It has lately been a period of good news for East Bengal fans after a relatively frustrating 2019-20 season on and off the field.
The Red and Golds struggled in the I-League and were nowhere near the eventual champions Mohun Bagan. They were reportedly in a tiff with former investors Quess Corp over the transfer of sporting right required to continue operations in the upcoming season.
It took some time to sort out, with the Bengaluru-based company pulling out of East Bengal once and for all. However, that cast a huge shadow of doubt over the financial health of the club. And at one point, it seemed they might have to continue in the I-League and not play in the Indian Super League (ISL) unlike Mohun Bagan who merged with ATK.
But thanks to the intervention of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the club were able to rope in Shree Cement Limited as their new investors - a development that also paved a way to their eventual inclusion in the ISL. In fact, Shree Cement Limited, who now own around 76 per cent stakes in the club, have already picked up the bid documents needed to enter ISL.
The fans, obviously, are overjoyed at this development. More importantly, they should rest easy knowing that their club's future lies in the hands of an entrepreneur many consider to be an industry leader.
The Managing Director of Shree Cement Limited is none other than Hari Mohan Bangur who has played a key role in shaping the destiny of his firm in the last 20-odd years.
After almost 19 years of work experience at several firms, Hari Mohan Bangur joined his father Benu Gopal Bangur in 1991 after the Bangur Group underwent a three-way split. It was in 1997 that Benu and his son would get the cement business. Hari Mohan would slowly assume control of the firm, turning it into the behemoth it is currently.
To put it in context, in 1997, Shree Cement was a $56 million business. Today, its revenues exceed $1 billion, ie a growth ofabout 20x in around 25 years. The market capitalization has reached $8.7 billion and Hari Mohan and his father hold almost 65 per cent stakes in the company.
Though headquartered in Kolkata, Shree Cement empire currently stretches across Central and North India. They are India's second largest cement manufacturers. They do not have any plants in West Bengal, however. And that is one of the reasons behind Hari Mohan's decision to invest in East Bengal - a club which is also a source of pride for a lot of Bengalis.
Mamata Banerjee's work in finalising the deal was also well appreciated by the cement tycoon.
“Shree Cement does not have any plants in West Bengal. We were thinking of doing something in West Bengal for a long time. So when Didi (Mamata Banerjee) approached us for supporting East Bengal we readily agreed. The credit for bringing the company and East Bengal together fully goes to our beloved Didi," Hari Mohan told Goal.
"She was fully involved in the deal since day one. The deal was materialized only due to her untiring efforts. At several points during the discussions when it appeared that there was a deadlock, it was Didi who sorted things out for both of us.”
The success did not come easy for Hari Mohan though. By the late 1990s, Shree Cement was struggling on the face of a global economic slowdown and Hari Mohan almost sold the company to French cement firm Vicat. It was agreed in Paris in July of 2000 that Vicat would pay about $65 million for the entire business.
However, Hari Mohan did not want to let go of his and his family's legacy and backed out of the deal in the eleventh hour.
The fact that his company was still attracting buyers gave him confidence and he brought about several changes in operation that turned the fortunes around. In the last 15 years, Shree Cements' share prices have risen from ₹50 to ₹18500, at a compounded growth rate of 48.3 per cent, making it the best performing cement stock in India.
Behind the turnaround was a decision to utilise research and technology to cut costs. He found out that Petroleum Coke, a waste by-product sold cheap by Reliance Industries, could be a fuel for cement manufacturing. It was such a success that Bangurs kept it a trade secret for almost eight years. Even now, according to experts, Shree Cement enjoys an average 25 per cent cost edge on most of their Indian rivals.
In short, Hari Mohan is someone who has survived tough times, has displayed innovation to grow his firm and takes bold decisions, Clearly, he is somone who values legacy and fights to the utmost end to honour it.
These are qualities that should gladden the hearts of East Bengal fans, for here is a man who knows how to revive a struggling entity, innovating and adapting to the ever-changing world while respecting its legacy.
"East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are two iconic football clubs of the country. These clubs are the pride of Bengal. The love and passion for football and these clubs, in particular, is in the blood of every Bengali," he said.
Hari Mohan Bangur is not just a successful entrepreneur, he is also an avid sports lover. Before entering the world of Indian football, Shree Cement was associated with the Indian National Hockey team.
Back in 2010 during the Hockey World Cup, they had entered into a sponsorship deal with the Indian hockey players which would see the hockey sticks of each and every player carrying the company logo.
The company has also patronized volleyball in India in the past and the man himself is a national level Bridge player.
“Shree Cement has been active in sports for a long time. We have been patronizing volleyball, hockey, etc. in the past. I myself am a national level Bridge player and a sports lover,” he added.
The company would not just promote football but other sports too at East Bengal and would like to participate in every national and international competition, according to their Managing Director.
“Shree would work together with the club for the promotion of various sports not limited to football alone. We would like the club to participate in various local, national and international level tournaments. The modalities or structure of investing is still being worked on,” he opined.
What is clear is one fact - Hari Mohan Bangur and his son Prashant are entrepreneurs with a vision. And judging by how they have turned Shree Cement into cement royalty, East Bengal also can expect that level of commitment from their new patrons.
East Bengal are a club with a lot of heritage and history who have struggled on the field of late. Under Hari Mohan Bangur and Shree Cement's leadership, the fans will be hoping their fortunes will change for the better in a new era, in a new surrounding.