A Brief History of GP
Origins: India, Burma
Our story started with a single journey around 1860 when a young man, Khetsee Khinsi Harbham, left his home in Baroi, a village in Kutch in northwestern India. He was headed for Bombay’s (Mumbai) rice trading district where he hoped to find work among his fellow Kutchis, who ran about 80-per-cent of the trade at the time.
Ever the entrepreneur, Khetsee — who was the great-great grandfather of GP Group’s current chairman, Kirit Chimanlal Shah — quickly found work and learned as much as he could about the rice business. His son, Devjee Khetsee Khinsi, joined him in Bombay. In 1868, they formed Devjee Khetsee & Company, the origins of what later became GP Group.
Devjee Khetsee & Company — the origins of what would become GP Group — was formed in 1868.
The company expanded into Rangoon (Yangon) in Burma (Myanmar), which was also part the British Raj, later that year. As their business boomed in line with Burma’s burgeoning rice trade, they set up a representative office in Calcutta, India, to help facilitate shipments. Overseas offices started trading under a new name, Gangjee Premjee & Company, from the turn of the century. Business grew until the outbreak of World War One in 1914 which brought everything to an abrupt halt for the next four years.
Development: Thailand, Southeast Asia, the Middle East
Demand for rice surged after the war. In 1918, Gangee Premjee & Company expanded to meet demand, opening two more offices in Burma and one each in Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Saigon in Vietnam, and Bangkok in Siam (Thailand).
Gangjee Premjee & Company was Thailand’s only Indian-run rice trader from 1918 to 1997
Business grew steadily, only halting when World War Two reached Asia with the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1941. At the end of the war, Thailand became the centre of Gangjee Premjee & Company’s business. From his arrival in Bangkok in 1946, Chimanlal Shivjee Shah worked alongside his father Shivjee and played a pivotal role in building the company’s business and reputation. He focused on securing a major deal every month and pioneered new markets for the business, notably in the Middle East and Africa.
Thailand became an even more significant source of rice during the Vietnam War (1955–75) when it served as a base for US forces. American-backed infrastructure development, notably roads and railways, enabled Thai rice farmers to more easily transport their produce around the country. Chimanlal drew on this development to build Thailand’s rice exports to the new markets he was developing overseas.
Transformation: Playing on a global scale
Kirit Chimanlal Shah, aged 21, brought his own form of disruption to the business when he joined his father, Chimanlal, at Gangjee Premjee & Company in 1974. Chimanlal had long been content servicing the now well-developed markets in Africa and the Middle East. Kirit grew increasingly restless, however. For him “business-as-usual” translated into “lost opportunities”.
Kirit was convinced countries surrounding the Arabian Gulf, which were benefiting from the flood of petrodollars that followed the 1973 Oil Crisis, should be a core focus for the business. He also supported trading a much wider range of commodities than just rice and grains. Tenacious as ever, Kirit eventually got his way.
Kirit Shah took the helm of the family business in 1980, promptly renaming it G Premjee & Company
Kirit quickly formed partnerships and alliances in frontier markets across Africa, the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East. He built a team of smart young traders and expanded the range of commodities the business handled.
G Premjee went from strength-to-strength as a result of the new model. The company increased the volume, size and complexity of its trades. It founded its own shipping operation, Precious Shipping, to manage logistics.
Asia’s booming tiger economies created new opportunities for G Premjee, which soon ventured beyond commodities trading and shipping into new fields, such as energy, resources, construction, rubber, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
A number of our core businesses, such as Mega Lifesciences and Precious Shipping, were founded in the 1980s
The group’s stratospheric growth was disrupted by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis which rattled the region’s economies to their core. Kirit consolidated the business and adapted its strategy to leverage opportunities in the new millennia.
Ever the pragmatist, Kirit understood the need to back good ideas when they arise even if the overall market was still in turmoil. He invested in Eka, a technology company, a move that would reap dividends in the years to come.
Evolution: Forming GP Group
The leaner, more efficient business was rebranded GP Group of Companies, to emphasise the transition from trading commodities and operating businesses to becoming a strategic investment group. The Shahs established their Family Office at the same time. GP Group has considerably strengthened its portfolio since the dawn of the new millennia.
GP Group’s portfolio includes four Thai-listed companies operating in the shipping, pharmaceuticals, construction and resources sectors
It has developed its resources business through a number of partnerships and joint ventures, including Eastern Energy, Majan Mining and Carmeuse Majan (both in Oman), and Golden Lime. Supported by an upgraded fleet at Precious Shipping, these moves were made in part to leverage opportunities in China’s and India’s growing economies.
It also bolstered its travel and hospitality offering with the founding of MJets, a private aviation business with ground services in Thailand, Myanmar and India, as well as the opening of its second hotel, OAKS Bodhgaya.