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Rahul Bajaj – A trailblazer, an icon

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Mohan MURTI
Mohan MURTI
Degree in Law and Science; Master's in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management. Accomplished leader with over 40 years of successful experience in global business management. Demonstrated ability of revenue generation while promoting business strategy on international basis - largely based in Europe. Initially, nominated by Ministry of Commerce, Government of India as India's Representative to UNITED NATIONS-IPS, Paris and Zurich and since 1993, Director, Europe, CII, Cologne, Germany. Since 2004, Managing Director, Europe, Reliance Europe. Expertise: India & EU market entry strategies, cross-cultural trainer in aspects of doing business, M&A transactions, joint ventures, legal contract negotiations, litigation, arbitration & disputes resolution, FDI pitching & negotiations, and post merger integration, technical collaborations, joint ventures. Leadership Coach & Cross-Cultural Trainer noted for establishing team synergies. Articulate communicator with strong interpersonal skills; establishing and strengthening professional liaisons with European and Indian governments and corporations at Board level. Possess significant expertise in high level negotiations with remarkable success in employing best practices and boosting productivity. Proven success-generating business across cultures and providing business leadership combined with legal and financial aptitude required to deliver superlative returns for shareholders. Frequent guest lecturer at European management schools. Op-Ed Columnist for a leading Indian business newspaper.

It was in November 1980, a cold winter tea-time garden get-together at New Delhi`s Jor Bagh, then headquarters of CII, I was introduced to Rahul Bajaj, by Tarun Das, former Director General of CII (then AIEI).

“Meet Mohan, the youngest member of our team!”. I was just a 23 year old and had just then joined CII. Rahul Bajaj was President of CII. He smiled, shook my hand and wished me great success in my career.

For the next 20 years, I had several occasions to meet with this doyen of Indian industry. Bajaj had served two terms as President – 1979-80 and again 1999-2000.

Most memorable and etched in my heart and soul is when in June 1985, I was seconded by CII and nominated by India`s Ministry of Commerce, on a posting as India Representative in Paris.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the Government of India & CII, joined hands to open a investment promotion service between India & France. The opening of the office in Paris, coincided with the Festival of India in France where Rajiv Gandhi was invited on a State visit. Rahul Bajaj was nominated by the national council of CII represent Indian industry and to formally open the office.

Rahul Bajaj had just arrived in Paris on the morning of the inauguration. After the formal opening, he came up to me and said he wanted to take a long walk before the Prime Ministers banquet dinner and if I would join. I accompanied him on this 40 minutes brisk walk along Rue de Vaugirard, the longest street inside Paris’ walls.
He was in a mood to chat and shot several questions. In the evening, we were together at the black-tie banquet dinner hosted for Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius.

Following week, at the national council meeting of CII, Raul Bajaj briefed the members about the Paris events and said that CII had picked the right person for the job to represent India.

Rahul Bajaj was part of the (in)famous Bombay Club that demanded a level playing field for domestic industry in the early 1990s. No, he wasn’t afraid of the winds of change. Or of foreign competition. He changed his corporate philosophy with the rapidly changing times. While companies owned by the other founders of the Bombay Club have vanished, the Bajaj group has grown from strength to strength.

I recall another incident when Tarun Das returned from a trip to Toronto Canada. CII´s counterpart, the Canadian Manufacturers Association had just then made all their offices , „smoke-free“. Tarun Das decided to do the same in all offices, across India. Smoking was banned across India, in all CII offices. Rahul Bajaj among a few other national council members was a smoker. At one of the meetings, he was annoyed as there were no ashtrays inside the meeting room. Tarun Das told him that smoking was banned in the office premises and that he could take a walk outside the gate to light up. Rahul Bajaj quietly stood up, not a word of grumble, walked out of the gate and enjoyed his smoke. His respect for rules of the house and discipline was not surprising. That was Rahul Bajaj !

Remembering the doyen of Indian industry, another precious time with Rahul Bajaj, was in Rome – a visit coinciding with a meeting we had with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, in August 1996.

It was just four of us – Sekhar Dutta, Chairman, Greaves Cotton & President CII, Vinod Doshi, Chairman, Premier Automobile & Past President, CII.

Rahul Bajaj and Romano Prodi, hit it off, excellently – almost mesmerized, Romano Prodi readily agreed to visit India and address the CII Partnership Summit.

Until early 1980s, it was Mr Rahul Bajaj and Dr N.A Kalyani (Chairman, Bharat Forge) who were the only two people attending Davos meeting of World Economic Forum (then known as the European Management Forum).

For the first time, Tarun Das was invited to attend in 1983-84 and when he returned, I recall he held a one-hour debriefing meeting for his senior team, which I attended.

Rahul Bajaj had the vision to see that the catalyst that Davos could be for CII and it was his effort that brought CII & India into Davos, prominently.

The recognition and result are for everyone to see. Rahul deserves no small praise and recognition for this and many other good things he did for CII & the Indian industry.

I quit as Europe Director of CII in 2001 to join Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Germany but, it was after I joined Reliance Industries Limited in 2004 as Europe Director, I was again, a regular at the annual meeting of World Economic Forum, in Davos. I had several times met him in Davos, each year, from 2004 until meeting of 2020.

Each year, at this week long rendezvous of a thousand heads of State, academicians, celebrities and CEOs, Rahul Bajaj was always the first to arrive and he very actively participated in several sessions and held the India flag, flying high.

One event we always looked forward to each year, at Davos was the Bajaj Group Nightcap, an evening of networking, music, dance and cocktails. Rahul Bajaj was the perfect host – mingling without obligation, talking without feeling self-conscious, laughing because, well, he used to laugh the best, and even dancing to the loud music. And, he always was doing it all, spontaneously!

I am a columnist for Hindu Business Line and in May 2008, I had written a rather provocatively titled column, “Is the nation in coma”. That was when the country was engulfed in corruption during India`s decade of decay -2004-2014.

Sucheta Dalal, an award winning journalist and author, wrote to me… “your column touched a lot of Indians and among others, Rahul Bajaj called me and went over it, line by line for nearly an hour and he agreed with most of what I had written…”. In a few weeks, we met at the Geneva headquarters of the WEF at the Foundation Board meeting. I was with Mukesh Ambani. Rahul Bajaj whisked me aside, put his arms across my shoulders and whispered, „wah, nation ko coma se utha diya – kamaal kar diya, tum ne”.

On 28th February 2013 night, Rahul Bajaj’s wife Rupa Bajaj, died of prolonged illness at a hospital in Germany. I received a call from his son Sanjiv. Rahul Bajaj showed terrific courage. I had arranged a special charter jet to fly Rupa Bajaj and the family back to Pune.

Part of his greatest assets was his belief in himself, and those not so sure-footed confused such passion of conviction as arrogance. But he never ever was discouraged even when his motives were misjudged.

We have lost a great intellectual, a trailblazer, an icon and a man of great ideas. Rahul Bajaj not only pioneered many businesses, but he also equally built countless lives and touched communities in many positive ways. At 83, he died too soon. He deserves to be immortalised by the nation.

Mohan Murti
(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany)

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Mohan MURTI
Mohan MURTI
Degree in Law and Science; Master's in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management. Accomplished leader with over 40 years of successful experience in global business management. Demonstrated ability of revenue generation while promoting business strategy on international basis - largely based in Europe. Initially, nominated by Ministry of Commerce, Government of India as India's Representative to UNITED NATIONS-IPS, Paris and Zurich and since 1993, Director, Europe, CII, Cologne, Germany. Since 2004, Managing Director, Europe, Reliance Europe. Expertise: India & EU market entry strategies, cross-cultural trainer in aspects of doing business, M&A transactions, joint ventures, legal contract negotiations, litigation, arbitration & disputes resolution, FDI pitching & negotiations, and post merger integration, technical collaborations, joint ventures. Leadership Coach & Cross-Cultural Trainer noted for establishing team synergies. Articulate communicator with strong interpersonal skills; establishing and strengthening professional liaisons with European and Indian governments and corporations at Board level. Possess significant expertise in high level negotiations with remarkable success in employing best practices and boosting productivity. Proven success-generating business across cultures and providing business leadership combined with legal and financial aptitude required to deliver superlative returns for shareholders. Frequent guest lecturer at European management schools. Op-Ed Columnist for a leading Indian business newspaper.
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