Lord Raj Bagri who died on Wednesday 26 April 2017, at the age of 86, was the Indian born doyen of London's metal trading community.
He was the longest serving Chairman in the history of London Metal Exchange (LME), from 1993-2002, and the first non-Briton to hold the post. Determined to sustain the LME's dominant position in global non-ferrous metal trading, he drove demutualiasation to become a shareholder-owned business. He also led the introduction of electronic trading launching LMEselect in February 2001, based on the belief that the exchange could not move ahead without tecnology and vice versa.
Raj Kumar Bagri was born in Kolkata (then Calcutta) into a middle-class family on August 24, 1930. His father died when he was three, and his mother sent him to work at 15 as a clerk at Metal distributors, part of the industrial empire of the Binani family.
He eventually convinced his bosses to send him to Malaysia to pitch to a major tin producer in Penang. He later moved to London, with his wife Usha after persuading his bosses to allow him to set up a trading firm, Metal Distributors (UK).
Unable to become a member of the LME due to Indian foreign exchange controls at the time, Bagri continued to run Metal Distributors (UK) but also set up Metdist, which finally joined the LME a decade later after he worked assiduously to persuade the LME to open its door to foreign membership. He joined the LME board in 1983, to become the vice chairman in 1990 and served as President from 2003 to 2006.
In 1994 he acquired, Bagri acquired 150 year Crown Estate lease on Hanover Lodge, a mansion in Regent's Park designed by John Nash and extended by Edward Lutyens. It is believed he paid £6mn for the lease and £25 million for renovations over 15 years, but finally sold to Russian oligarch Andrey Goncharenko, for £120mn.
Lord Bagri was widely admired by the British Indian community for his acumen, generosity and underestated style. He created the Bagri Foundation, a UK registered charity, in 1990, providing philanthropic assistance through education, relief work, the advancement of health and the preservation of Asia’s cultural heritage. The foundation was recently estimated as £270mn, but he insisted that the money itself had never been regarded as the main motivation. He was the Governor of SOAS, Chairman of the trustees of Rajiv Gandhi (UK) Foundation and a member of the advisory committee of the Prince's Trust.
In 1995, he was presented with a CBE and was made a life peer in 1997 under New Year's Honours List, John Major's last as the Prime Minister. He described himself as non-political, though he took the Conservative whip, but in 2010 he became one of a number of peers who retired from the Lords following the introduction of a law requiring members of both houses to be registered in the UK for tax purposes- rather than holding a “non-dom” status, as he did.
Lord Karan Bilimoria told the Hindustan Times, “From the time I started my business as a young entrepreneur, he was an inspiration to me as an Indian who had become such a hugely successful businessman, shattering all the glass ceilings and reaching the very top as the first member of the ethnic minority communities to head the London Metal Exchange – amongst his many achievements. I had the privilege of working alongside him in the House of Lords when I joined 10 years ago. There is no taking away the sadness at this time, however his inspiration will live on forever and his legacy will be continued by his very impressive son, Apurv Bagri who is a chip off the old block. Lord Bagri was always a thorough gentleman, mild in manner and always kind and generous.”
CB Patel, Publisher/Editor of Asian Voice and Gujarat Samachar, who knew Lord Bagri personally said: “He was a humble man, a totally self-made person, but always strove to cherish and maintain values. Many individuals and institutions have benefited from his support and advice.
“Bagri’s handling of the copper scandal in 1996 as LME chairman was exemplary.
In 1996 the metal industry was shaken up by a $2.6bn of losses by Sumitomo Corporation of Japan caused by its chief copper trader Yasuo Hamanaka, who was eventually convicted of fraud and confidence in LME was temporarily shaken. Lord Bagri worked tirelessly to repair the reputational damage and it eventually led to tight controls of the metal market.
Lord Bagri is survived by wife Usha, son Apurv and daughter Amita. Apurv took over the running Metdist- now majority owned by a Chinese bank and daughter Amita is the wife of Indian industrialist C K Birla. Lord Bagri rarely took his eyes off the metal markets and Apurv reportedly revealed that after a period of unconsciousness, during his final illness, he one day woke up to ask: “What's the price of Copper?”