OBITUARY: Dr Hari Harilela 1922-2014

Tributes flow in after hotelier and philanthropist Hari Harilela dies, aged 92

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 December, 2014, 2:17am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 December, 2014, 9:03am

Prominent hotelier and philanthropist Hari Harilela, often dubbed the richest Indian in the city, died yesterday aged 92.

The patriarch of the Harilela family, with about 80 members, rose from a poor background to become one of the best-known entrepreneurs in the region's hotel industry.

Born in Hyderabad, Sindh, in 1922 - in what was then India but is now Pakistan - he moved to Canton, now Guangzhou, with his mother and two brothers in 1930. Once in Hong Kong, he began a tailoring business before later founding the Harilela Group with his brothers in 1959.

The group's hotel portfolio today includes the Holiday Inn Golden Mile and the Intercontinental Grand Stanford, both in Kowloon, as well as various others across Asia, two in Canada and one in London. Harilela's son Aron is the group's chairman.

"[My father] was generous, humble with an open spirit and a forward mind," said Aron.

"He always encouraged me to aspire in all things in life - in learning, in family, in business and also as importantly, with the friends in one's life," he added.

Harilela was highly regarded in the local Indian community.

"He had a great voice in the government on numerous ethnic minority issues," said Mohan Chugani, president of the India Association in Hong Kong. "Colonial governors and chief executives consulted Dr Harilela."

Chugani added that Harilela was close friends with two former chief executives, Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

A relative, who declined to be named, described Harilela as "a true Hong Kong person".

"The culture of Hong Kong is business. Vienna has a music culture. Hong Kong means business," Harilela told the South China Morning Post last year.

Today, the family lives in a 40-bedroom mansion in Kowloon Tong, with the next generation living in a connecting house.

"We maintain a kind of privacy and harmony in the house. I think that helps a lot," he said in last year's interview.

He said that the real meaning of life rested in families and that he had the peace of mind that allowed him to watch the next generation thrive or fail.

Harilela passed from old age with his family by his side. In an announcement issued by his family, he was described as "a very dedicated husband, loving father and grandfather, brother, an inspiration to the whole family and a true friend to all".

The announcement added Harilela was reposing at his Kowloon Tong residence, and anyone who wishes to pay their respects may do so today and tomorrow from 3pm to 8pm.