were, at one
time or other, guests at his hotels.
Having consolidated his early ventures, Mr. Oberoi became the first Indian hotelier to enter into
an agreement with an internationally renowned hotel chain, to open the first modern, five-star
hotel in the country. The Oberoi Inter Continental, in New Delhi opened in 1965. The I-Con,
as it became popularly known, offered facilities that no other hotel in the country matched and
was India’s first luxury hotel.
This achievement was enhanced with the opening of the 35-storey Oberoi Sheraton in Bombay,
in 1973. Mr. Oberoi was the first Indian to work in association with international chains to
woo international travellers to India. This led to a heavy influx of international travellers and
foreign occupancy soared to an average of 85%. This enabled the Oberoi Hotels to significantly
contribute to India’s foreign exchange earnings.
Another pioneering landmark was the establishment in 1966 of the prestigious Oberoi School of
Hotel Management, recognised by the International Hotel Association in Paris. Considered India’s
premier institute, the school is now known as The Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development
and continues to provide high quality professional training in hospitality management.
Other notable firsts were the decision to employ women in his hotels and to establish a chain of
ancillary industries producing and supplying items like consumables and stationery to ensure
the highest quality. The Oberoi Group was also the first to start flight catering operations
in India, in 1959. The Oberoi Flight Services, located in New Delhi, Mumbai, Cochin and
Chennai, provide in-flight meals of international quality to reputed airlines.
Mr. Oberoi realised that the hotel and hospitality business is greatly dependent on travel agents,
a vital element in the distribution chain. Therefore, he decided to establish his own travel
agency. Mercury Travels, part of The Oberoi Group, ranks amongst the leading travel agencies
With vision and imagination, Mr. Oberoi converted old and dilapidated palaces, historical
monuments and buildings into magnificent hotels such as The Oberoi Grand in Calcutta, the
historic Mena House Oberoi in Cairo and The Windsor in Australia. It was, in fact, in the face
of severe opposition that the State Government of Victoria awarded Mr. Oberoi the lease of
The Windsor, a heritage building in Melbourne. He personally supervised the restoration of the
hotel to its original grandeur and later acquired it. The Oberoi Cecil in Shimla, built in the early
20th century, reopened in April 1997 after extensive and meticulous renovation.
Awards and Honours
In 1943, Mr. Oberoi was conferred the title of Rai Bahadur by the British Government in
recognition of his services to the Crown. Thereafter, Mr. Oberoi won acclaim and received
several national and international awards including admission to the Hall of Fame by the
American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and Man of The World award by the International
Hotel Association (IHA), New York. He was presented the Order of The Republic, First Class
by the President of Egypt. He got an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration from the
International Management Centre, Buckingham, UK. Newsweek named him one of the Elite
Winners of 1978. The PHDCCI Millennium award in 2000 was presented in recognition of
his entrepreneurial and business success. In 2001, the Government of India accorded him the
Globalisation of The Oberoi Group
To place The Oberoi Group on the world map, Mr. Oberoi exported management expertise to
Australia, Egypt and Singapore, where The Oberoi Group took charge of the management of
existing luxury hotels. The success of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts overseas, in the face of global
competition, greatly enhanced the image of The Group.
Today, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts in Indonesia, Egypt, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, United Arab
Emirates and India add value and distinction to their host countries.
Foundations of the Future
Under Mr. Oberoi’s dynamic leadership, The Oberoi Group introduced its second brand of
hotels, ‘Trident’. Trident hotels are five-star hotels that have established a reputation for
excellence and are acknowledged for offering quality and value. These hotels combine state
of the art facilities with dependable service in a caring environment, making them the ideal
choice for business and leisure travellers. Presently there are ten Trident hotels in India located
in Mumbai at Bandra Kurla and Nariman Point, Gurgaon (Delhi National Capital Region),
Hyderabad, Chennai, Bhubaneshwar, Cochin, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur. The Oberoi Group
also operates a Trident hotel in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.
In the luxury category, The Group opened The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur; The Oberoi Cecil,
Shimla; The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur; The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore; The Oberoi
Amarvilas, Agra; Wildflower Hall, Shimla in the Himalayas; The Oberoi, Lombok, Indonesia;
The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh, Egypt; The Oberoi, Mauritius and The Oberoi Zahra, Luxury Nile
The Group employs more than 12,000 people worldwide and operates 32 hotels and two
Nile Cruisers and a Motor Vessel in the backwaters of Kerala in six countries.
Mr. Oberoi’s achievements and successes did not, however, take from his simplicity and
old-fashioned charm. He retained, until his death in May 2002 at the age of 103, a unique
humility. He was fond of saying, “I have been able to accept the challenge and make good.
There is comfort in knowing that whatever little I have achieved has also helped to raise the
prestige of my country.”