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Rajeev Karwal, the Indian consumer goods industry's brightest star, succumbs to Covid

Giraj Sharma | Updated on May 12, 2021

Rajeev Karwal   -  Special Arrangement

The Founder and Chairman of Milagrow Robots and one of the most successful professionals in the Indian consumer electronics industry passed away on Wednesday.

One never imagined it would get to this. So how on earth does one come to terms with the untimely demise of a former colleague and a friend with whom you have spent the formative years of your professional life? Rajeev Karwal, 57, founder and chairman of Milagrow Robots, died today, leaving an entire generation of consumer durable industry professionals teary-eyed.

Rajeev and I got baptised into the world of marketing, more or less at the same time. Rajeev had joined Onida in the mid-eighties--about a year before I joined. We were a young company with a boss, S L Mirchandani, a dreamer and believed in the power of youth – its fearlessness and chutzpah. This may sound like a cliché now, but back in the eighties, it was unheard of. So we kept building a young team, and soon we were a bunch of young brats, empowered like crazy, living a dream and doing some radical stuff. And Rajeev was one of the ring leaders. He and I swapped roles in sales and marketing and the result of our collective energies, along with that of some other remarkable colleagues, was a brand that was truly envied!

Rajeev moved on from Onida to go to Calgary Islands for an assignment but not before discovering his wife and life partner, Shobha, at Onida. Shobha was part of my team then, and I had not the faintest idea about love-affair brewing. However, it was an alliance that we all were very happy about. They looked so perfect then and stayed that way until now. Rajeev had this crazy knack of connecting with everyone he worked with and their families. I bet everyone who has worked with him would have an anecdote or two to share a special gesture that endeared Rajeev to their families.

A voracious reader, Rajeev was the one who introduced me to Tom Peters by gifting me Thriving On Chaos – a book that made me a fan of the management guru for life. With his note on it, the book still sits pretty in my book rack, and now no one dare take it away. Rajeev stayed in touch with almost everyone, and the vibrant WhatsApp Groups of most companies he worked for were initiated by him. He also stayed connected with his alma mater, IMT Ghaziabad, and would take time out for the institution’s activities – at times forcing some of us to spend time with students there.

On his return from Calgary Islands, Rajeev picked up an assignment with a lighting company before moving on to LG Electronics as its head of Sales & Marketing. Joining LG was a typical Rajeev decision - bold and courageous. LG had made two forgettable attempts to set enter India and not many approved of the risks that Rajeev was taking then. Rest, as they say, is history. Rajeev built up a solid team at LG and used his phenomenal goodwill with the trade to get in loyal channel partners and created a robust network. At LG, Rajeev truly flourished as a leader and used his skills to set rolling processes and strategies that made LG a formidable player in double quick time. His attention to detail, his remarkable trait of following up and his firm grip on data and trends, and his insight into Indian consumer behaviour made him the poster boy of the consumer durables industry.

Rajeev moved on from LG to head Philips and then eventually to Electrolux. He also headed the industry body Consumer Electronics Appliances Manufacturers’ Association, a rare honour in those days for a young professional who wasn’t a promoter. The press loved him, for he would always have something worthwhile to say and say it with all honesty. Featuring on the covers of leading business magazines and toasted as a mini-celebrity did not change him at all – in fact, the more popular he got, the more grounded one found him to be.

Rajeev’s innings at Electrolux ended when the group decided to move out of the home appliances business and that propelled Rajeev to launch Milagrow in 2007. Initially, this was a management consultancy.

The journey from being a professional to an entrepreneur came with its own challenges, but Rajeev had Shobha supporting him wholeheartedly. It was typical that he took some bold bets at Milagrow by investing in robotics more than a decade ago. Milagrow started making robots for residential and industrial use in 2012. Last year, during the pandemic, Milagrow’s floor cleaning robots took off. Unfortunately, just when its products started to appeal to a large section of the population, Rajeev contracted the deadly virus. He fought Covid-19 like a tiger for three weeks but eventually lost.

Rajeev leaves behind a vast bunch of followers – people he invested in heavily, to groom them professionally. The fact that anyone and everyone who ever worked with Rajeev could turn to him for support speaks volumes of the human being Rajeev was. His last call to me was to combine our efforts and inspire people to take an active part in building up a value-based society. Sadly, there won't be the usual dogged follow-up calls and discussions. You ditched me this time, my friend!

(Giraj Sharma is founder director of brand consultancy, Behind the Moon. He worked closely with Rajeev Karwal at Onida )

Published on May 12, 2021

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