AN ELGIN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE
Many years ago Adi Godrej who is fond of sailing, took off with his boat into the sea alone as he often did. On one occasion, Godrej didn’t return at the expected hour and was incommunicado, recalls his good friend and Bollywood legend, Amitabh Bachchan. Panic spread, emergency services were alerted and it was not until dark that he was spotted at sea and brought back safely. It turned out that he had been caught in strong tidal waves and instead of navigating back to the shore, he had chosen to wait till the sea was calm again, recalls Bachchan.
The Godrej Group patriarch Adi Godrej's five decade-long entrepreneurial journey is the story of Indian capitalism's evolution and all that is good about it
“It’s a mistake to believe technology rests outside India. We compete very successfully.”
It is this innate intelligence that is at the core of Godrej’s long years of success as an entrepreneur. Since joining the 120-year-old family business in 1963, Godrej has helped it transition through a closed, socialist economy into a free-market one. The 75-year-old chairman of the Godrej Group expanded the conglomerate’s size and scope in terms of new businesses and geographical reach, ensured that the extended family remained together and is committed to the higher purpose of creating value for all stakeholders; he also fostered an environment conducive for external talent to work shoulder-to-shoulder with family professionals and made sure that the group stayed true to its credo of being ‘good and green’ even as it pursued profits.
But it is not Godrej’s entrepreneurial achievements alone that define him. Speak to anyone—family, friends, employees or peers in the industry—and you will find why the septuagenarian is a thorough gentleman with impeccable ethical standards: A role model, in the truest sense.
Adi Godrej with his late wife Parmeshwar Godrej, a refined lady generous to a fault, full of life and vitality, and yet, at the same time, sensitive and vulnerable.
To the world at large, Parmeshwar Godrej was a coolly elegant figure who partied with the international jet set and carried one of India’s most famous surnames. Those who knew her, however, remember a different Parmesh: warm, caring, giving, and always fun to be with.
Adi Godrej outlines the evolution of the Godrej Group, a highly diversified business group based in Mumbai, whose activities range from chemicals and agriculture to consumer goods, where it serves as the largest locally-owned home and personal care company in India. Godrej joined the family business after returning to India in 1963, having graduated from MIT Sloan in the United States in the same year. The company was founded by Godrej’s great uncle in 1897 in an effort to help India gain economic independence, who stressed the importance of offering a diverse set of high-quality products, including security equipment, appliances, typewriters, furniture, machine tools, and later India’s first vegetable-oil based soap.
Image : Pradeep Bandekar
Over the last fifty years the Group has grown at a compounded annual growth rate of about 17%, having been privately owned until India’s economy opened up in 1991. It remains largely owned by the Godrej family. The unique advertising challenges faced by the consumer goods industry in India, because of the linguistic diversity of the country, as well as wide variations in consumer preferences. He explores and the challenges and opportunities of brand building, and his strategy to drive growth through global expansion not only in Asia, but also in Africa and Latin America.
A young Adi Godrej, who joined the family business after an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
“He is the creator and the mentor of the Godrej Group as it stands today,” says Dubash, of her father. “His evolved leadership style with his love for the group, unflinching values, fairness and humility at all times, constant desire to learn and to plan for an even better future for the group is what has brought us to where we are today.”
Godrej may have handed over executive responsibilities to his children, but is in no way leading a sedentary lifestyle. He reaches office early morning every day, bearing a long commute from his residence in South Mumbai’s Walkeshwar area, and stays till evening.