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Ajit Haksar: Pioneer of Indian enterprise

May 21, 2005 15:29 IST

With the passing away of Ajit Haksar, not only does he leave behind a devoted wife, a talented son, and a loving daughter but also a string of accomplishments and achievements.

Soon after he became the chairman of ITC in the 1960s, the first Indian to do so, he fought back an attack from a competitor all set to have the company nationalised.

In doing so, he highlighted the fact that ITC contributed to the national charter in many ways.

He brought a new dimension to tobacco marketing: the establishment of the filter trend with the success of Wills Filter Tipped, the introduction of the prestigious India Kings to beat back the menace of imports, the emphasis on tobacco research and the general uplift of the tobacco farmers in the leaf growing areas.

The creation of the successful ITC chain of hotels grew out of his fertile mind. Many products were offered to the public including the flagship 'The Maurya' in the capital, which in his own words, 'Was rooted to the soil of India offering western standards of comfort and hygiene.'

He ferreted out chefs from the households of the Maharajas to give credence to the joy and romance of Indian cuisine.

The 'Bukhara' and 'Dum Pukht,' successful restaurants offering specialised cuisines, were of his making. There was a pride in the success of the 'Kitchens of India.'

The Welcomgroup symbol of a namaste with the line 'We enjoy people,' signified the concept of hospitality and an honoured guest.

His vision took ITC into the core sector by setting up Bhadrachalam Paperboards as a greenfield venture on a 500 acre site in a backward district of Andhra.

ITC had no experience of the chemical and process industry and its culture was poles apart from tobacco, and yet he believed that ITC had the backbone and will to succeed in totally new areas. How right he was.

He stood up tall to the might of the British shareholders whose objectives frequently varied from the national agenda.

He brought change from a colonial company happy in its mediocrity and comfortable in its ways to being an outward looking Indian company that constantly stretched the envelope. He inculcated the pride of being Indian.

He believed strongly that a company is a product of the society in which it exists and must be in harmony with it.

He created the ITC Sangeet Research Academy to preserve the heritage of classical music, which was disappearing with the decline of royalty in India.

Many of us had great learning from him. While accepting the concept of professional management he gave it 'bite' by adding the spirit of entrepreneurship and risk-taking ability.

With his passing away the sun sets on a true legend of Indian enterprise. He lived his message of ' The best means of growth come from within'.

As ITC's deputy chairman (diversification), Sarin worked closely with Haksar in the creation of the hotel and paper businesses
Ramesh Sarin in New Delhi