Bajaj business family

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Rahul Bajaj

Career: 1970-2020

Pankaj Doval, January 31, 2020: The Times of India

The man behind ‘Hamara Bajaj’ is ready to hang up his boots. After leading one of the country’s most popular and loved two-wheeler brands for nearly half a century, Rahul Bajaj has finally decided to call it a day.

The 81-year-old Bajaj, known to never hesitate from speaking his mind — sometimes even to the displeasure of ruling political regimes — will be stepping down from an executive position at Bajaj Auto from end-March to become non-executive chairman. While Bajaj had already taken a back seat when it came to taking active business decisions years ago, this would be the first instance when he officially gets into a non-executive position. Bajaj’s sons — Rajiv and Sanjiv — are already experienced hands at spearheading the family’s automobile and financial businesses, respectively, with the patriarch playing more of an elder statesman’s role than being a part of day-to-day affairs.

“Due to certain commitments and other preoccupation, Rahul Bajaj has decided not to continue as a whole-time director of the company after expiry of his current term on March 31, 2020… The board of directors placed on record its gratitude and sincere appreciation for the immense contribution made by Bajaj in the development, growth and success of the company through his dynamic and exemplary leadership over the last five decades,” the company said in a formal statement.

Bajaj had become a director of the family business in 1970, and has lived through a lifetime where two-wheelers progressed from being seen as luxury products that enjoyed waiting lists to become commuter, everyday products. He successfully managed the transition from the licence-raj era (pre-economic liberalisation) and was successful in growing as he staved off competition from foreign players. Bajaj was one of the leading faces of the so-called ‘Bombay Club’ that had reservations against opening up of the economy. He had been dubbed a ‘protectionist’ then as he made a case against opening of the Indian market to foreign companies, which he feared could mean end of homegrown business empires.

But more than throwing a challenge to establishments (last seen in December 2019 when he spoke about the government’s ability to take criticism at an ET event in the presence of home minister Amit Shah and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman), Bajaj was more accommodating when dealing with a major structural transition within his own crown jewel Bajaj Auto. As elder son Rajiv decided to phase out scooters in 2009 and focus on motorcycles that he saw as the ‘future’, the elder Bajaj reluctantly gave space to the son, while never shying away from expressing his reservations.

“…if I have to be honest, I am not convinced. I differ to his judgment… He (Rajiv) gets tired of explaining it to me quite often. I am not convinced (that) it is the right solution,” Bajaj had said. “…who knows tomorrow we may come back (in scooters) with a bang.” Bajaj just made a re-entry into scooters earlier this month (after more than a decade) with an electric vehicle, and called it ‘Chetak’, one of the company’s legendary scooter brands.

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