Industry

Y.C. Deveshwar bids adieu leaving behind a rich legacy

Yogesh Chander Deveshwar

Yogesh Chander Deveshwar   | Photo Credit: PTI

Y.C. Deveshwar served as the Chairman of ITC for over two decades.

Yogesh Chander Deveshwar, ITC’s longest-serving chairman, passed away this morning in Delhi. He was 72.

Mr. Deveshwar stood tall among his peers and that was not due to his height alone.

It was a stature acquired through years of hard work, during which he set his sights on changing the course of ITC, which was till recently known as a cigarette company.

His vision extended beyond the corporate staple of toplines and bottomlines.

He wanted ITC to be known as an entity that looked at creation of sustainable livelihoods and value-chains that would help society and enrich environment.

Thus, his speeches, very frequently, revolved around terms like water-positive, carbon-positive and solid waste recycling positive, despite the group’s increased investments in water and energy-intensive segment like paperboard or even hotels.

“See, many had questioned my drive towards creating a strong FMCG portfolio (beyond cigarettes) .. today that segment is growing,” he observed during his customary post-AGM press meet last year.

ITC’s non-cigarette businesses now constitute nearly 59% of total revenue, he said, adding that over 80% of the operating capital is now deployed in the non-cigarette segment. It is for this transformation, as also his thrust on sustainability for which he will be best remembered. He was conferred the Padma Bhushan for his service to the nation in 2011, while his corporate vision led the Harvard Business School to rank him among the ten best performing CEOs globally.

He steered ITC during the turbulent times of the mid-nineties when a battle for control with its overseas shareholder amid reports of FERA violation engulfed the company. He steadied the company and worked to reposition it to withstand the increasing competition in a globalised Indian market.

Mr. Deveshwar, an alumnus of IIT Delhi and Harvard Business School, joined ITC in 1968. Between 1991 and 1994, he was invited by the government to serve as the chairman and managing director of Air India, a period that is remembered for a turnaround in the national carrier. His stewardship over the last two decades has guided ITC to become India’s foremost FMCG marketer, the country’s largest paperboards and packaging company and a corporate enabler in farmer-empowerment, through its wide-ranging agri-business. It also has the second largest hotel chain in India.

Reminiscences

Yogi or YCD, as he was known among his friends and peers, was remembered as a fun person with a sharp wit. An anecdote on his decision to set up the ITC Sonar in Kolkata may illustrate his visionary thinking. Mr. Sampath Kumar, a leather industry expert and Mr. Deveshwar’s companion on many official trade delegations narrates, “When I got to know about ITC’s decision to set up a hotel on the eastern fringes of the city, amid a tannery area , I asked what made you think of a hotel in this area.. there is nothing around..”

Mr. Deveshwar’s answer was, “You see, it is when the industry puts up a project in the middle of nothing, then that area begins to develop and soon, there is everything coming up around.” Today his foresight has catalysed a real estate and a hospitality industry boom around , even as ITC gets ready to launch its second hotel close by. Mr. Kumar also remembers his friend as a sheet-anchor of any trip. “He was a different person in the board room and an affable fun-person in a relaxed mood,” he reminisced. Agrees Sanjay Budhia, MD, of Patton Group.

”His big box of Diwali greetings with ITC products was much awaited and getting bigger and bigger over the years. More than an industry icon, he was a friend who had a very good sense of humour!

“When I came out of my house to see him off after our annual dinner, Mr. Muthuraman, the then MD of Tata Steel, (who was also then the deptuy chairman of CII – ER and I was the regional chair ) was walking in. YCD, with a twinkle in his eyes said Sanjay, your deputy has come.” Mr. Muthuraman was equally sportive and we three had a hearty laugh!

“His stature did not take away his humility. Once, on one of the delegations, he came to my hotel room for a quick nap, saying why take another room for one hour!”

Tributes pour in

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted their condolences with Mr Modi mentioning his contribution to Indian industry and Ms. Banerjee describing him as a giant in the corporate world. CII president Vikram Kirloskar described Mr. Deveshwar, a past president, as a titan and a guiding luminary of Indian industry. Sanjiv Goenka chairman, RP-SG Group, said : “Yogi was a tall leader and a visionary. I have lost a friend.” Mayank Jalan, CMD, Keventer’s Agro said that Mr. Deveshwar was instrumental in putting Kolkata on the global business map. In 2017, Mr. Deveshwar’s helmsman position saw a small shift with the executive chairman role becoming a non-executive one. He seemed to be preparing to hand over the baton to Sanjiv Puri, ITC’s managing director.

“Inspired by a patriotic fervour, manifest in his clarion call ‘lets put India first,’ he led ITC’s strategic thrust to create an exemplary Indian enterprise dedicated to serving national priorities,” Mr. Puri wrote in a statement today.

During the 107th AGM on July 27, 2018, Mr. Deveshwar had said: “Today, it gives me immense pride that your company has truly emerged as an exemplary national institution. It is indeed fulfilling to witness the enormous value that your company has created across so many dimensions. However, as I have always said, the best is yet to come. The foundations are in place..”

Mr. Y. C. Deveshwar, who usually stood through the nearly three hours of the AGM, was found seated last year. It was perhaps a portend of things to come.

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 8:17:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/itc-chairman-yc-deveshwar-passes-away/article27101796.ece

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