If you take a walk down any road or street in any part of India, rural or urban, you are unlikely to miss the brand name of “Bajaj.” A household name today, Bajaj Auto is into the manufacture of scooters. This story is about the man who made the word “Baja” a household name. He is the Chairman and patriarch of the company, Rahul Bajaj.
Rahul Kumar Bajaj was born on June 10, 1938 to kamalnayan and Savitri Bajaj. At that time, the Bajaj group of companies was a third generation business into commodities trading. The family was quite well off. Rahul's childhood was mostly in Mumbai, where the company was growing by leaps and bounds. Kamalnayan and his brother, Ram Narayan, were at the helm of affairs and were slowly moving the business into the area of manufacturing vehicles.
Rahul completed his schooling at Cathedral and John Cannon School. He grew up in an environment when the Indian freedom struggle was at its fiery heights. The Bajaj family was truly nationalistic. Rahul's father and uncle were involved in the freedom struggle, and had also been jailed briefly by the British Colonials for their patriotic fervour. Post independence, Rahul's father became a Member of Parliament under the Congress government. As a result, the Bajajs' have always been close and supportive to political leaders of the country, to this date.
In 1956, Rahul finished his schooling and moved on to Delhi's St. Stephen College to graduate in Economics. Soon after his graduation, Rahul moved back to Mumbai to work in one of the companies owned by the family, Bajaj Electricals. He worked here for two years while studying law at the same time. He used to attend lectures at the Government Law College in the mornings, and then move on to the Bajaj Electricals office where he put in a long and hard day at work. He was given the position of a Junior Purchase Officer.
Rahul knew that some day, he would be given the reins of this massive business, which he would have to run with competence and professionalism - just like his father and grandfather. Therefore, he decided to further his education, and went away to Harvard in 1962 to study Business Management. He finished his MBA in 1964, and returned to India.
He joined Bajaj Auto as Deputy General Manager, in charge of the Commercial function of the company. Under the guidance of Naval K Firodia, the Chief Executive of Bajaj Auto, Rahul began to learn the nuances of the business. There were few concessions for him being part of the owner's family. He had to learn the business, like everyone else. This was a fairly large responsibility for him. Rahul was made to involve himself in almost all departments in the company including key departments in the company like Marketing, Accounts, Purchase, and Audit etc. except manufacturing. The company was gaining prominence as the two-wheeler market had begun to expand exponentially.
A much bigger factory was needed to step up production, and eventually the factory moved to a sprawling premise, in Akurdi, Pune. The company, which had started manufacturing automobiles in a garage outside Mumbai, had finally arrived. In 1972, Rahul's father passed away, and he became the Managing Director of Bajaj Auto. By this time, Firodia and the Bajajs had parted ways, and Rahul became the sole leader of the company, which was poised for tremendous growth.
Over the next 3 decades, Rahul ran the company with passion and élan, which left the industry astounded. He grew the company’s revenues to join the Billion-dollar club, and made the Bajaj Scooter the most admired and sought after "item" of all middle class households. Rahul’s pet project - The Bajaj “Chetak” scooter was a huge success story. The Chetak had a 10 year waiting period at one point in time. Thanks to this, the black market prevailed, and a Bajaj scooter was available at a premium equivalent to its Price.
The monopoly did not last long, as companies like Honda and Vespa came up with their own products directly competing with the Bajaj scooter. But Rahul had foreseen this, and had gone in for a massive appointment of new dealers throughout the country. He also initiated a series excellent advertising campaigns to improve the brand recall in the minds of the customer. Rahul also invested time and money in extensive R&D to ensure that his products were in no way inferior to competition. His efforts paid off, and Rahul had ensured that Bajaj retained its top spot in the scooter industry in India.
He had his share of low points in his life. His parting with the Firodia's and the Italian automobile major Piaggio left a bad taste. Rahul's spat with the Indira Gandhi Government is also a matter of record. The company suffered because of this, as they were not allowed to expand their facilities to keep up with the growing demand. The Union related problem at his factory, which turned violent, raised a few eyebrows on the Bajaj Management. But the high points in his life over shadow the low ones. Today, Rahul is a content man, his company having achieved a 60% market share in the world's two wheeler market. His pioneering efforts have made Bajaj Auto the fourth largest two-wheeler manufacturer in the world.
Rahul has also contributed tremendously to the growth of the automobile industry in India. He has been the president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2001. His net worth is estimated to be at $1.5 Billion. He was listed twentieth on the Forbes India's Richest 40 people. The recession and stock market collapse of 2001 hit the company hard and it was predicted that the days of Bajaj Auto were numbered. However, Bajaj Auto reinvented itself, established a world-class factory in Chakan, invested in R&D and came up with Bajaj Pulsar Motorcycle. Bajaj Pulsar is currently a leader in its segment. In June 2006, Rahul Bajaj was elected to Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra.
He is semi-retired after a heart attack. Rahul lives peacefully in a spacious home within the factory premises in Akurdi, with his wife Rupa. His sons Rajiv and Sanjiv, look after the company now. Rut Rahul is always Present to guide them, and to ensure that his beloved company moves to achieve greater heights.