Rahul Bajaj, the man who made two-wheelers a part and aspiration of every Indian middle-class household, passed away on February 12. Veteran leader was 83. “Rahul Bajaj died today at 2.30 pm. He died due to heart and lungs problems. He was admitted for past one month in Ruby hall hospital in Pune,” Dr Parvej Grant, chairman of Ruby Hall hospital told.
He was at the helm of India’s second largest auto company for over five decades. Under his strong leadership, Bajaj Auto reached the hearts of millions in the country. Two-wheelers in India had been synonymous with Bajaj between 1970s and 1990s.
Born on June 30, 1938 in Kolkata, Bajaj graduated with an Honours Degree in Economics from the prestigious St Stephen’s College, Delhi in 1958. He also had an MBA from Harvard Business School. In 1926, Jamnalal Bajaj, Rahul Bajaj’s grandfather formed Bajaj group of companies. After finishing studies, Bajaj took over as chief executive officer of Bajaj Auto in 1968. Within a few years of his stint at the helm, Bajaj expanded into new businesses, including cement, electrical appliances and scooters
The Dream Run of Bajaj Bike Begins…
Bajaja Group steered the diversified entity during India’s transition from a closed economy to a liberalised one. The company launched its most iconic scooter Bajaj Chetak and within few years it became one of those most-loved two-wheelers in the country. For rising aspirations middle-class Bajaj Chetak was a matter of pride. And this tryst continued for years. The iconic tune of ‘Humara Bajaj’ advertisement became synonymous with their hopes of a better future in the 1980s-90s.
Very few companies have dominated the market the way Bajaj did for decades. In 1950s and 1960s, Bajaj group sold three-wheeled autorickshaws and mini trucks. In 1960s, Bajaj established a plant to manufacture Vespa scooters in collaboration with Piaggio of Italy. From 1970s, the company became the undisputed in the two-wheeler market in India.
Bajaj was one of the first companies to launch a locally made motorcycle in India through a tie-up with Kawasaki of Japan. Even when the demand for scooters faded away in the late 1990s, Bajaj changed the gear and shifted to stay relevant. Under his leadership, Bajaj Auto saw its turnover growing to Rs 12,000 crore from just Rs 7.2 crore with the firm’s scooters becoming the mainstay.
Known for his ‘frank and fearless’ nature, Rahul Bajaj was truly an icon who shaped the two-wheeler industry. He has never shied away from making his position clear on the policy concerning industry and others. Remembering him, Anand Mahindra chairman of Mahindra Group wrote, “I stand on the shoulders of giants. Thank you, Rahulbhai, for letting me clamber up onto your broad shoulders, advising me, cheering me on, encouraging me to be bold.”
Rahul Bajaj served twice as the President of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), once at the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Bajaj also as the chairman of the erstwhile Indian Airlines. In 2001, Rahul Bajaj was awarded with Padma Bhushan the third highest civilian honour in the country. He was also a former chairman of the International Business Council, World Economic Forum and a former member of the South Asia advisory board of Harvard Business School.
The net worth of Bajaj family stood at $14.4 billion, according to Forbes India’s 100 Richest People in 2021 list. The Bajaj family was also ranked as the 12th richest family in India.