The statesman of Indian industry

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The statesman of Indian industry

Saturday, 15 April 2023 | Hima Bindu Kota

The statesman of Indian industry

Keshub Mahindra was one of the last generation of entrepreneurs known for holding on to their values

Keshub Mahindra, 99, uncle of Anand Mahindra and Chairman Emeritus of the Mahindra Group passed away on Wednesday. Considered widely the statesman of Indian industry, Keshub Mahindra was one of the few and last generation of industrialists and businessmen known for following value systems in everyday business. These distinguished stalwarts set the benchmark for the Indian industry and established a very high degree of ethical standards and quality business practices for the next generation to emulate and follow. Keshub Mahindra was a shining example of integrity, and ethics in business.

Born in 1923 in Shimla and graduated from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in the US, Keshub looked up to JRD Tata and Nanaji Deshmukh as his mentors. This probably helped chisel his legendary leadership qualities which in turn reflected in how the Mahindra group made progress in leaps and bounds. The unwavering trust and respect shown by him in his team and the empowerment provided resulted in the Mahindra team working with full creativity and making amazing product innovations in relatively less period of time and becoming a force to reckon with in the Indian automobile industry. This pristine culture of treating all as colleagues made the M&M group a highly efficient team that was well poised to fully leverage the opportunities, especially the various service businesses after the liberalisation of the economy.

He instinctively knew which loss-making businesses to steer clear of.  It was also this acumen and leadership that enabled the Mahindra group to evolve from an agency for Willy’s Jeeps in India in the 1940s to helming a $12-billion conglomerate with automobiles, financial services, logistics, real estate, hospitality and defence equipment under its portfolio. But perhaps the most recognition Keshub Mahindra received was as a person who began the true SUV vehicle segment in India whose products are unmatched in their durability, innovation and quality even today. The journey from a humble Willy’s Jeep to the state-of-the-art XUV 700 SUV is a testament to the distance covered by the Mahindra group. 

At a time when resources were sparse and government assistance was sporadic at best, Keshub Mahindra through sheer grit prioritised the manufacturing sector. He visualised that a strong national economy must have robust industries and institutions that are effective, and competitive.  KM encouraged liberalisation, deregulation and opening of the economy and was unafraid of competition whether domestic or international. This business attitude became integral to the Mahindra group and helped weather the onslaught of global auto giants in India.

The oldest billionaire in India was also the most down-to-earth person. Though Keshub Mahindra was at the helm of one of India’s best-known companies for five decades, he chose to always remain out of the limelight.  As a steadfast philanthropist, he never allowed his work to be publicised and ensured that his philanthropy was always discreet. KM’s generosity was legendary and so was his commitment to social causes as part of the same he maintained a strong connection to the KC Mahindra Education Trust which grants scholarships across categories.

Apart from being the manufacturing pioneer of India and a philanthropist par excellence,  Keshub Mahindra was a simple human being who also enjoyed cooking continental food.

He transformed the Indian industrial scenario with his great vision and his passing is indeed a great loss. Anand Mahindra aptly summarised the spirit of KM when he paid rich tributes to his uncle on Twitter, “Travel well, Uncle Keshub. I know you must be exploring new, off-road trails wherever you are.”

(The writer is an educator)

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