In 1970-71, when the government strictly controlled licenses and production capacities, he strongly argued his company’s case to produce more scooters. Some 20 years later, he became one of the most vocal members of the ‘Bombay Club’ seeking a “level playing field” for Indian business after the 1991 reforms. And most recently, in 2019, at the Awards ET, in the presence of Union ministers, spoke about the need to create an environment where businessmen could openly criticize government policies and still be appreciated.
After returning from Harvard Business School with an MBA in the 1960s, he built Bajaj Auto into the nation’s preeminent two-wheeler with families willing to wait a decade to own a Bajaj Chetak or Bajaj Super scooter. . It’s iconic’Hamara Bajaj‘ became synonymous with middle-class dreams.
He was widely known as the fearless voice of India Inc. At the industry associations’ post-budget meeting with government representatives, Bajaj would ‘open the doors’, making sharp comments, often to the annoyance or bewilderment of mantris and babus. He was honest with almost everyone and everything, including his son. Rajivdecision to stop manufacturing scooters. “It’s very hard for me to praise anyone. I wasn’t born that way…I was born anti-establishment,” he had said at an ET Awards function a few years ago, where he mentioned that he was named after Jawaharlal. Nehru.
Head for business, heart for community
Rahul Bajaj was one of a kind. He had a personality that matched his towering height. The grandson of a freedom fighter and born into a family that believed they had a responsibility to society, Rahul Bajaj believed in the idea of India. His scooters became a symbol of a young nation on the move. He was one of the first to become a world leader in the he industry and to take an Indian brand globally. But he was more than a business titan: he was a man of strong beliefs who did not shy away from speaking his mind. His two sons live up to the famous Bajaj name and will no doubt take their businesses to new heights. What India will miss is a voice that came straight from the heart,” said Samir Jain, Vice President and Managing Director of The Times of India Group.
“Rahul Bajaj walked the Indian industrial landscape like a colossus. He was a pioneer who established a culture of quality and technology. He upheld high integrity in business and stayed true to his principles,” he said. Venu SrinivasanPresident of TVS Motor Company.
Long before Brand India or ‘atmanirbharta’ entered the lexicon, the Bajaj Group was part of the original ‘swadeshi’ movement, which saw Bajaj Auto enter scooters in collaboration with Piaggio.
The group played a very important role in making Pune one of the largest business centers in India. He moved from Bombay to Akurdi, which was then a town on the outskirts of Pune. Bajaj took pride in creating a company that saw only one labor strike and a culture where his children went to the same school as their managers.
He was a tough negotiator and stood his ground during talks with Honda when it sought to enter India in the 1980s, refusing to offer shares to the Japanese car company and insisting only on a technology alliance. During this period, the Indian preference shifted from scooters to motorcycles, especially those with four-stroke engines, something Bajaj did not manufacture, resulting in hero slingshot emerging as a market leader some 15 years ago. At that time, Bajaj had put Rajiv in the driver’s seat. “You are a great manager. You are doing well on cost and quality. All I know is that I was number one, you are number two!” Bajaj would make fun of his son.
While focusing on business, which later branched out into financial services, Bajaj also built strong relationships around the world. He was one of the first visitors to Davos, the alpine resort where world industry leaders gather for an annual summit that goes beyond business. First introduced to the European Management Forum by Baba Kalyani’s father, Neelkanth Kalyani, Bajaj was instrumental in bringing the World Economic Forum to India in the 1980s. Until a few years ago, he remained an enthusiastic jamboree participant. .
Bajaj may have been seen as a voice against liberalisation, but those who know him maintain that he was misunderstood and that all he asked for was a level playing field.
In keeping with the family tradition he was born into, Bajaj had a deep social conscience and believed that businesses were meant to serve people and communities. In addition to making significant financial commitments to health, education and livelihoods, Bajaj took a personal interest in the group’s philanthropic activities.