With the passing away of Rama Prasad Goenka, the country and its business community has lost an icon. The void that he leaves behind will be tough to fill. During his time, he was indeed a living legend. He built his empire during the ‘licence raj’, when doing business wasn’t easy.
He was a visionary, an achiever and a man of action. On the personal front, I have fond memories of him. His younger son (Sanjiv) is a dear friend and through him, I have come to know this icon for more than 15 years.
He was a father figure to me and I called him Babu-ji. We have interacted in the same circle for years. But I believe that you truly get to know a person only after you’ve spent a few days with them. I got such an opportunity six years ago. Some industrialists, including Babu-ji and I, were part of a business delegation to Italy.
People at his level are supposed to be reserved and inaccessible. But he was full of wit and life. His persona, simplicity and innate magnanimity were awe-inspiring. I fondly remember his meticulous eye for detail. At the delegation, he was always in the forefront. My memories of him will always be that of a tough taskmaster and a doyen of business who leads by action.
I always look back on that trip and feel privileged and humbled to have shared the company of one of the tallest business leaders of our times.
Babu-ji was once again by my side three years ago, when I took over as president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Our very first programme was on the living legends of industry and Babu-ji was our lead speaker. He had been my constant mentor and guide at the ICC, often giving us advice on the direction that we should follow. His biggest strength lay perhaps in his humility.
One incident comes to my mind. We were both regulars at the salon and wellness centre of a leading hotel. One day, I happened to go in for a hair cut around the same time as him.
Babu-ji, who would call me Mr president jokingly, insisted that the hair stylist cut my hair before his. That’s the kind of person he was. No airs, no fake sense of pride. He was a humble man, who was always meant for greatness.
(As told to Shutapa Paul)