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Honouring the legacy of the Tolaram Group

Chairman Mohan Vaswani attributes the firm's success to the people who have helped it grow.

"Along with our successes have come failures, and it is important for people to know that no success comes without embracing risks, and learning from the inevitable mistakes along the way," says Mr Vaswani.

TOLARAM Group has been awarded the EY-Standard Chartered Family Business Award of Excellence, an honorary award that is presented on board the EOY platform.

Mohan Vaswani, chairman, Tolaram Group, says: "We are humbled to be recognised as a company that puts our values, people, and entrepreneurial spirit at the forefront of all we do. It is an honour to accept this award, which will motivate us to aspire higher within our business and broader family.

"It is a great honour to be receiving this award, and we are humbled at the opportunity to share our story. I feel a deep gratitude to the many people who have been a part of the group's journey. We would not be here without them."


The founding generation embodied the resilience, determination and entrepreneurial spirit that continue to shape the Tolaram group's ideals today. Their sacrifices and grit paved the way for the group's success.

"Recognition was never our goal. We have done our best to grow our business, while preserving our traditions and staying true to our core values of trust, respect, commitment, courage, and humility. Our values are the foundation of our company culture and this helps attract and retain our considerable talent pool. Practising our values has helped us to honour our heritage and gives us collective purpose. It binds us as we journey towards a common goal and defines how we interact with one another. It empowers us to collectively live the Tolaram brand," notes Mr Vaswani.

In addition, it has been important for the Tolaram Group to understand where it came from and what it has learned along the way. Learning opportunities can be found in both failures and successes.

"We have also inherited a philosophy that strongly believes in giving back to the communities that have enabled us to grow and succeed," adds Mr Vaswani.

"We view our people as our greatest asset, and make a concerted effort to develop their potential. While Tolaram is a family business by definition, 'family' goes beyond bloodlines. The group has been home to a wide spectrum of individuals who have been a part of our journey over the years. Many have been with us since our humble beginnings and have dedicated their lives to helping Tolaram grow; some have been with us till their retirement. People have come and gone but remain interwoven in our story. It is to all of these people that we attribute our success: our employees, partners, stakeholders, advisors, families and friends."

As to why entrepreneurship is important, especially for family businesses, Mr Vaswani says that entrepreneurship requires the ability to identify and capitalise on opportunities that, by creating businesses, addresses gaps or areas of need.

"We have been able to do so in developing markets. In the face of shortcomings in the public sector, it is the responsibility of the private sector to step into areas such as job creation, infrastructure development, and provision of basic goods and services. These are opportunities to both do good business and be good for society.

"Risk-taking has been a key ingredient in the success of our business, and this is vital to the spirit of entrepreneurship. Along with our successes have come failures, and it is important for people to know that no success comes without embracing risks, and learning from the inevitable mistakes along the way. It is often about trial and error, and requires determination and perseverance through challenges."

For promoting entrepreneurship in Singapore, Mr Vaswani feels that the country should encourage risk-taking and for people to seek opportunities in developing markets.

"In affluent nations such as Singapore, people become accustomed to certain comforts and this holds them back from seeking out new ventures, for example in emerging markets. Taking risks and venturing out of your comfort zone is a fundamental part of entrepreneurship. Singapore would do well to foster greater curiosity in its citizens, especially in schools. Students should be encouraged to exercise creativity and find innovative solutions to both local and global problems. Entrepreneurship is difficult to teach, so we should instead concentrate on developing the traits of good entrepreneurs such as critical thinking, and not being afraid to question the status quo."

Tolaram Group was founded in 1948 in Malang, Indonesia. Headquartered in Singapore, the group has existing operations in Asia, Africa and Europe with products exported to over 75 countries. It employs over 10,000 people. With almost 70 years of entrepreneurship experience, the business has evolved from trading, to manufacturing, to brand-building. While it is established in several industries, the group is now focusing on growing its fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and digital services businesses.


On Tolaram Group's plans going forward, Mr Vaswani points out that in 2015 it was reorganised as a trust with the Ishk Tolaram Foundation becoming the majority trustee and 25 per cent beneficiary.

The foundation represents the philanthropic endeavours of the family, focusing on issues related to education, employment, and healthcare in Indonesia and Nigeria.

"Going forward, we would like to focus more on sustainability and philanthropy, and continue to uphold the giving spirit instilled in us by our forefathers. We believe that with our successes comes an increased responsibility to contribute meaningfully to the communities from which we grew," shares Mr Vaswani. "On the business front, we are looking to expand our operations in Africa, concentrating primarily on FMCG and digital services. We are also focusing on mentoring and grooming a new generation of leaders, while learning alongside them. Incorporating new knowledge into our future endeavours will be important in keeping the group up-to-date with the latest innovations and global trends."

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