Goenka: Going on 50

Santanu Sanyal | Updated on January 27, 2011

Birthday boy: Sanjiv Goenka, Vice-Chairman of RPG Enterprise.   -  Business Line

As he completes 50 years tomorrow, Sanjiv Goenka, Vice-Chairman of RPG Enterprise, reflects on the past three decades, which he describes as a great learning experience for him and an ongoing process.

Even as a child, Goenka knew he would one day run the family business, but had no clear idea of it.

“My first brush with a structured, organised and professionally run firm started in 1984, when my father Rama Prasad Goenka acquired Dunlop India. I was 23 then and the initial experience in Dunlop had not been too happy. I was turned away on the first day for not being properly dressed in a suit and tie. There were as many as four Europeans in the top management of the company,” he says, rewinding to the early days.

Also, for the first few months he was clueless. He did not understand anything that was being discussed at the tyre committee meetings, almost all the members were double his age with long years of experience in the manufacture and sale of tyres. “But I learnt, slowly and humbly, how to interact with more capable people,” he says. “It was indeed a great experience, more so because, historically, my family had been in traditional businesses like cotton textiles, jute, tea and some chemicals which were mostly Babu-driven.”

There was also a flip side to the learning process. “Dunlop was a classic example of how complacency can ruin one of the best-run companies of the world.” They were all pucca sahibs in Dunlop India and thought they knew what was best when the ground reality was, in fact, very different. The learning process also helped him make himself acceptable to the seniors, so much so that after four years, when the Goenkas withdrew from Dunlop, 43 of the company's 46 general managers left and joined the RPG Group.

Sanjiv refuses to confirm if Dunlop was a gift from a father to his youngest child. “I would refrain from commenting on the gifting story that was doing the rounds at that time,” he says. He also declines to subscribe to the view that as the youngest child he has been pampered. “My sister, who is the wife of Deepak Khaitan (of the B.M. Khaitan Group comprising McLeod Russel, Eveready Industries, McNally Bharat and other companies), is the eldest of the three; and next is Harsh who, as the eldest male child, perhaps received maximum pampering in accordance with the family tradition, not me, the youngest one!”

But he hastens to add that the biggest influence in his life has been his father — “not only as a father, but also as a human being and businessman”. Over the years he has watched how his father relates to people, handles a critical situation and inspires those around him, and, yet, as a son he cannot claim to have emulated him fully. “How can that be,” he asks. “After all, we're two different people from two very different generations and everyone is not born to be a legend in his lifetime, which my father is,” he says.

Also, he concedes that as a son he got many things virtually on a platter, while his father had to strive hard for his achievements.

Incidentally, Sanjiv's bid to acquire Kolkata-based power utility CESC was opposed tooth and nail by his father, who felt it was too big a task, compounded by the crippling power situation in West Bengal, which would make people hostile. “But my mother stood by me and persuaded father to accept it,” he recalls.

The RPG Group's current turnover is estimated at Rs 17,000 crore, of which the share of the younger brother's businesses will be about Rs 8,000 crore; these businesses include power utility, carbon black, retail, entertainment and coal. “I see great growth prospects in these businesses and there is no need for venturing into new areas,” he says, indicating that about Rs 35,000 crore will be invested in CESC over the next six years.

The carbon black capacity will be increased from 360,000 tonnes to 600,000 tonnes within two years, and further to 900,000 tonnes within four years from now; the present retail capacity of 900,000 sq. ft will be expanded by 25 per cent within a year. The company's per sq. ft revenue from the retail business jumped 50 per cent in the past 18 months.

“My only regret is that we did not enter the coal sector much earlier, well in time, as it is very difficult now to get the right kind of blocks,” he says. Another regret is the company's absence in the telecom sector. “Our cellular business had to be sold to meet our commitments in Ceat Finance, which ran into rough weather,” he explains.

Unlike elder brother, Harsh, who is settled in Mumbai, Sanjiv has no plans to relocate outside Kolkata. “I'm the seventh generation of my family in this city and our roots here are deep, going back to more than 200 years,” he says. “I was born here, brought up here, educated, pickled and matured... all in this city, my children were born here and I would like to die here too.”

The next few decades, he feels, will be critical. A steady growth needs to be maintained amidst intense competition and other challenges; also, the mantle will gradually fall upon the next generation. “The children are grown-up and they will slowly step in, but will need guidance and my role will change.”

Asked what he considers his biggest achievement so far, he quips: “Perhaps it is yet to come. But I do feel that the turnaround of CESC has been something to be proud of.”

Goenka intends to spend his 50th birthday at home. “I'll be with my parents and others in the family; my son, daughter and son-in-law will be coming from outside and it will be a private affair, entirely,” he adds.

Published on January 27, 2011

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