Remembering YM Deosthalee, the man who struck the right chord between music and math

Remembering YM Deosthalee, the man who struck the right chord between music and math
YM Deosthalee, former chairman of L&T Finance, dies at 74L&T Financial Services
  • Former Chairman of L&T Finance, YM Deosthalee passed away at the age of 74.
  • A Chartered Accountant and law graduate, he joined L&T in 1974 and rose through the ranks to become the Chief Financial Officer of the engineering conglomerate.
  • Deosthalee was a musician at heart, though he never did finish his classical music training. He was one of the few corporate leaders to have cut a music album.

There is a thin line between managing risk and 'comfortable inaction.' Yeshwant Moreshwar Deosthalee, who passed away at 74, is one of a rare few CFOs who struck the right chord between these two impossible poles of corporate activity. Despite being known as a conservatively financed company with a focus on maintaining profit margins, he played a crucial role in its foray into international territories, new acquisitions, and exit from certain businesses - all the while managing the many complexities that come with a group like L&T, which had around a 100 subsidiaries.

While the chairman AM Naik is known for his bold decisions, Deosthalee was the balancing force who ensured that every decision was weighed well and added to the bottom line. It probably helped that Deosthalee was also a musician at heart, though he could not finish his classical music training.

Deosthalee hailed from a middle-class family in Girgaum, Mumbai, and completed his graduation in commerce at Sydenham College. Later, he did his chartered accountancy and attained a Law degree. He joined L&T in 1974. He rose through the ranks and headed many departments like personnel and finance before becoming the engineering conglomerate's Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

The man behind L&T Finance
Deosthalee is best known for establishing the finance business as a wholly-owned subsidiary of L&T, which was still an engineering and construction company, back in 1994. It was later spun off into a company of its own in 2011, where he became the chairman. The business runs a gamut of verticals, including insurance, mutual funds, and a debt fund. However, Deosthalee retired in 2017 before receiving a banking licence - a hope many in the market still hold.

Even during his stint as the CFO of L&T, arguably one of the country's biggest companies, he faced a myriad of risks associated with the very nature of its construction vertical - like the pricing of commodities, forex, and much more. However, Deosthalee never wavered even during the crises right through his illustrious career, including Lehman — and that is evident in the many 'best CFO of the year' awards that adorn his wall.

Slow yet steady
Even as newer infrastructure companies booked too many orders during the early 2000s, L&T, despite being a leader, would only take on those that provided value. Deosthalee also fostered a culture where the treasury department would be a part of the team that would prepare a bid for the project - a habit that ensured they could finish the jobs they take on.

Deosthalee learned the advantages of taking the long, challenging route instead of an easier one as a young student. Though he was a bright child, he was intimidated by his elder siblings, who were academic achievers. That led him to tinker with his Sanskrit test paper score once. His elder brother, who was his guardian after their father’s death, had caught it immediately.

“In the long run, cheating never leads you anywhere,” Deosthalee told a Marathi channel in an interview, and that is the lesson that guided him through the rest of his life.

The music to his ears
Unlike Naik, a self-confessed workaholic, Deosthalee maintained a surprising discipline of leaving his office at 6 pm and never worked on Sundays. His passion for music and the arts never waned. As a child, he was used to waking up with a radio show called 'Binaca Geet Mala.'

He also spent most of his time attending plays at an open-air theater and believed that his childhood spent in Girgaum in Mumbai, where he was born and raised, had given him the best cultural education he could get. "It's a wonderful way to grow up," he would often reminisce.

The chartered accountant also became one of the few corporate leaders to cut a music album and regularly sang classical old Bollywood songs at events. He also produced a Marathi film Rajwade and Sons, which addresses the trials and tribulations of living in a joint family under a strong patriarch. The message of the film is close to his heart and reflects in his philanthropic activities. He and his wife built and ran a home for senior citizens in an acre-long estate in Khopoli, situated in Mumbai's suburbs.

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