Maruti’s RC Bhargava recalls his first meeting with Jagdish Khattar and the 24 years that followed

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Maruti’s RC Bhargava recalls his first meeting with Jagdish Khattar and the 24 years that followed
BCCL
  • Jagdish was known as an officer who had high integrity and his entrepreneurial streak was evident from the way he handed his various assignments
  • His success in a variety of jobs indicated that he was willing to learn and adapt to new conditions.
  • Unfortunately, many people in India do not recognise that business failures are a part of entrepreneurship and Jagdish had to suffer the consequences of such thinking.
Jagdish Khattar was an entrepreneur at heart. Opportunities for entrepreneurs were limited at that time. Like many others from St. Stephen’s College (in Delhi), he joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1965. He served with great distinction till he joined Maruti in 1993. He was known as an officer who had high integrity and his entrepreneurial streak was evident from the way he handed his various assignments, including the Chairmanship of the UP Cement Corporation and of the Tea Board.

In 1992, Maruti was a company where the government and Suzuki of Japan had equal equity holdings and Osamu Suzuki (chairman of Suzuki Motor) was of the view that when I retired, in 1997, I should be succeeded by another IAS officer. I was tasked with selecting a suitable person. Jagdish (Khattar) was one of the persons recommended by some senior officers. I met Jagdish in my office and very soon it was clear to me that my search had come to an end. He came from a family of entrepreneurs from Dera Ismail Khan, now in Pakistan. I found that he had a sharp intellect and a quick mind. His success in a variety of jobs indicated that he was willing to learn and adapt to new conditions. He was not enamoured by the status and prestige attached to government posts and appeared to be a person who liked to get things done. He obviously understood business and competition. I could convince him that if he left the IAS and joined Maruti, he would have much greater freedom and opportunities to implement his ideas and achieve results, something that the government was unlikely to offer. He was convinced and joined Maruti in 2003. His entrepreneurial genes overcame the glamour of the IAS.

Maruti’s RC Bhargava recalls his first meeting with Jagdish Khattar and the 24 years that followed
BCCL

He was given intensive training in Japan and Suzuki was satisfied that he would be an appropriate replacement for me. He worked very successfully as the director of marketing but in 1997, when I retired, the government did not accept Suzuki’s advice that Jagdish would be the best person to become the managing director (MD), and instead chose another Maruti officer. It soon became apparent that this was not a decision, which would help Maruti grow and prosper. A new government came to power in 1998 and it took the correct decision to appoint Jagdish as the MD. Along with this, the government also decided to gradually exit Maruti and list the company on the stock exchange. Without these decisions, Maruti would not have reached its present position.
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Jagdish had the difficult task of convincing investors to buy Maruti equity shares. At that time, the stock markets were depressed and Maruti itself had made a loss for the first time in its history in 2000-2001. Jagdish was very articulate and an excellent communicator. He sincerely believed in the future of India as well as of Maruti. He could convince investors that they would stand to gain, by investing in the company. The issue was a huge success and in the years to come, Jagdish’s promise to the investors was fulfilled in spades.

Maruti’s RC Bhargava recalls his first meeting with Jagdish Khattar and the 24 years that followed
BCCL

Suzuki had been given management control over Maruti in 1999. Jagdish continued as the MD from that year to 2007, when he retired. The absence of constraints arising from government’s presence in the company enabled Jagdish to perform to the best of his considerable ability. He now had the support of Suzuki and Maruti made big strides forward. New business lines were started for dealers that resulted in making them financially stronger and increasing customer satisfaction and retention. The service network continued to be strengthened. A great deal of attention was paid towards making the marketing and sales network as strong as possible. Sales grew rapidly and there was a need for new capacity. Jagdish negotiated with the state government to purchase 600 acres of land at Manesar. The site, today, has an installed capacity of 750,000 cars a year. During his tenure, Maruti recorded excellent progress and consolidated its position as the market leader.
His entrepreneurial streak came to the front after Jagdish left Maruti. He started Carnation, a company that established multi-brand service stations in India. Unfortunately, for the first time in his life, Jagdish encountered problems that even he could not overcome, and the company went bankrupt. Unfortunately, many people in India do not recognise that business failures are a part of entrepreneurship and Jagdish had to suffer the consequences of such thinking.
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His wife Kiran and he were very hospitable and gracious hosts. We have enjoyed their company and hospitality on innumerable occasions. Jagdish had an outgoing and cheerful nature and attracted friends and admirers from all walks of life. Everyone is going to miss him and regret his leaving at, comparatively, such an early age. But I am sure God needed his capabilities for some other project. Farewell and godspeed.

Jagdish Khattar aged 78, an ex-IAS officer and former managing director of Maruti Suzuki, passed away on 26 April 2021.


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