Rahul Bajaj: 1938-2022

Image Courtesy- India Today

Popularly known as the CEO of Bajaj group, Mr. Rahul Bajaj was born on 10th June 1938 in Calcutta (present day Kolkata) to Mr. Kamalnayan Bajaj and Savitri Bajaj. He did his schooling from The Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai and was an alumnus of many renowned educational institutions including St. Stephen’s College (Delhi) Harvard Business School (US).  

The Bajaj Group was founded by his grandfather Mr. Jamnalal Bajaj in 1926. Mr. Bajaj joined the Bajaj Group as a Deputy Manager in 1965 under Mr. Naval K Firodia who was widely admired for managing the Bajaj Group. He taught Mr. Rahul Bajaj the various intricacies of business. Mr. Rahul Bajaj was well known for his unique, bold business strategies and for managing the enterprise with an adaptive and innovative approach which has made the Bajaj Group one of the major market players in many important sectors of the economy. 

He was widely admired for solely managing the enterprise for such a long span.  As an entrepreneur, it was not an easy path for Mr. Bajaj. In 2001, after the liberalisation of the Indian Economy, the company hit low sales as many foreign competitors like Suzuki Honda, Yamaha entered the market, thus changing the Indian Market dynamics. But, under his able leadership, Bajaj Auto re-established itself and went on to introduce several new products, one of the most popular ones being the Bajaj Pulsar Motorcycle. This shows how he always modified his business strategies in line with the new trends. In 2008, he split the enterprise into three companies, namely Bajaj Auto Ltd, Bajaj Finserv Ltd and Bajaj holdings and investment Ltd (which are currently managed by his two sons). He was regarded as a fearless person by his friends and in the corporate circle, he was known as a person who could do anything for the betterment of the nation and  corporate India.

When Mr. Rahul Bajaj  took charge of the Bajaj Group in 1965, Bajaj Auto  reached new heights under his fearless leadership. From 1957 to 1977, he was appointed as the Chairman of the ‘Development Council for Automobiles and Allied Industries’ by the Government of India and was also appointed as the chairman of the Indian Airlines in 1986. In February 1992, he was appointed as a member of ‘The Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum’ by His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales. In 2001, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the nation’s third highest civilian honour, for his contribution to the Indian Society. Among many international honours, he received the Alumni Achievement Award from Harvard Business School in 2005. Mr. Bajaj was also ranked 722nd on the Forbes 2016 list of the world’s billionaires and he was said to be the 20th richest man in India according to the Forbes India poll on the top 40 richest people in India. 

Philanthropy also runs strong in the Bajaj family which runs schools like balwadis, several vocational and training institutions, which include adopting ITIs. They also train rural women in tailoring and embroidery. 

After coming back to India in 1965, having completed his MBA from Harvard, Rahul Bajaj took Bajaj Auto from a mere assembler of scooters to manufacturer of the renowned brand ‘Chetak’. Despite being in such a successful and powerful position, the businessman never shied away from expressing his political views publicly so much so that he  criticised the government and their policies on a public platform on more than one occasion. The most recent example would be when he rebuked home minister Amit Shah in an event organised by The Economic Times in Mumbai where the veteran businessman spoke about the government’s ‘stifling of criticism’.

“This environment of fear, it’s definitely on our minds. You (the government) are doing good work; and despite that, we don’t have the confidence that you’ll appreciate criticism,” he said. 

With his demise, India has lost one of her most tactful businessmen but gained his legacy of fearless innovation for those after him to strive to live up to.

Mrunmayee Joshi and Padmaja Uttarwar (2021-24, FYBSc Div-2)

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