|Established in 1857, the Birla Group has developed into one of the largest conglomerates in India. The firm has invested in a wide range of industries, including textiles, cement, tea, sponge iron and aluminium, and in dozens of small companies. The death of Birla¡¦s president in 1995 shook the company. His son, Kumar Mangalam Birla, took over at the age of 28 and, through the period of India¡¦s economic reforms, redirected the focus of the group¡¦s investments. Along with increased investment in holdover industries such as cement, sponge iron and carbon black, the group has pursued investment in new industries, including viscose staple fibre, non-ferrous metals, branded apparel and financial services. The reformed Birla Group could be seen as following the model of General Electric circa mid-1980s, with a mixture of the old and the new, unsure of its future direction.
Rival Indian conglomerates such as Tata and Reliance have also changed since the beginning of the economic reform period. They have shed moribund low-margin firms and industries and have concentrated on new high-margin, high-growth investments. Still claiming to be ¡§Birla #1¡¨¡Xits rallying cry for several generations¡Xis the group actually still number one, or is it being left behind by its more aggressive rivals?