Naval Godrej

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Naval Pirojsha Godrej (1916-1990), fondly known as Naoroji, was born on 3 December 1916. The father of Jamshyd Godrej, the Managing Director & Chairman of Godrej & Boyce, Naval was the youngest son of Pirojsha Burjorji Godrej - an Indian industrialist who was the younger brother of Ardeshir Godrej, the founder of the Godrej Group.

The Godrej Group is celebrating Naval’s Birth Centenary year from 3 December 2016 – 2 December 2017. Driven by the dream of India’s industrial self-reliance, and an ardent believer of Make in India even before the phrase became popular, Naval pioneered the all-Indian manufacture of a number of products including typewriters, machine tools, forklift trucks and refrigerators. A self-taught man, Naval was a mechanical genius. His natural affinity for machines led him to develop the Godrej Tool Room and to initiate the manufacturing of indigenous products that would go on to make Godrej a trustworthy, household name.

He was also instrumental in setting up the Indian Machine Tools Association and established an international exhibition of machine tool manufacturers, IMTEX. He was the President of IMTMA from 1971 to 1973.

It was his forward-thinking and vision that led to Godrej partnering with ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). With the expertise of the tool room and Naval’s support, Godrej got its first order to manufacture satellite components from ISRO in 1986 and since then there has been no looking back.

In keeping with the Godrej family’s deep commitment to social welfare Naval played a leading role in setting up the Industrial garden township of Piroshanagar. He also initiated the Foundation for Research in Community Health, the Foundation for Medical Research (that focused on leprosy treatment) and supported hospitals, clinics and schools in Mumbai and elsewhere.

Instrumental in building Godrej into an industrial powerhouse, Naval was truly a giant among men. It has never ceazed to amaze those who knew him, how a man who achieved so much was so little known among his peers. Naval was a celebrity and yet, he wasn’t. The dictionary defines a celebrity as a person of distinction and fame. Naval indeed was a man of distinction but he was also a very private person. He believed in his work, in doing good work. He never gave interviews and speeches and diligently kept out of the spotlight, leaving his elder brother to be the spokesperson. Nobody puts it better than eminent man of letters and jurist Nani Palkhivala who described Naval as- ‘All his life he cared for honour and not about honours.'

In recognition of his service to society and to the nation, he was conferred the Padma Bhushan in 1976.

Early life[edit]

Naval was just three years old when his mother passed away. Soonabai was affected by the Asian Flu and was admitted to Cottage Hospital in Mussoorie where she succumbed to her illness on 13 June 1920. All the Godrej children were schooling in Mussoorie at that time with the oldest, Sohrab, being just 8 years old.

When their mother died, the children were sent to Karachi to be looked after by their grandmother. Naval studied at St. Patrick’s School in Karachi, followed by St. Mary’s High School - once they moved back to Mumbai (then Bombay). Naval had an extremely curious mind and few things thrilled him more than taking apart a watch and putting it together again. Pirojsha noticed this mechanical aptitude and asked Naval to come and see the factory during his holidays, after his matriculation.

Naval joined the business straight out of high school. Even though Naval never had any formal college education, he was willing to learn and had a keen sense of observation, and a flair for machines. He was hardly ever seen at his desk, preferring to be on the shop floor with his people. By working shoulder to shoulder with his factory workers, he not only picked up the nuances of engineering and manufacturing, but also earned the respect of his peers and workers.


Naval's interest in machines led him to develop the Godrej Tool Room, and to initiate the typewriter and refrigeration lines of business. He guided the Machine Tool Association through its formative years and was its President from 1971-73. He also established the pioneering international exhibition, IMTEX where the Machine Tool industry showcases products.[1]

He was involved with the construction of the Godrej Industrial garden township in Vikhroli.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Naval had two children, Jamshyd and Smita Crishna-Godrej.[3] He died on 8 August 1990 at his residence in Bombay (now Mumbai), aged 73.[4]

Naval’s Personality[edit]

Simple in attire and demeanor, Naval was a true Gandhian. Blessed with a winsome smile, he was known to be very humble, extremely approachable, and friendly. His gentle charisma and clarity shone through in his interactions with people from all walks of life. Learning skills from the shop floor upwards led Naval to support a hands-on approach in tackling problems, never expecting others to do what he would not undertake himself.

Naval had no interest in partying and idle conversation. He was a family man who had a love for the sea. His passion for sailing made him establish the Godrej trophy, which is awarded every year by member clubs of the Yachting Association of India. He also helped set up a boating station for Sea Cadet Corps dedicated to the training of young boys and girls. In 1967, Naval accompanied by his wife Soonu and a few others sailed to Karachi and back. For this feat, Naval’sname was inscribed on the prestigious Scovell Challenge Shield.


He received the Padma Bhushan award in 1976, in the field of Trade & Industry.[2]

Professional Achievements[edit]

The Tool Room and Machine Tools[edit]

Much importance has been given to the country’s industrialisation even before freedom was won (1947), but credit must be given to Naval for taking the initiative in manufacturing machine tools nearly a decade earlier. The opportunity came during the war years when the machines required by Godrej could no longer be imported. Naval rose to the challenge and in the 1940s, he created a path-breaking line of machines including the first 35 tonne power press. He also pioneered the indigenous manufacture of machine tools & metal forming and machine cutting machines.

The First All-Indian Typewriter[edit]

Before Naval’s efforts, typewriters had never been made anywhere in Asia. Typewriter manufacturing required highly specialised machinery and deft workmanship. Even though Naval conceived the idea of typewriter manufacture as early as 1946, production started only in the early 1950s due to raw material restrictions and wartime considerations. The first all-Indian typewriter was introduced in 1955. However, mastering the manufacture of typewriters was no easy task. It took several models before Naval was satisfied with the soft touch of the keys – a feature that made the typist’s job easier. In so much, the success of Godrej typewriters led to foreign competition downing their shutters in Indi(c)

The Refrigerator Manufacture[edit]

Having been the first to make typewriters, Naval was keen to help Indian households access other modern conveniences. After overcoming many teething problems, Godrej was successful in producing the first 230 Volt Model 9 refrigerator, having a capacity of 7.3 cubic feet, in 1958. For more than a decade, several different models were introduced. In 1962, Godrej, which had been using the imported GEC compressor unit, began manufacturing hermetically sealed compressors in India.

IMTEX and IMTMA[edit]

With his experience in manufacturing the largest number of sheet-metal machines, Naval was the obvious choice to guide the Indian Machine Tools Manufacturing Association (IMTMA) through its formative years. When Naval became its President (1971-1973), he established the pioneering International Machine Tool Exhibition known as IMTEX. Naval not only donated the land for the purpose of hosting the exhibition but was involved in every aspect of its planning, projection and execution. The first exhibition was held in 1965 with ten exhibitors while the last one (1989) in his lifetime had 400 participants. The 50th edition of IMTEX is slated to be held in two years from now.

Manufacturing of Indigenous Forklift Trucks[edit]

For Godrej, as for India, the 50s and 60s were a period of transformation –where Godrej not only introduced new products locally but was keen to tap global markets. Among the new products that were added to the Godrej portfolio during this phase, were forklift trucks. With production beginning in 1961, forklift trucks of 2.25 tonne capacity were ready to be marketed by 1963. The first major breakthrough came in 1977 when Godrej bagged the first export order for forklift trucks from Russia with Naval himself signing the agreement.

Partnering with ISRO[edit]

The Process Equipment Division (PED) for fabricating equipment for process industries was established in 1976. With the expertise of the tool room and Naval’s support, PED actively began considering the idea of venturing into the space arena. In 1986, PED got its first order to manufacture satellite components from ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). This order lead to the establishment of the Precision Components Group (PCG) that was then solely dedicated to the manufacture and design of satellite components. The following year, Godrej received the first order for the Dummy Motor Casing for PSLV. The success of the project led to the creation of a dedicated business unit, Godrej Aerospace, that began the fabrication and supply of the Vikas Engines in its entirety. The first delivery of the Vikas engine was done in 1994. Since then Godrej Aerospace has regularly and successfully supplied mission-critical components for ISRO’s ambitious, indigenous space programme. Later, once we have the facts, we must include the point about taking on foreign competition and beating the global majors.

Social Welfare[edit]

Naval’s contribution to India was in line with the concept of trusteeship of wealth initiated by his uncle Ardeshir who donated a sum of Rs 3 lakhs to the Tilak Swaraj Fund way back in 1921. Mahatma Gandhi was so touched by the gesture that he wrote effusively about it (Collected Works, Volume 20).

Naval initiated the Foundation for Research in Community Health (FRCH) – a part of the Pirojsha Godrej Foundation. A regular visitor to Mandwa, Naval saw the problems of the locals first hand and initiated the Mandwa Project which included a Primary Health Care Centre. Naval would personally visit the Centre every weekend and sit under a tree spending several hours discussing with the villagers what improvements could be made to the centre and the village.

Naval also initiated the Foundation or Medical Research (FMR) with the goal of eradicating leprosy. The fledgling project grew from modest beginnings to a well-equipped laboratory and educational institute. While he supported clinics, schools and hospitals in Mumbai and elsewhere, his other philanthropic contributions included a crematorium for pets and a Disaster Centre.

Pirojshanagar - The Industrial Garden Township[edit]

Naval was deeply involved in the conceptualization and development of the Godrej Industrial Garden Township at Vikhroli in Mumbai, Maharashtra. Instead of taking the easy way out and getting an established contractor, Pirojsha Godrej decided to entrust the entire work to Naval. Initially confined to planning, by 1972 Naval was involved in the total execution of the project.

Emphasis was laid on the adoption of quality systems from residential construction and industrial to infrastructure, gardens and forestry. Right from its inception, Naval laid down an ‘Environmental Policy’ that governed all aspects of construction, waste management and landscaping. In the attention they gave to environmental concerns, Godrej was well ahead of other industries at that time. As regards housing for workers, Naval would sit with architects himself and look into even the smallest of points such as adequate cross ventilation.

Nearly 1,800 acres of land are preserved mangrove swamps managed by the Soonbai Pirojsha Godrej trust. The elegantly laid out Pirojshahnagar is today as much a garden as an industrial township and incorporates many facilities for workers and families such as the Udayachal Schools among others.

The Parsi Punchayat[edit]

Naval joined the Parsi Punchayat in February 1985. Naval was convinced that with the sizeable resources at its disposal, the Punchayat could do much more for the Parsi community. Housing, education and the upliftment of Mobeds (priests) were of prime importance to him as was the growing rate of unemployment. One outcome of Naval’s joining the Parsi Punchayat was the community managed to get a Godrej Baug at Peddar Road, Mumbai which fulfilled one of the community’s most dire need - housing.


  1. ^ Mindworks. ":: IMTEX - Indian Metal-Cutting Machine Tool Exhibition ::". Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  2. ^ a b "Godrej Archives". Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  3. ^ "Smita Crishna-Godrej". Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  4. ^ "Obituary: N.P. Godrej". Press Trust of India. The Indian Express. 9 August 1990. p. 9. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)