India’s oldest billionaire started his business after retiring from LIC
Lachman Das Mittalis India’s oldest billionaire with a net worth of $2.5 billion as per Forbes.
- Mittal is the founder and chairman of
SonalikaGroup, India's third-largest tractor maker by market share and India’s largest tractor export brand.
- The billionaire is a former LIC employee who holds a master’s degree in arts in English and Urdu languages.
AdvertisementThe founder of Sonalika Group, 92-year-old Lachman Das Mittal is now India’s oldest billionaire.
As per the Forbes 2023 list, 99-year-old Keshub Mahindra, the former chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra group was the oldest billionaire. Unfortunately, Mahindra passed away on April 12.
India now has four nonagenarians among the country’s 169 billionaires, as per the list.
Mittal is the founder chairman of Sonalika Group, India's third-largest tractor maker by market share. As per Forbes, he has a net worth of $2.5 billion. He first entered the Forbes Billionaire list in 2013.
After his retirement…
The 92-year-old started his business a little over three decades ago at the age of 60, after retiring from the state-owned Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) as a deputy zonal manager.
The billionaire shows up to the office every day, even after his sons and grandsons look over the company’s operations. “We are not just sitting in some air-conditioned room and running the business…I and my boys know every inch of a tractor,” shared the patriarch with Forbes.
Born in August 1931 in Hoshiarpur, Mittal’s professional journey started as a LIC agent. After obtaining a Master’s in Arts degree in English and Urdu language from Punjab University, Mittal started working with LIC in 1955.
Mittal, who obtained a gold medal during his post-graduation, was diligent at work, gaining knowledge about the different types of investments. Gradually, he started saving to pay off past debts and for securing his future.
Though he wasn’t born with money, he managed to save enough to start a side venture in 1969 — building farm machinery under the name Sonalika. Unfortunately, the venture left him bankrupt. In an attempt to offset his losses, he tried to obtain a Maruti dealership but was rejected.
Poetry on wheels
Undeterred, he forged on. Inspired by Japanese machines that separated hay and wheat, he built threshers, gaining nationwide acclaim for his product in just eight years. After retiring from his job in 1990, he spent years writing and reading poetry in classical Urdu and working on Sonalika to build a tractor.
The idea to build tractors actually came to him through his customers, who were eager to see a tractor from Sonalika. To carry out the requisite research and study to launch tractors, Mittal needed financing. Consequently, he secured a loan of ₹22 crore from his trusted dealers.
Six years after he retired, in 1996, Sonalika Tractors was incorporated. Today, it’s the country’s largest exporter of tractors, associated with more than 14 lakh customers across 140 countries around the world.
Mittal, who’s a fan of Bollywood movies and a coin collector, said while recounting his journey with Business Standard, "Once I applied for a dealership of Maruti Udyog but was rejected. Today, I give out dealerships."
Building his pot of gold
Sonalika, which means ‘lines of gold’ in Hindi, is named after a popular line of wheat seeds that fuelled the Green Revolution in India, leading to greater production. The Sonalika Tractors were definitely Mittal’s pot of gold. Japanese firm Yanmar has a 30% stake in Sonalika Tractors.
Today, the brand has an employee strength of over 10,000 and was chosen by the Indian government to contribute towards the Niti-Aayog project to double the farmer’s income in the country. Sonalika has been clocking over 1 lakh tractor sales consistently for six years (FY18 – FY23).
It also recorded the highest annual growth of 41.6% in the domestic market during the pandemic (FY21) — significantly higher than the overall industry growth of 26.7%. The company has five manufacturing facilities across the globe, including the world’s largest tractor-manufacturing facility at Hoshiarpur in Punjab.
Mittal’s elder son Amrit Sagar is the company’s vice-chairman, while his third son, Deepak is the managing director. Mittal’s second son is a doctor in New York. Interestingly, his daughter, Usha Sangawan, is LIC’s first female managing director.
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