It was an audacity of hope to start a bicycle manufacturing business in Ludhiana, Punjab, in 1956 with just a Rs 50,000 bank loan and no supporting ecosystem to lean on. Few expected Hero Cycles to succeed, but Om Prakash Munjal thought otherwise. Started with a capacity to produce just 25 cycles a day, Hero Cycles has shown that with foresight and grit, Indian entrepreneurs are second to none in the world. In about 25 years since it all began, Hero Cycles became the largest integrated bicycle manufacturer in the world (Guinness Books of World Records acknowledged this in 1986). Today, it produces as many as 19,000 cycles every single day and has close to 50 percent market share in an industry that can be termed as ultra competitive.
It is not just this that gave Munjal (who passed away at the age of 86 at the Hero Heart Institute of Dayanand Medical College and Hospital in Ludhiana on Thursday) the moniker–father of Indian cycle. He was instrumental in creating the entire ecosystem in and around Ludhiana on which not just Hero Cycles, but the entire cycle industry in the country thrives on.
Munjal was born on August 28, 1928, at Kamalia (then part of undivided Punjab and now in Pakistan). His family settled down in Ludhiana after the partition and set up their bicycle spare parts business. It flourished over the years and this emboldened him and his brothers--Brijmohan Lall Munjal, Dayanand Munjal and Satyanand Munjal-to try their hand in manufacturing bicycles. It was India’s first bicycle-producing unit. The rest, as they say, is history. Hero Cycles’s success laid the foundation for the family’s foray into the motorcycle business (Brijmohan spearheaded that), initially in a joint venture with Honda. Hero-Honda (now renamed Hero Motocorp after the joint venture partners parted ways) has grown to become the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer.
Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal expressed grief over Munjal’s death. “It is a huge loss for me, but I am sure the life of this great entrepreneur of Punjab will act as a source of inspiration for the coming generations,” he said.
Poor health had forced Munjal to take a back seat after 60 years at the helm of Hero Cycles. By then, his business (including auto components and hospitality) had grown to Rs 3,000 crore in size. He took on the role of chairman Emeritus of Hero Cycles recently after handing over the reins to his son Pankaj, who became the CMD of the company. He loved poetry and was a well-known philanthropist too.