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Business doyens of independent India

On the 75th Independence Day of India, we tip our hat to the business leaders who have shaped the journey so far. The enterprises steered by them shifted India from a Nehruvian to a neo-liberal model

India's business leaders | Indian companies | Indian corporates

Team TMS  |  New Delhi 

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  • Let's start with J R D Tata and Ratan Tata. The Tatas’ business interest was diverse, though Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata’s love for flying surpassed all else. A rare interview showed JRD telling host Rajiv Mehrotra that his biggest contribution as an industrialist was the creation of Air India. As India celebrates the 75th year of Independence, Tatas have Air India back with them once again. JRD’s successor, Ratan Tata, gave automobiles a new direction within the salt-to-software group: from Indica to Jaguar-Land Rover. And, the biggest corporate battle in India Inc played out in 2016 when Cyrus Mistry, then chairman of Tata Sons, was ousted in a boardroom coup overseen by Ratan Tata.

    Moving on, there's no way to talk about India Inc without delving into the role of the Ambanis. When Dhirubhai Ambani returned from Yemen in the late 1950s to set up a textile mill in India, not many had expected him to re-write the rules of the game. In 1977, Ambani listed his company — Reliance Industries, now India’s largest company in revenues. From thereon, Ambani was unstoppable. However, after Ambani died without a will in 2002, his sons fought a bitter legal battle over control of the flagship company. In 2005, the siblings signed a peace agreement. Since then, while Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries has flourished, the businesses held by Anil Ambani went to bankruptcy court. The next big chapter in Reliance Industries is currently being written with Mukesh launching his succession plan at the centre of which is GenNext of the Ambanis: Akash, Isha and Anant.

    Now, let's take a trip down memory lane. Remember the iconic “Hamara Bajaj” tagline? Well, today, let's remember the industrialist behind it. From putting up a relentless fight against Licence Raj and giving millions of Indians an opportunity to own a two-wheeler to standing up to power, Rahul Bajaj led from the front. “Hamara Bajaj” came to be associated as much with the scooter as with the man riding it. Over the four decades that he helmed Bajaj Auto, he transformed it into a global manufacturing giant. Today, the business empire — comprising Bajaj Auto, Bajaj Finance, Bajaj Finserv, and Bajaj Holdings and Investment — boasts a combined market capitalisation of over 8.4 trillion rupees. Corporate India owes much to the man who never shied away from calling a spade a spade. With his death in February this year, at age 83, India Inc lost a doyen and the curtain fell on an era.

    Speaking of doyens, the roaring success of India's IT sector brings one name to mind, a business leader who has made an indelible impact on modern India. We are talking of N R Narayana Murthy, who is known as the “father of the Indian IT sector”. He founded Infosys in 1981, which became the first IT company from India to be listed on NASDAQ. It has grown to become a company with a market capitalisation of approximately 104.71 billion dollars. Murthy has received the Legion d’honneur from France, CBE from Britain, and Padma Vibhushan from India. The Economist ranked him among the 10 most admired global business leaders in 2005.

    Now, let's drive down south to another manufacturing powerhouse. In 1911, T V Sundram Iyengar founded the now multinational conglomerate TVS Group. But the man who’s carrying the torch forward is the automobile pioneer’s grandson, TVS Motor Company Chairman Venu Srinivasan. Srinivasan is credited with transforming TVS from a 50cc moped maker in the 1980s to the third-largest two-wheeler manufacturer in India, competing with the likes of Hero, Bajaj and Honda. While the company still has a monopoly in mopeds, its range of products extends from e-scooters and gearless scooters to race motorcycles and BMW bikes.

    Moving on, let’s look at how two personalities turned a large family business into a global conglomerate, Aditya Birla Group. While Ghanshyam Das Birla or GD Birla, set up industries in critical sectors such as textiles, aluminium, cement, and chemicals, his son Aditya Vikram Birla took the family business beyond India’s borders and set up the first overseas textile unit in Malaysia in 1969. After Aditya Birla died of cancer in 1995, his son Kumar Mangalam Birla expanded the empire through mergers and acquisitions. Aditya Birla Group boasts of $60 billion revenues and owns India’s biggest cement company, UltraTech. The diversified conglomerate has presence in fashion retail and financial services, besides owning a telco in JV with UK’s Vodafone.

    Speaking of towering personalities, let’s talk about a pioneer in the Indian pharma space. Son of a horse breeder, Cyrus Poonawalla chose to head in a different direction from the family business. Referred to as "vaccine king" of India, Cyrus worked to develop a therapeutic serum from horse blood and in 1966, at the age of 25, founded Serum Institute. By 1998, Serum was exporting vaccines to over 100 countries, and by the year 2000, one out of every two children in the world was vaccinated with an SII dose. Currently the largest vaccine maker by volume, Serum was at the heart of the global fight against Covid pandemic, thanks to its India-made Covishield vaccine.

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    First Published: Mon, August 15 2022. 07:00 IST