Business Today

Grandpa of them all

Suman Layak        Print Edition: July 10, 2011

Jessop & Company has a 223-year-old history, giving it a list of "firsts" that very few can match. It claims to be the oldest engineering company east of the Suez, and there aren't many around to contradict its claims. If 1788, the year when this company was started, does not ring a bell, think Australia. That was the year when Britain began the colonisation of Australia with convicts, the first batch landing in January that year. It is also the year when the US Constitution came into effect as the requisite number of states ratified it.

"I consider Jessop to be a part of India's engineering heritage. It built the first iron bridge in the country at Lucknow, built the first boiler and the Howrah Bridge. The list can go on and on," says Pawan Kumar Ruia, the chairman of the Ruia Group, which bought the company in 2003 through a disinvestment deal.

1788: Breen & Company is founded

1820: Company merges with Butterfl y Company and is renamed Jessop & Company

1973: Company is nationalised

1988: Celebrates 200 years of existence

P.K. Ruia
P.K. Ruia
2003: Jessop is divested, P.K. Ruia takes over

The beginning was different though - as Breen & Company, in 1788. Then in 1820, Henry and George Jessop, sons of William Jessop, acquired Breen & Company on behalf of Butterfly Company established in Derbyshire, England, in 1790 by the senior Jessop. Butterfly and Breen were merged together to become Jessop & Company.

Corporate history jumps to 1973 when it was nationalised and then in 1986 it was placed under Bharat Bhari Udyog Nigam, an omnibus holding company created for sick heavy engineering units. It remained a loss-making company till it was divested and Ruia actually bought it for just Rs 18 crore in 2003.

Ruia now claims to have turned it around and says Jessop & Company started earning profits from 2004/05 and has been paying dividends from the next year. The company is listed on the Calcutta Stock Exchange, but is barely traded. With a turnover of Rs 310 crore and a net profit of Rs 23.79 crore, the company is looking at listing on other exchanges too.

The company is now looking at a broader infrastructure play. Ruia says: "The various segments of manufacturing at Jessop & Company outstretches into infrastructure zones, be it in the railway rake or wagon manufacture, or in the production of road rollers, or in the technical knowhow of building bridges, water-control gates and more." All these are part of the infrastructure sector.

"The latent possibilities in Jessop & Company applications have grown manifold. The possibility of turning the capabilities into a fully integrated infrastructure company is our priority."

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