Mohan Singh Oberoi was born on August 15, 1898, in Jhelum, that’s a part of Pakistan now. In 1922, Oberoi was in Shimla and wanted to get a job with the glittering Cecil Hotel. But the porter at the gate threw him out. Mohan Singh still kept waiting at the gate and when he saw the manager- Mr Grove, he walked to him and said, “I am looking for a job sir, Do you have any vacancy?”. This is how he started his career as a clerk at Hotel Cecil for Rs 50 per month.
Satisfied with his performance, his manager promoted him to the post of a guest clerk for Rs 60 per month. Late Mr Grove was replaced by Mr Earnest Clarke. In 1930, Mr Clarke went on a vacation and handed over the charge of his another Hotel Carlton at Shimla to Mohan Singh. When he came back after 6 months, the hotel’s performance impressed him as the occupancy doubled to 80%. Earnest Clarke rewarded Oberoi with a one-third share in the business of Carlton Hotel at the price of Rs 10,000.
Because of ill health, Clarke had to return home and Oberoi had to take over the hotel. He never looked back after this. Later, he took over Grand hotel of Delhi and Calcutta. By the time, wheel of Oberoi fortune was turning full circle. In 1943, he arrived at the annual meeting of Associated Hotels of India Ltd. with enough shares to wrest control from controller firm. The Cecil Hotel was one of the eight hotels owned by Associated Hotels of India.
This is how Oberoi ended up owning his original employer. This was the same hotel from where porter threw him out and now he was the owner of the same. With this acquisition, he gained control over a chain of eight small hotels. The Oberoi group now numbered ten hotels.
By 1955, he has developed an idea to build a 5-star hotel in Delhi that would belong to the European 5-star category. But that would cost several million dollars, so he looked around for funds. This project consumed a total investment of over Rs 100 million, raised through various sources. Eventually, in 1965, the Oberoi Continental Hotel opened in New Delhi. Oberoi Inter-Continental Hotel is a prestigious establishment in India even today.
Mohan Singh Oberoi has been India’s first and foremost hotelier. Starting as a clerk in early 1920 in a British-owned hotel and moving to its management and ownership. He has seen his mother struggling after his father’s untimely death and he then became the owner of over 30 luxury hotels in India and overseas including Australia, Indonesia, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. He died on May 3, 2003, at the age of 103 years.
Source: 50 magnificent Indians of the 20th century by S.Lal