A 21st-Century Version Of The East India Company
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
As the year 1600 was coming to a close, the first Queen Elizabeth granted a royal charter to one earl and some 215 knights, aldermen and burgesses to be the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies.
Over the next two and a half centuries, that entity and its successors formed the best-known company in the world: The East India Company has been in eclipse, famous in name only. Government took over the work of merchant stock companies, and then there was the novel idea of independence for places like India. But not surprisingly, in an age that prizes a good brand, The East India Company is back.
Sanjiv Mehta bought the intellectual property rights to the enterprise. He's the owner and CEO, and he joins us from his office in London. Welcome to the program.
Mr. SANJIV MEHTA (Owner and CEO, The East India Company): Thank you.
SIEGEL: And tell us, what does the 21st-century version of The East India Company actually do?
Mr. MEHTA: It's resurrecting the historical commercial legacy of The East India Company and to become a luxury brand. We're starting with fine foods, teas, coffees, biscuits, chocolates, jams, marmalades, honeys. We'll also enter the alcohol business. We'll also enter the hospitality and real estate business, and we are launching also the leather accessories business.
SIEGEL: Now, people might think of The East India Company as the first multinational, as perhaps an enterprise that spread the English language to more people than any other, but it's also identified with colonialism and in addition to trading in spices and tea and coffee, traded in no small amount of Chinese opium. Is this really a positive legacy you have there?
Mr. MEHTA: Yes, absolutely. The East India Company brought the port, the railway system, the civil system, the English language, lots of sports like cricket and football and rugby and polo and sailing across the world. It brought the architecture to many parts of the world. It brought Hong Kong and Singapore to the world. It brought tea to the tables of the world. It took jams and marmalades across the world. So East India Company is a huge commercial legacy. What is important for us is to carve and learn from the history. In a way, it was Google of its time. It controlled the waters of the world all along, in the same way today Google or World Wide Web is controlling the traffic.
SIEGEL: You were born in Mumbai, I've read.
Mr. MEHTA: That is correct.
SIEGEL: Is there...
Mr. MEHTA: I was born and brought up in Mumbai.
SIEGEL: Is there a special irony for you that an Indian-born entrepreneur should be in charge of The East India Company?
Mr. MEHTA: Yes, very much. It gives me tremendous feeling of joy. East India Company once ruled India, and now, having lived in India for 25 years, studied there and now I'm living in London for 25 years. And I'm fortunate to acquire East India Company, and hopefully when I retire, I'll go back home. It will be nice to own The East India Company and go back to India.
SIEGEL: Tell us a couple of things about The East India Company that most people would be unlikely to know.
Mr. MEHTA: Well, Napoleon was kept captive in St. Helena Island by East India Company, and he died in St. Helena Island. His last wish was to have a coffee of St. Helena, which was the best coffee then in the world, and we own rights of the St. Helena Coffee market. The East India Company was also the one which was governor in Madras, was - Mr. Yale, who founded the Yale University by the fortunes that he made working for The East India Company.
SIEGEL: So your company held Napoleon captive and indirectly founded Yale University.
Mr. MEHTA: Yes, that's right. It indirectly founded the Yale University.
SIEGEL: Sanjiv Mehta, owner and CEO of The East India Company in London. Thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. MEHTA: Thank you.
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SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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