As we journey through continents, cultures, and generations, we build enduring relationships. People have always been at the heart of what we do.
Seth Tolaram was a respected physician and philanthropist in Sindh. Khanchand Vaswani, his youngest son, founded a business in his name. It was a company rooted in the values Seth Tolaram seeded: trust, respect, commitment, courage, and humility.
Khanchand and his family relocated to Indonesia in 1948 as refugees from Sindh following the Partition of India.
For decades, he and his brothers had maintained trading businesses in the archipelago. This time they were there to stay. His ambitions led him to set up a retail business in Malang, selling textiles. Khanchand’s enduring code – one of honour and integrity – kept customers coming back.
As the business grew, so did the Tolaram brand, both as a provider of fine textiles and as an employer. Family members and members of the local community came together to lay the foundation of a business anchored by shared values and a sense of family.
In 1957, Khanchand handed over the business to his only son, Mohan Vaswani, with a mission to take the Tolaram name international.
Mohan, like many in the family, grew up immersed in diversity – he was born in Sindh, raised in Indonesia, and married a Chinese Indonesian. Through Tolaram, he continued to bring together cultures and people from all walks of life.
From the earliest days, women pioneers, including Khanchand’s wife Ishwari, their daughters Padu and Sulachni, and Mohan’s wife Kawita, played a pivotal role in both the business and family. They brought together the various generations and fostered a sense of community throughout Tolaram.
Mohan’s cousin Vishamkar ‘Vishu’ Adnani joined Tolaram in 1961. The strength of their partnership endures to this day, and laid the foundation for future partnerships the company would enter into. Through shared values, they journeyed together and expanded Tolaram’s boundaries, first beyond retail, then beyond the textile industry.
In the 1970s, the company set its sights abroad.
In 1975, the corporate headquarters was relocated to Singapore to leverage the country’s strengths, beginning Tolaram’s journey of internationalisation.
Supported by a broad professional talent base, Singapore became the launching pad for exploring new industries and markets – from Asia to the US, and Africa to East Europe.
Having completed their tertiary education, the third generation joined the business.
Over the next few decades, the spirit of entrepreneurship would take Tolaram to 18 countries across the globe, including Africa, Europe, the US, and other parts of Asia. The experience and knowledge gained from both opportunities and challenges in these markets helped propel Tolaram’s growth.
Drawn by the vast potential of the continent, Tolaram began its African journey in the late 70s. The ability to quickly adapt would be critical to navigating the political and economic realities of its challenging yet promising markets. It would be a combination of experience gained, relationships built and sheer staying power that would lead to Tolaram gaining a lasting foothold in Africa.
The following decades saw Tolaram expand into more sectors in Africa, from industrials to infrastructure, and weather both economic and political upheaval, and business challenges. It has made significant investments in the country and its development, indicative of its long-term commitment.
The hard-won understanding of the market and deep relationships built over time would make Tolaram a valuable partner to multinationals that were beginning to appreciate the potential of the African market.
Outside Africa, Tolaram continued to expand globally, including north to Estonia, where it acquired a paper mill in the town of Kehra. The group, now in the hands of the third generation, restored the mill to profitability, providing employment to the surrounding population and reviving a community.
Today, the paper business remains a key Tolaram operation and exports sustainable paper products to 55 countries around the globe.
As Tolaram commemorates over 70 years of growth this decade, its entrepreneurial journey continues with bold new ventures, partnerships, and markets.
With a focus on the future, it has deepened its interest in growth areas and emerging opportunities, including infrastructural development and fintech. In Africa, Tolaram is leading the development of the Lagos Free Zone and adjacent Lekki Port. In various emerging economies, it is rolling out fintech offerings.
Across its markets, Tolaram is also making continuous advancements towards its sustainability goals.