Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi (15 August 1898 – 3 May 2002) was an Indian hotelier, the founder and chairman of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, India’s second-largest hotel company, with 35 hotels in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Egypt, Australia and Hungary.
In his obituary the Times of India said that he was acknowledged for putting the Indian hoteliering on the global map by successfully establishing hotel brands like Oberoi and Trident worldwide.
M. S.Oberoi was born in a Punjabi Sikh family in Bhaun, a minor village of Jhelum District (now Chakwal District), Punjab, British India. When he was six months old, his father, a contractor in Peshawar, died, leaving his mother with few resources. After attending schools in his village and nearby Rawalpindi, he passed the Intermediate College Examination in Lahore, but was unable to continue attending classes because of lack of finances. Instead, he learned typing and shorthand.
In 1922, M.S.Oberai came to Shimla to escape from the epidemic of Plague and got a job as front desk clerk, at The Cecil Hotel at a salary of Rs 50 per month. He was a quick learner and took many additional responsibilities. The manager of Cecil, Mr. Ernest Clarke and his wife Gertrude took a great liking to the honesty of a hardworking young Mohan Singh Oberoi.
Mr. Clarke and his wife decided to hand over the responsibility of managing Hotel Carlton now renamed as Clarkes to this impressive young man. During their six months absence, Mr. Mohan Singh Oberoi doubled up the occupancy to eighty percent which gave them enough reason to offer the hotel – on a decided amount to Mr. Mohan Singh Oberoi as they wanted to return to England.
After continuous hard work for five years, on 14 August 1934, Mohan Singh Oberoi became the sole and absolute owner of Hotel Carlton, Shimla. He subsequently named it after Mr. Ernest Clarke. M.S.Oberoi could not have hoped for a better thirty fourth birthday present.
Business and Politics
As India became independent, M. S. Oberoi built additional hotels, while expanding his base holdings. In 1948, he established East India Hotels, now known as EIH Ltd., whose first acquisition was the Oberoi Grand Hotel in Calcutta. In April 1955 he was elected President of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India, and in 1960 was named President of Honour of the Federation for life. He also participated in legislative politics by winning elections to the Rajya Sabha for two terms, from April 1962 to March 1968 and from April 1972 to April 1978. He was elected to the fourth Lok Sabha in April 1968, and remained a Member of that House till December 1970.
In 1965, in partnership with international hotel chains, he opened the Oberoi Intercontinental in Delhi, India’s first modern five-star, world-class hotel.
The Oberoi Group, founded in 1934, employed about 12,000 people worldwide and owned and managed about thirty hotels and five luxury cruisers as of 2012. Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, ranks amongst the top ten hotel spas Asia-Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East of the Travel + Leisure magazine, and ranked third in Best Hotels in Asia in 2007. Other activities include airline catering, management of restaurants and airport bars, travel and tour services, car rental, project management and corporate air charters. The Group has a number of hotels worldwide, latest hotel additions being in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Egypt and Africa.
Rai Bahadur M.S. Oberoi was the first to employ women in the hospitality sector.
Honours and Awards
Throughout his later life M. S. Oberoi received numerous honours and awards from the Indian government and private organizations.
M. S Oberai was presented with the title Rai Bahadur (pater familiae) by His Majesty the King of Great Britain in 1943.
The other honors include admission to the Hall of Fame by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA); Man of The World by the International Hotel Association (IHA) New York; named by Newsweek as one of the “Elite Winners of 1978” and the PHDCCI Millennium award in 2000.
He was awarded the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards, in 2001.
Almost all publications indicated M. S. Oberoi’s year of birth as 1898 and his age at death as 103. In his own autobiographical sketch – How M S Oberoi became India’s greatest hotelier, however, he gave 1900 as his birth year, a fact attesting to his having lived to 101. However, New York Times obituary, the date is given as 1898 and the following was written: “He was 103, although for years he said he was born in 1900 because he did not want to be seen as dating from the 19th century.”
Personal Life and Family
M.S Oberai married to Ishran Devi in 1920, the daughter of Shri Ushnak Rai belonged to his village. They had two sons and two daughters. Eldest son Raj Tilak Sing Oberai(1924) known as Tikki Oberai and second son Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi(1929) better known to the world as Bikki Oberoi.
Tikki Oberoi married Leela Naidu on 16 July 1956, He was 33, she 17. Her father was a nuclear physicist, Science Director for UNESCO for South East Asia. They had twin daughters, Priya Oberai and Maya Oberai.
Bikki Oberai married Goodie in 1959, the daughter of a Punjabi landowner of Lyalpur. They had a son Vikram Oberai and daughter Natasha Oberai.
Oberoi’s daughter Swaraj married Gautam Khanna in 1950. Youngest daughter Prem married Captain KK Mehra in 1957.
Tikki married Jutta in 1964 the Teuton daughter of Ludwig Mittel Huber. They had a son Arjun Singh Oberai.
Oberoi nephew Brij Raj Oberoi also called as “Diamond Oberoi”(nickname given by M.S oberoi) consciously followed M.S Oberoi footsteps and started a Heritage Hotels Chain (The Elgin Hotel) in India.