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All in 1: Strategic yet detail-oriented, outspoken but kind | India News – Times of India

By A N Roy
This tribute to ‘Hamara’ Rahul Bajaj — a stalwart among corporate leaders and a dear friend of over three decades — is very personal, and not emotionally easy for me.
Rahul, whose recent loss has deprived Indian industry of its strongest and most fearless voice, was a peerless leader who set benchmarks in many ways. After his education at the finest institutions, he was tasked with managing the then fledgling Bajaj Auto. He settled in Akurdi, a sleepy village 27 km from Pune — which continued to be his only home till the end. From there, he grew the company from Rs 3 crore to Rs 30,000 crore as it went from ‘Hamara Bajaj’ to the ‘World’s Favorite Indian’ with exports to over 70 countries.
Rahul operated simultaneously at two levels. As a visionary, strategic thinker he created super-scale, successful businesses — including Bajaj Auto with a market cap in excess of 100,000 core, run efficiently by son Rajiv who is bringing sustainability into mobility and restarting scooters in an electric avatar.
Rahul’s decision to demerge Bajaj Auto into four significantly enhanced the value of the group and also created a financial services business run by younger son Sanjiv which combines stability and disruption in a unique way to become the gold standard in the marketplace. At the other level, he kept an eagle-eye on details; nothing escaped his attention. Being on the boards of his companies I saw how even as nonexecutive chairman he never ceased to surprise his own team by spotting and correcting the minutest oversight in numbers, drafting, even typos.
A champion boxer in school and college, Rahul, continued to verbally roll with the punches throughout his professional life. What he was most known for was his forthrightness, calling a spade a spade, speaking truth to every shade and shape of power, and unhesitatingly raising concerns others would be too scared to. He was aware that there could be a price to pay, but he was uncompromising.
The values imbibed by Jamnalal Bajaj, the adopted fifth son of Mahatma Gandhi, were internalized and practised in the group, which always stayed close to the Gandhian legacy. Rahul adhered to a high level of integrity in business practices, and insisted on total compliance in the letter and spirit of the law. If there ever was a conflict between ethics and growth/ profit, I can say with confi- dence that Rahul would unblinkingly choose the former. It was this that gave him the confidence to be outspoken.
Simple and frugal to a fault in his personal life, Rahul was generous towards public causes and charitable projects, particularly when it came to the poor, to rural India, and to education and health — long before corporate social responsibility became fashionable or mandatory. Rahul was an animated speaker, but he also walked the talk.
Rahul combined intellectual curiosity with intellectual humility, burning the midnight oil to read and learn. The quintessential ‘argumentative Indian’, he was willing to take on anyone, but was also open to being convinced about an opposing point of view. Fiercely independent, a diehard nationalist, but totally rational and fair, Rahul was ready to go any distance for the good of the country, the growth of Indian industry, and to fight on issues of principle.
Rahul had a vast circle of friends globally from diverse backgrounds — bureaucrats and politicians of all hues and views to academicians and social activists, besides people from India Inc. He walked tall both literally and figuratively, and never alone.
Under that tough exterior, I always heard the soft but unmistakable beat of a kind heart.
(The writer was police commissioner of Mumbai, director general of Maharashtra police, and now serves on a number of company boards, including in the Bajaj Group)

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