Rama Prasad Goenka: The business titan and takeover king (Obituary)

Kolkata, April 14 (IANS) Long before takeovers became the norm for the country’s industry captains to spread wings, RPG Group founder Rama Prasad Goenka showed India Inc. the inorganic way of business growth through a series of acquisitions.

Regarded as “takeover king”, Goenka (popularly known as RP) in 1979 established the RPG Enterprises with four companies – Phillips Carbon Black, Asian Cables, Agarpara Jute and Murphy India – which he inherited when the family assets were divided.

The four constituent units then had an annual turnover of around Rs.105 crore, but by 1990 – even before the opening up of the country’s economy – Goenka was presiding over one of the leading business conglomerates in India, as he added brick by brick by acquiring mostly companies once owned by British merchants.

In 2010, when Goenka divided his business empire among his two sons, the total turnover had touched Rs.18,000 crore, with its imprint in several countries of Asia, Europe, North and South America and Africa.

The tycoon – born March 1, 1930 – had business interests spanning a wide range and across diverse sectors like power generation, transmission and distribution, electricity transmission engineering, tyres, carbon black, retail, entertainment, plantations and information technology.

The diversity of the bouquet was unique then in the sense that most of his contemporaries had concentrated on their core areas of operations.

His undivided business empire encompassed – CESC, Noida Power Co. Ltd., RPG Raychem, Spencer, CEAT Tyers, Saregama India (previously Gramophone Co of India), KEC International, Phillips Carbon Black, Fujitsu ICIM (now Zensar Technologies), Harrisons Malayalam, Firstsource Solutions Ltd and RPG Life Sciences.

Goenka was born into one of the oldest business families established in Kolkata by Ramdutt Goenka who moved from Dundlod in Rajasthan in 1820 to do business with the English East India Company. The firm was into banking and later traded in commodities like textiles, jute and tea.

RPG received his training from his grandfather Sir Badridas Goenka who was chairman of Imperial Bank of India and of FICCI. It was his grandfather who had taught him an old Marwari value: word of mouth is much more sacrosanct and important than any legal document.

A few years back, RPG said in an interview that experience taught him the second lesson: “Nothing should be hidden from the three most important persons in your business sphere – your lawyer, banker and your doctor”.

The Presidency College and Harvard Unviersity alumnus went on an acquisition spree in the 1980s, beginning with tyre company CEAT in 1981, that created a national media buzz.

The group then went on to acquire Searle India – now RPG Life Sciences (1983), the age-old Gramophone Company – now Saregama India (1985), Harrisons Malayalam (1988), and finally CESC and Spencer (1989).

The reclusive and spotlight-shy entrepreneur scripted quite a few chapters in the history of Indian business. His most prized catch was Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation, now CESC Ltd., a more than 100-year-old power firm set up by the British.

However, he also had a few setbacks.

Dunlop was one of them. He bought the company in 1984 jointly with Manohar Rajaram Chhabria but eventually had to leave it to cut losses. His efforts to acquire Bombay Dyeing also did not succeed.

Despite his business empire spreading across the country, Goenka stayed rooted in Kolkata, though the city witnessed a sharp fall in entrepreneurial activity. “If I am not a Bengali, then who is?” he used to say often.

Like his father, Keshav Prasad Goenka, who had distributed the family assets between his three sons decades ago, the RPG Group patriarch in 2010 amicably divided his entire business between his two sons – Harsh Vardhan and Sanjiv, who were running all the companies within the umbrella branding.

Next year RPG’s younger son Sanjiv launched a new group corporate identity RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group for the companies controlled by him.

Goenka was chairman emeritus of both the groups with a combined turnover of around Rs.30,000 crore.

The octogenarian industrialist was like a guardian of Bengal industry captains, who rushed to the visionary man for precious advice.

“He was a very close family friend of ours. He was exceptionally intelligent In his death, not only Bengal but India has lost one of its prominent sons,” said a crestfallen Birla family patriarch Basant Kumar Birla.

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