Rama Prasad Goenka was a parliamentarian and past president of FICCI

KOLKATA: Rama Prasad Goenka, chairman emeritus of RPG Enterprises and India’s takeover king, passed away peacefully on Sunday after bouts of illnesses patiently borne.

He leaves behind his wife Sushila and sons Harsh Vardhan and Sanjiv. He was 83.

His family was by his side when the end came at the Goenka Niwas here.

A former member of the Rajya Sabha and past president of FICCI, Mr. Goenka was born on March 1, 1930 into one of the city’s oldest business families which had migrated from a small town in Rajasthan in 1820 to Kolkata to engage in commerce with the British East India Company.

By the 1900s the Goenkas established themselves in diverse business sectors such as banking, textile, jute and tea.

Rama Prasad’s father Keshav Prasad carried the entrepreneurship spirit forward, making successful acquisitions in various fields, passing on his business empires to his three sons Rama Prasad, Jagdish Prasad and Gauri Prasad.

Mr. Rama Prasad Goenka graduated in Arts from the Presidency College and took an advanced management academic programme at Harvard University.

However, it was not before 1979 that the seeds of RPG Enterprises were sown with Philips Carbon Black (which was set up by the family earlier), Asian Cables, Agarpara Jute and Murphy India. The consolidated annual turnover of these companies then was Rs. 105 crore.

Then he embarked on a journey of corporate acquisitions, taking over almost one company every second year. Between 1980 (when Ceat was acquired) and 1992, RPG Enterprises brought 11 companies under its fold.

The list included KEC, Gramophone Company of India, Spencers and CESC. By 1988, the foundation of a business empire had been cemented. The combined turnover of all the businesses stood at around Rs. 10,000 crore then.

By 1990, RPG (as he was popularly known) started indicating to his sons his desire to retire from active corporate life. He asked his sons to take up the reins, remaining as Chairman Emeritus and as a family patriarch.

Mr. Rama Prasad Goenka would later say in jest: “I have now reached that stage where my sons do not allow me to touch their business.”

But keen to save the family from possible sibling rivalry, he offered advice how the brothers could carve out the businesses.

Elder son Mr. Harsh Vardhan, who was the chairman, got to keep the group logo, while his junior Mr. Sanjiv became vice-chairman, carving out in 2011 a new identity RP Sanjiv Goenka. Rama Prasad continued to live in the family residence at the city’s posh Alipore area with Sanjiv and his family.

However, it is not as if the journey was always smooth for the man who acquired companies with élan before mergers and acquisitions had entered business lexicon.

His acquisition of Dunlop together with Manohar Ram Chhabria, whom he termed his son, ran into choppy waters just four years after the ‘tie-up’ in 1984. The reasons did not become public as RPG maintained a dignified silence on the matter saying not all deals work out.

On another deal and a more famous one that did not work out, RPG broke his silence many years later. While delivering a talk in Kolkata in July 2008, the normally reticent man was caught in an emotional mood when he talked about the regrets in his life. He referred to the deal signed with the senior Wadia on buying out Bombay Dyeing. “I had signed an agreement and it is still in the safe custody of the solicitor firm in Mumbai. It was a master-failure story and it brings me to tears even now,” he said with a tinge of sadness in his voice.

To Mr. Rama Prasad Goenka, success had no benchmark as one has to keep going on and on till someone says ‘enough is enough and now you can relax’. There were no free lunches either. “To get something, you have to lose something ... if you want business success then your family life gets disturbed,” he once said. Retirement made him sad at first but later he felt happy to see his two sons prospering.

PTI reports: President’s condolence

In a condolence message to Mr. Goenka’s wife Sushila, President Pranab Mukherjee said the nation had lost a leading industrialist and distinguished personality.

Mr. Mukherjee said he knew ‘Rama Babu’ for many years. “As a Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), he made valuable contributions to the deliberations of the House. In his death, the nation has lost a leading industrialist and a distinguished personality and I have lost a personal friend,” he said.

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