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A brief biography
“Rahul Bajaj was one of a kind. He had a personality that matched his towering height. The grandson of a freedom-fighter, and born into a family that believed it had a responsibility towards society, Rahul Bajaj believed in the idea of India. His scooters became a symbol of a young nation on the move. He was one of the first to become a world-beater in his industry and to take an Indian brand global. But he was more than a business titan – he was a man of strong beliefs who didn’t shy away from speaking his mind. His two sons are living up to the famed Bajaj name and they will doubtless take their businesses to great new heights. What India will miss is a voice that came straight from the heart,” said Samir Jain, vice chairman and managing director, The Times of India Group.
“Rahul Bajaj strode across the Indian industrial landscape like a colossus. He was a pioneer who established a culture of quality and technology. He stood for high integrity in business and stuck to his principles,” said Venu Srinivasan, chairman, TVS Motor Company. Much before Brand India or ‘atmanirbharta’ came into the lexicon, the Bajaj Group was part of the ‘swadeshi’ movement, which saw Bajaj Auto going into scooters in collaboration with Piaggio.
The group played a very big role in turning Pune into one of India’s biggest business hubs. He relocated from Bombay to Akurdi, which was then a village on the outskirts of Pune. Bajaj took pride in creating a company that saw only one labour strike and a culture where his children went to the same school as his managers’. He was a tough negotiator and held firm during talks with Honda when it was looking to enter India in 1980s, refusing to offer any equity to the Japanese company, and insisting only on a technology tie-up. During this period, Indian preference changed from scooters to motorcycles, especially those with four-stroke engines, something that Bajaj didn’t manufacture, resulting in Hero Honda emerging as market leader some 15 years ago. By this time, Bajaj had put Rajiv in driver’s seat. “You’re a great manager. You’re doing well on costs and quality. All I know is, I was number one, you’re number two!” Bajaj would tease his son.
While focusing on business, which later diversified into financial services, Bajaj also built strong relationships around the world. He was among the early visitors to Davos, the alpine resort where global industry leaders converge for an annual summit that goes beyond business. First introduced to the European Management Forum by Baba Kalyani’s father Neelkanth Kalyani, Bajaj was instrumental in getting the World Economic Forum to India in the 1980s. Until a few years ago, he remained a keen participant at the jamboree. Bajaj may have been seen as a voice against liberalisation but those who know him maintain that he was misunderstood and that all heaskedfor was a level-playing field.
In keeping with the family tradition he was born into, Bajaj had a deep social conscience and believed that businesses were meant to serve people and communities. Besides making substantial financial commitments towards health, education and livelihoods, Bajaj took personal interest in the group's philanthropic activities.
His business empire
New Delhi: It was the middle of 1960s and Rahul Bajaj — who had been educated at Delhi’s prestigious St Stephens College and thereafter at Harvard Business School — decided to shift his base from a comfortable and plush life in Mumbai to Akurdi in Pune. Akurdi was a backward area then, but the company — which had obtained a license from the government to manufacture twoand three-wheelers (in pre-liberalisation era) and a partnership with Piaggio to manufacture Vespa scooters —bought land in Akurdi to avail of financial support and benefits for its factory. Not many had believed that he would last long in the rural area that lacked basic amenities, but he proved them all wrong as he not only made Pune his home right till the time he breathed his last, but ensured that the area become one of the most prominent industrial zones in the country.
As Bajaj Auto, the company that he built, never really looked back since, navigating the control raj and the post-liberalisation era while emerging as one of the most profitable auto companies in the world with a market cap in excess of Rs 1 lakh crore.
Today Bajaj Auto — run by Rahul’s elder son Rajiv — is not only one of the biggest motorcycle makers in the country, but also holds a strong position in key export markets.
What Rahul Bajaj really got into the company from his early days was a strong leadership and a clear strategy, along with voice and focus. As consumers faced a tiring waiting period of over 10 years to get delivery of the company’s famed range of scooters including the Chetak during the control raj, he never feared to raise his voice when it was required the most.
But while Bajaj Auto managed a strong run through the 1970s, 80s and the 90s, the company faced one of its biggest challenges when the market started gravitating towards four-stroke motorcycles even as Bajaj continued to focus on its scooter range.
Bajaj Auto came back, and strongly at that. The company’s Pulsar became one of the iconic motorcycle brands in the country. Bajaj managed to carve out its own in the premium categories.