A Raja among Adhyakshas: the gentleman-manager
Adhyaksha means official in Sanskrit, and the chief among officials is the Raja Adhyaksha. It is rare to be a fine gentleman as well as a successful chief executive. It is even rarer to possess a surname that describes such a characteristic; It is a one-in-a-zillion coincidence to have a real-life personality that matches your name and profession.
Rajadhyaksha was all this—he was the king among adhyakshas.
In recent times, leaders like ‘neutron’ Jack and ‘chainsaw’ Al influenced young managers’ view that managerial leadership and gentlemanliness do not go together.
Vasant was a natural leader, with a matching name and understated style, which could be described as: “Let me just be the way I am. Flowers do not try to flower, they flower; birds do not try to fly; they just fly. I do not try to lead; I just lead—with affection, dignity and respect.”
For thirty years after he left Shamnagar factory as the manager, the senior staff recalled his farewell as “shob cheye bodo event”!
When he received an inconsistent capital proposal from the glycerine department, his admonishment was gentle,” Please reconsider. This breaches the laws of thermodynamics.”
He succeeded the legendary Prakash Tandon. To insiders, he was iconic to be there at just 44. To Indian business, he must have been a rookie. However, his broad mind and deep concern for the nation reflected in the visionary and look-ahead topics (for those times) that he chose for the HLL chairman’s speeches: Rural marketing, Consumer rights and aspirations, Self reliance (which he called Swava lambanam)
In one speech, he said, “Self reliance is a noble concept in terms of the individual……where a man can depend on his own resources as a human being, that he needs no one’s favours, that he need fear no man…..Gone are the days when a few men at the top could run a company by giving fiats and orders.”
That was how he led.
Within five years, he had caught the attention of Mrs Indira Gandhi. It was historic that he quit a prized chairmanship to join the Planning Commission. Frustrated by the regulations and price controls on HLL products, he perhaps wanted to join the system to change it from within!
His contemporary, Aspie Moddie, recalls him as “the smiling, sporting chairman.” As late as the 1990s, he used to play tennis with me at the Willingdon Club. I sometimes brought him cans of new tennis balls from Jeddah, where I worked; he was gracious and grateful for that very minor present.
When I left HLL to join Tata after three decades, he and his elegant wife, Suman, came home for dinner.
Former atomic energy chairman, Homi Sethna, was his contemporary at Michigan. He recounted how Homi used to rib him for working in a low technology soap company– until he had to run Tata Oil Mills and found it hopeless!
He predicted how much fun I was going to have at Tatas. And, thank God, he turned out to be absolutely right!
Vasant Ganpat Rajadhyaksha slipped away on Saturday at the Breach Candy Hospital. He was 82. His demise was as gentle as his nature.
May his soul rest in peace.