Nandlal Tolani ’64, Agricultural Economics

Susan Henry, Papu Tolani, and Nandlal P. Tolani
Susan Henry, left, with Nandlal P. Tolani, right, and Papu Tolani. Image courtesy of Cornell Chronicle

One of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century has been the strengthening of the ties between different parts of the world. Now, it’s not uncommon for students to travel the globe, pursuing the best educational opportunities in their fields. Nandlal Tolani’s career is an example of what can be achieved with international cooperation and collaboration. Through his dedication to agriculture and education, Tolani has strengthened the ties between the Indian subcontinent and Cornell.

Born to a family of landowners in Sind Province (today part of Pakistan), Tolani came to Cornell for the first time in 1946. Working with Professor Orville French, Tolani earned his master’s degree in agricultural economics. He put the knowledge he gained about soils and construction to work when he returned home, opening a construction company to build earthen dams for the large-scale irrigation projects that were modernizing the Indian countryside at the time.

But Tolani decided that he still had more to learn. After years of running his own company back at home, he returned to Cornell for his doctoral degree, which he earned in just two years. After finishing this degree, he again returned to Asia, this time as the head of a shipping operation. Under the leadership of Tolani and his father, the shipping company grew prosperous.

Tolani did not forget, however, the significant role his education played in his success. Wanting to bring the same educational opportunity to other aspiring students, he opened the Tolani College of Commerce in Mumbai in 1989. The educational complex encompasses several different divisions, including arts and sciences, pharmacy, and a hospital, and has been joined by the Tolani Maritime Institute, which educates engineers and trains merchant navy officers.

Just as Tolani has been dedicated to giving back in his home country, he has also shown his loyalty to his alma mater, endowing the Tolani Senior Professorship in International Trade Policy at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In addition to the professorship, this endowment provides for the recruitment of a graduate research fellow from India. Tolani has not rested on his significant laurels; rather, he is using his resources to foster bonds of deeper understanding between India and the U.S.