Hamara Bajaj: The last ride together
It was under his leadership that Bajaj’s scooters achieved a stardom like no other product in India.
He was the doyen of India’s auto industry but was better known for his outspokenness than perhaps his business acumen. Rahul Bajaj, who called himself “born anti-establishment”, had had his fair share of brush with the might of the government, regardless of whichever party was in power. Born in Kolkata, Bajaj’s entrepreneurship journey was eventful. An alumnus of Harvard Business School, he took over as the CEO of Bajaj Auto in 1968 and was appointed MD in 1972.
It was under his leadership that Bajaj’s scooters achieved a stardom like no other product in India. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bajaj Chetak scooter became an aspirational symbol for the middle-class, with the ‘Humara Bajaj’ tune becoming synonymous with their hopes of a better future.
Under his leadership, Bajaj Auto saw its turnover grow from a measly 17.2 crore to Rs 12,000 crore with the firm’s scooters becoming the mainstay. The industrialist for decades also steered the group’s other businesses such as general and life insurance, investment and consumer finance, home appliances, electric lamps, wind energy, special alloy and stainless steel, material handling equipment and travel.
While his achievements in the corporate world are extraordinary, it was his courage to raise issues that were uncomfortable to the ruling dispensation that made him stand apart. According to some, Bajaj provided the much-needed spine to India Inc. “The ‘spine’ of Indian business cracks. A close family friend, he was a visionary, straight-talking and very respected for his value systems,” said Harsh Goenka, chairman of RPG Group. Uday Kotak, MD of Kotak Mahindra Bank, described Bajaj as bold and fearless. “A rare businessman who spoke truth to power,” said Kotak.