Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The complete man

Gautam Singhania, the head honcho of the Raymond Group, lives life with passion and energy

By Shevlin Sebastian

You had to appreciate Gautam Singhania’s candour. The Chairman and Managing Director of the Raymond Group had arrived two hours late for the inauguration of the Zapp! showroom (3000 sq. ft.) on M.G. Road and here was his explanation: “Yesterday, I had partied the whole night because of India’s Twenty20 win over Australia. Hence, I was unable to come on time.” Other top executives would have probably said that they had been delayed because of ‘technical problems’, but not Singhania.

And in keeping with his status of being a billionaire, he flew from Mumbai on his private jet, the Challenger 604 Bombardier, which can seat nine people and costs a cool $45 million. The moment he landed at Nedumbassery airport, he took a helicopter ride to Marine Drive. From there, he was driven to the shop where some conservative people were taken aback by his sartorial style: torn blue jeans, a blue shirt, sneakers, and sunshades.

And even as he said the right things about the state, “Kerala is an important market for us. We have opened the first Zapp! store in the heart of the city and will be launching the second one in Kozhikode,” the straight talking came through regarding investment.

“The reason why Gujarat gets so much of investment is because the leaders are able to market the state,” he says. “Kerala needs to do that. At this moment, industrialists are not aware of Kerala as an investment destination.”

The Raymond Group has a turnover of Rs 2000 crore and it has best-selling brands like Park Avenue, Parx, Manzoni, Colorplus, and, not to forget, Kama Sutra condoms. The international children’s clothing line, Zapp!, is now available in 18 cities.

As he talks, there is a fashion show by a group of children wearing the Autumn-Winter 2007 collection. Some glide on roller skates, two of them do somersaults, one does a karate kick and it is altogether fun to watch. “Zapp! is aimed for the 4-14 year age group,” says Singhania. “There is now a new generation of fashion-conscious young adults.”

One boy nearly loses his balance on his roller skates, but steadies himself at the last moment, as Singhania says, “Raymond is keeping its ear to the ground and is offering discerning consumers the best quality products.”

One really valuable product that Raymond has created is the world’s finest worsted suiting fabric. This has been made out of the finest wool grade available in the world – the Super 230s wool, which is a mere 11.8 microns in diameter (a micron is a millionth of a metre or, approximately, one-fifth the diameter of a human hair).

This fabric is available as suit lengths under ‘The Chairman’s Collection’. “Only a few pieces have been made, so it is a prized possession for those who buy them,” says Singhania. Cost of one suit: Rs 4.25 lakh. At the 2005 Economic Times Awards for Corporate Excellence, billionaire Lakshmi Mittal was the first customer.

At 42, Singhania is leading the Raymond Group with verve and dynamism. Asked about the qualities of a good leader, he says, “Carlos Gohsn, the President and CEO of Renault, said, ‘In my job I have to do three things: Communicate, motivate and simplify. You have to communicate to your people what you need. Then to make them do it, you have to motivate them. If there is a problem, you have to simplify it.’”

Have there been moments when he has felt the responsibility overwhelming him? “Not at all,” says Singhania. “You have to do what you have to do.” Could things have been easier, since he was born in a business environment and inherited the company? “Nothing comes easy in life,” he says. “There are many challenges and you have to adapt to the situation.”

Apart from being a driven man at work, Singhania is also known for his passion for adrenalin-fueled sports like driving racing cars, flying jets and steering boats at high speeds. “I enjoy sport,” he says. “Life is more than business. I believe that one must pursue whatever talents one has. And, don’t forget, this passion is hereditary.”

His father, Vijaypat Singhania, set a world record by flying solo in a hot-air balloon to a height of 69,852 feet on November 26, 2005, and is an adventurer in his own right. Asked about how his father has influenced him, Singhania says, “The most important lesson I have learnt from my dad is to trust people. And we also have to be a company that people trust. Trust means everything. There should be trust in your business and personal dealings. This trust has been there for generations.”

It is time for him to go, since, within a certain time limit, his private jet has to land in Mumbai airport. So, within the flash of an eye, he is gone, back to where he came from, embodying the most famous advertising line of the Raymond Group: the complete man.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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