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The Rediff Interview/Gautam Singhania, CMD, Raymond\'s
Gautam Singhania: India's 'complete man'
Shyamal Majumdar | August 22, 2006
Raymonds' CMD says he loves life in the fast lane, but steering Raymond to greater heights is what he enjoys the most these days.
Gautam Singhania surely wants to personify everything that his company stands for. The 41-year old CMD of the Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) Raymond says he is a "complete man"- a reference to the group's popular ad line.
We are at Raymond's headquarters on the third floor of the Mahindra & Mahindra Towers at Worli. Singhania chose to host the lunch at his conference room as he is avoiding outside food these days.
The room - businesslike and devoid of any frills - is quite unlike the colourful public persona that Singhania enjoys. But the speed at which the lunch is served suggests that the stewards know their youthful chairman's penchant for things fast - be it fast cars, fighter jets or power boats. No wonder Singhania was ordering a second bowl of soup for himself even as I was just halfway through with the first.
The starters - chicken kebabs for me and paneer for him - are delicious and I ask Singhania to elaborate a little more on the "complete man" bit. The response came in a flash. There are three reasons for this, Singhania says. First, he has been able to keep his emotion in check while taking business decisions; second he makes it a point to give quality time to his family; and third, he has not allowed his life to become all work and no play, and pursues his three hobbies religiously.
"It's good to be passionate about your business but only a complete man can avoid taking emotional decisions about his business," he says, and proceeds to give examples. Flying, as everybody knows, is in his genes and has been an abiding passion. Last year, he almost gave in to his emotions by deciding to invest a substantial amount in IndiGo, the latest kid in the Indian aviation space. But the night before the final decision, he decided to separate his emotional decisions from his business ones. "It's damn tough. But I realised I need to follow my head and not my heart, as Raymond is on an upswing and needs all the time I can spare," Singhania says.
The other one was the hospitality sector about which he is "simply crazy." He knows all the minutiae that such a business requires as was evident from the famous annual parties he used to hold till last year at Powai in downtown Mumbai.
The parties were the talk of the town as the guest list comprised all the beautiful women and men in Mumbai. "Everyone saw the glamour but none realised the amount of planning and hard work that went into them. Apart from the menu etc, I had to be involved in planning the three layers of security that had to be organised," Singhania says. But he has "somehow" managed to keep away from the hospitality business as Raymond had to stay focused in its core competence areas. That's the reason why he decided to sell three non-core businesses - synthetics, steel and cement - soon after taking charge from his father Vijaypat Singhania in 2000.
The main course is also served at lightning speed and we graduate from his emotions to his passion - that is Raymond. He is immensely proud that the company straddles the entire spectrum, producing fabrics ranging from Rs 150 per meter to Rs 125,000 per meter.
The last one is what he calls the world's finest worsted suiting fabric - the Super 230S made from 11.8 micron wool (one micron is one millionth of a metre). He hasn't yet worn suits made from the fabric as he would prefer his customers to do so, but says with pride that Lakshmi Mittal was the first buyer of the fabric last year.
He is equally proud of the fact that a newly opened Raymond store in West Bengal's Burdwan district sells one and a half times more than the outlet in Andheri, Mumbai's tony suburb.
While Super 230S was essentially to show the world that Raymond has the technical excellence to produce any fabric, the company has also got a very impressive stable of men's RTW labels - Park Avenue, Parx, Manzoni and Colorplus.
The two latest initiatives have been the pret designer retail business with Be:, a chain of stores that stock the top Indian fashion labels, and Zapp, the children's apparel segment. Though analysts say the company has been quite slow in entering this highly lucrative segment, Singhania predictably doesn't agree.
"The demand is limitless and there is nothing called delay in the business that we are in. The name of the game is to be unique in your offering," he says, and orders ice-cream. I am just halfway through with the delicious main course and realised long back that trying to keep pace with him is futile.
The company has also emerged as the world's largest integrated producer of worsted suiting fabric with an annual capacity of 31 million meters, and Singhania has upped the branded shirts capacity to 6,000 shirts a day. "We are so fully integrated that we're literally 'From the sheep's back to the man's back,'" Singhania says.
As I finish having my tea (he has been patient enough with my speed), I ask Singhania whether his "Page 3" reputation hurts him. "Frankly it doesn't matter to me anymore." he says and talks about how he works till late at night and hasn't forgotten to experience the sweat and dust of the Indian marketplace."Raymond is as much a part of me as my family and hobbies," he says. The "complete man" in Raymond's ad hoarding couldn't have asked for a better quotable quote.