Cowas Jehangir On Being The Vanguard Of His Family’s Rich Legacy


March 29, 2024

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Walking into Cowas Jehangir’s office building in the historic part of the city instantly transports you back in time. Old Bombay, in its golden age, would be the best way describe it. A lift of a bygone era slowly takes us up to an office, the walls of which bear portraits and photographs of members of the Jehangir family over the decades. The Jehangirs are a prominent Parsi family of India that contributed generously to the developmental landscape of Bombay (now Mumbai) via a varied array of businesses and philanthropy from the first half of the 1700s.

Article by Jeena J Billimoria | Hello Magazine


It all began with Hirji Jeevanji, who came from Navsari (Gujarat) to Bombay, and was the first Indian to open trade with China along the sea route in the 1720s. Since then, succeeding generations have diversified into various fields including art, finance, trade, education, textiles, chemicals, healthcare and prime real estate, with notable contributions such as the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall (now NGMA), Crawford Market, Mumbai University and the Jehangir Hospital, among others. Fast forward to today and it’s Cowas and his family that are the current gatekeepers of this centuries-old legacy.

Cutting a dapper figure, Cowas welcomes us into his work sanctuary. He possesses an easy-going demeanour, is down-to-earth and charming, and, as we soon find out, has a brilliant sense of humour. Born and brought up in Mumbai, he moved to Pune to finish high school. Armed with degrees in business administration, real estate, and finance from San Diego, California, his career began in the USA at a real estate fund. “I moved back to Mumbai in 2013 to work full-time with a real estate development management company, and by late 2019, I pivoted to take a more active role in the family business and management — particularly our hospital and healthcare group, the Jehangir Hospital in Pune,” he shares as we sit down for the interview to learn more.

HELLO!: Cowas, the first thing we want to ask is the story behind the family’s Readymoney nickname…

Cowas Jehangir: Since there were no permanent last names for Parsis until the 1900s, typically, the son took on the father’s name. Hirji Jeevanji, our first ancestor who moved to Bombay, took on the name ‘Readymoney,’ which eventually became the family surname. He acquired this nickname since he was a prominent financier and had ever ready money available to lend. His great grandson, Cowasji Jehangir was Knighted in 1872 in recognition of his various donations and charitable causes. His son, Jehangir Cowasji Jehangir Readymoney, was titled with a Baronetcy by the British in 1908 and took on the official name of Sir Cowasji Jehangir (in honour of his father), which then led to the title being handed down from one generation to the next (my dad, Jehangir is the fourth generation baronet and I will be the fifth). He later dropped the Readymoney name and Jehangir has remained the family name since the Second Baronetcy.

H!: Does the weight of the family legacy feel daunting?

CJ: I wouldn’t define it as weight (smiles). I consider it a privilege and my responsibility to take that legacy forward. It is fundamentally built on doing good and giving back to society as the first driver. Business will always follow. This is why it is a privilege to take that further. The expectations are high, as are the standards that previous generations and our parents have set; however, there has never been pressure from our parents to go in any particular direction that they wanted. Both my younger sister (Simone) and I are fully empowered in taking that legacy forward simply because of the values and ethics that have become a part of our being.

H!: Your family leads a private life, far away from the public eye. Can you tell us about the bond you all share?

CJ: I have an extremely happy relationship with everyone in my family — my mother, Jasmine, my father, Jehangir, and Simone. Our parents treated us as friends as much as their children, which made for a much more open and easy relationship as we grew up — and still continue to grow up! (Laughs). They’ve luckily been very easy-going with us and let us live our lives. They’ve been our parents when we needed it but also our best friends when we needed that. Humility, respect for others, always being grateful and living honest lives have been values that my parents have championed throughout my life.

H!: How do you spend time together as a family?

CJ: We are a family of musicians! My mother plays the saxophone, my father plays the trumpet, my sister sings and I play the drums and saxophone. We’ve played plenty of gigs together as a family (with a full band) for nearly my entire life — so sharing a stage with my family with a passion that we’re all fond of is something I’m very proud of and has been some of our best times together.

H!: Tell us more about your role specifically in the family business…

CJ: My role is to drive expansion in the Jehangir Hospital Group — be it internally within the main hospital campus or expansion of future hospitals in other cities. Our focus is also on preventive healthcare and wellness, aiming to establish a network of holistic wellness centres. In any family business, especially one as old as ours, moving the organisation in a certain direction becomes slower with so many moving parts. My focus is to try and make our hospital group nimble — a large organisation with the decision-making and execution of a start-up. I also closely work with and support my uncle, Adi Jehangir, who is a strong pillar in our family and focuses on our institutions in Mumbai like the Jehangir Art Gallery with his son (my cousin, Hirji).

H!: Speaking of decision-making, do you have the freedom to make your own within the company?

CJ: Yes, I do. But it’s very important to recognise the professional management we’ve established with our hospital group that are fully empowered to drive decisions. Decision making becomes a lot clearer and easier to navigate when you leverage and empower the right people in the right places which we have done well.

H!: What’s your vision for the future?

CJ: To expand the vast experience and goodwill of Jehangir Hospital’s 79 years of ethical healthcare for the society into areas where healthcare is moving forward — newer medical technologies and equipment, focus on preventive healthcare, wellness, the applicability of AI, providing the best environmental for all healthcare workers for them to thrive and deliver quality healthcare for all strata of society. Even as we look into these areas, our focus will always be people, healing them and keeping them well. The hospital was started as a charitable trust and is still one today, therefore, everything that we do will always have the overarching objective to keep providing the best quality and ethical healthcare for all equally.

In the post-pandemic era, our clinical trial company, Jehangir Clinical Development Center, has come to the forefront as people increasingly recognise the value of clinical research. Our aim is to advance this platform further.

H!: What are your interests outside of the office?

CJ: Music is one of my biggest passions — whether it’s listening to it all the time, playing along with music, or jamming with friends. I’ve been playing the drums for over 20 years and saxophone for the last 3-4 years. I’m particularly keen on jazz, blues and rock. Health and wellness have become important aspects of my life and it’s developed into a huge interest for me lately — I’m always trying to learn more about fitness, nutrition and overall health to better myself.

H!: Any guilty pleasures?

CJ: Chocolate is always a guilty pleasure. I’ll never say no to it! (Laughs)

H!: What about your family history are you most proud of ?

CJ: I am extremely proud of the fact that for all the successes that have come through various generations and businesses, the main focus has always been to give back to society in any way, first.

H!: Is there an heirloom that’s been given to you that you’ll forever cherish?

CJ: There are many heirlooms with rich histories that could fill pages! While this is not a single heirloom per se, I cherish our family crest and motto that has been passed down through the generations. The motto is, ‘My Life Is His Who Gave It,’ which is a lovely reminder to always be grateful.

H!: The best piece of advice you’ve received?

CJ: Two bits of advice, one from each parent. The first from my mother — whatever you do, make sure you’re enjoying yourself and doing it with a smile. The rest will always fall into place and you’ll always do well. And from my father — respect all relationships with people and truly care for them, whether it be a personal or professional, it will always come back to you with positivity somewhere and at some point.(Smiles)

Photos: Ryan Martis

This article has been adapted for the website from the March 2024 issue of HELLO! India.