Kolkata-based industrialist Rama Prasad Goenka passed away on Sunday (April 14). He was aged 83. RP started his solo business career back in 1979 and with his death, his legacy now lies with the two sons who are running their independent business groups, with combined revenues of around Rs 30,000 crore ($5.5 billion).
This means his business empire grew almost 300 times within a span of 34 years, as he started with revenues of just around Rs 100 crore when he split his business from his two younger brothers. But this isn’t the only claim to fame for RPG, as he was known in the business circles.
Interestingly, the industrialist refused to move the headquarters of his business house outside Kolkata although the city has considerably decayed as a commercial hub. And he was that business person who can be truly called the first takeover tycoon of India. What was even more special about the man was the way he built his empire, through leveraged buyouts, long before such acquisitions were made sexy by the buyout giant KKR in the late 1980s.
It was just a coincidence that RPG was the grandson of Badridas Goenka, the first Indian to be appointed chairman of the Imperial Bank of India (now the State Bank of India). But the string of acquisitions financed through bank debt showed his uncanny ability to pick up some nice bets in unrelated areas, even though he mostly stuck to the credo of not going for hostile M&As.
This was unlike his contemporary Manu Chhabria, who was also actively building an empire through acquisitions in the 1980s.
RPG perhaps regretted not pursuing his interest in petrochemicals as much as he would have liked. Or he might have liked to retain the telecom business (having been an early mover with RPG Telecom), which could have increased the business clout of the group far higher than what it is currently.
Although they belong to one of the oldest business families in India and have weathered the storm faced by many other groups who were big at the time of Independence but saw their fortunes slide over time, RPG’s two sons are still among the numerous mid-sized business houses in the country.
An alumnus of Kolkata’s Presidency College and a degree-holder from Harvard, RPG decided to hang up his boots just before the economic liberalisation in the country and gave the reins of the diversified conglomerate to his sons, Harsh Vardhan and Sanjiv. While the sons were not as aggressive as the father, they have also been active on inorganic expansion.
His elder son Harsh Vardhan retained the RPG banner, which currently houses businesses including tyre (CEAT), infrastructure (KEC International, SAE Towers) and IT (Zensar Technologies) besides others such as RPG Life Sciences, Raychem RPG, Harrisons Malayalam, Spencer’s Travel Services and Spencer International Hotels.
Sanjiv, on the other hand, renamed his business (which was spliced out a couple of years ago) as RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group. His group has operations across power & natural resources, infrastructure, carbon black, retail, and media & entertainment through firms such as CESC, Spencer’s Retail, Saregama and Philips Carbon Black.
RPG’s death takes away another doyen of the old world business houses in India and Kolkata loses another loyal citizen for good.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)