“The three letters ‘IAS’ are part of my DNA. First and foremost, I am that and then anything else. I loved the challenges the service threw at me every few years. If you are posted in the district, you rough it out handling law and order, and development work; in a secretariat you not only push files but also gain a wider perspective, observing the functioning of our mammoth democracy. On deputation with the Central government, you roam the corridors of power. There is a new beginning every few years,” says Jadgish Khattar, former MD of Maruti Udyog, in this book. The bureaucrat did just that — he wore a new hat every few years. However, not many IAS officers would have driven down so many career roads — lawyer, IAS officer and MD of a venture that saw the ups and downs of an emerging India and in which he took government control and fierce market competition in the same stride. Today he is an entrepreneur. Making use of opportunities that came his way, he set up Carnation — a multi-brand car sales and servicing network — at 65 years of age and is still going strong.
Known to be tight-lipped in journalism circles, Khattar, in the book, emerges much the opposite — as a communicative individual with the distinct capability of reflecting, analysing, strategising and keeping the reader hooked.
Though his years in various government, PSU and corporate offices make a great read, especially his role in turning around PSUs in Uttar Pradesh, upping Maruti’s market share and taking it to the bourses, he starts his tale where all memoirs should — at the beginning.
A vulnerable child in Pakistan’s Dera Ismail Khan, Khattar along with his family had to flee the country during Partition, leaving his father behind to look after the family’s electric supply company. The author recalls the confusion that prevailed, the loss of land and livelihood, how the dislocation impacted the family and the land compensation they received from the government in Gurgaon for some of the losses they had incurred in Pakistan. Despite the setback, once his father came to India and the family united, it used its entrepreneurial abilities to build from scratch a civil contract business and a brick kiln in Ballabgarh, near Faridabad. In Delhi, Khattar joined the fledgling Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, and as a student got to do more than most students — he was cherry-picked for a lead role in film ‘Gandhi Path’ that “left a lasting impression on my ten-year-old-mind.”
Though he got several more acting offers, his parents would not hear of it. He was also the first in his family to disengage from business and join a profession — the IAS. Like every officer, Khattar trained at the Academy in Mussoorie, joined the Uttar Pradesh cadre and got his first posting in small town Basti. From then on there was no looking back — he began to learn lessons in administration — be it in a town, a district, PSUs such as Cement Corporation and Uttar Pradesh Transport Corporation or at Maruti Udyog where he began as government nominee. Khattar’s journey at Maruti Udyog continued even after the government divested its stake and Maruti Suzuki came to being.
The MD had adventurous years at the largest car maker of the country. He tackled complex issues in the face of rising competition from rival car manufacturers. Car pricing, design, union strategy, handling a long, difficult strike, opting for in-house finance and insurance companies, tying up with component manufacturers and building dealer networks, all of it fell on Khattar’s plate at one time or the other. So did losses. “In many ways, that one year of loss was the best thing to happen to Maruti at that time. It shook us up in a way few things could have. It transformed the discourse in the company. From quarrelling over bonuses and hikes, we were suddenly thinking survival,” recalls Khattar about the time when the company ended in the red in 2000-2001 and relates how it was turned around.
After quitting Maruti, the bureaucrat attributes his appetite for entrepreneurship to his son Kunal who egged him on to start Carnation, his own enterprise. Of his current assignment says Khattar, “So here I am, having unfurled India’s first multi-brand automotive solutions hub… I never became a film star, but I have enjoyed the roller-coaster script of life, and look forward to the continuing ride…”
DRIVEN — Memoirs of A Civil Servant Turned Entrepreneur: Jagdish Khattar with Suveen Sinha; Portfolio/Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 699.