A giant's demise
YCD’s ideology, foresight and administration transformed ITC leaving a rich legacy behind
A eulogy to India's longest-serving chairman who was a different class of visionary is only befitting. It is not just his career or his achievement in life that count post his demise but his ambition to project ITC as a facilitator of sustainable livelihoods and a sizeable contributor to the country's economy. Yogesh Chander Degeshwar passed away in Delhi on Saturday morning at 72 but he left a legacy that outlines pure passion for the proliferation of business as well as his hunger for creation of sustainable value chains which would aid society and enrich the environment. YCD, as he was popularly known, has ITC's expansion from a tobacco company into a multi-retailer to his credit. His influence in ITC's steps towards FMCG sector, hotels, paper and packaging, branded apparel and lifestyle retail, agarbattis, packaged foods, personal care and agri-businesses, is instrumental and rarely matched. An alumnus of IIT Delhi and Havard Business School, YCD joined ITC way back in 1968. Just sixteen years into his profession, he joined ITC board in 1984. Though he took a break from ITC and served as Chairman and Managing Director of Air India between 1991 and 1994, YCD returned to ITC to become its Vice-Chairman before becoming its Chairman two years later in 1996. Since then, ITC has made unprecedented strides towards being a diverse and global Indian conglomerate with a focus on social development. Genuinely interested in having his firm's great contribution to India's economy, YCD had some time back said that "the mission to create world-class brands in India must, therefore, assume the fervour of a national movement" and "such world-class Indian brands will help create, capture and retain larger value for the economy." YCD's impetus to ITC has greatly influenced the company which has been building successful Indian brands in an FMCG market dominated by multinationals. It has created more than 50 popular brands, such as Aashirvaad, Sunfeast, Classmate, Fiama Di Wills and Bingo. His ambition to grow ITC's non-cigarette FMCG business revenue to Rs 1 lakh crore by 2030, in the process becoming the largest FMCG firm in the country beating Hindustan Unilever will now be a priority target for ITC to value and respect his legacy. As of last year, ITC's gross sales value expanded to Rs 67,081 crore with the non-cigarette FMCG business revenue being Rs 11,328 crore or 59 per cent of total revenue. Clearly, YCD's outlined vision for shifting ITC's traditional tobacco reputation towards other sectors yielded in all glory. Words of acknowledgement for his success echoes around and people across both industrial as well as political spectrum offered their tributes to the person whose patriotic call for 'putting India first' will forever motivate those he inspired. With Yogesh Deveshwar at the helm, ITC was accorded recognition for creating sustainable communities in rural India on both national as well as the global front. ITC's keen interest in sustainable growth under him was also evident through its carbon positive, water positive, and waste recycle positive approach for more than a decade. With all of ITC's luxury hotels being LEED Platinum certified and renewable energy constituting about 48 per cent of ITC's total energy consumption, YCD's ambition regarding a sustainable model of growth was pretty clear. And, with that was the ambition for creating livelihoods with ITC having created 6 million jobs in the country. Few of his achievements listed as case studies at Havard business school only glorifies his success. Conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2011 and ranked the seventh best-performing CEO in the world by Harvard alongside Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2012, YCD's journey elicits acknowledgement from even his adversaries. British American Tobacco's chairman Richard Burrow's tribute to Deveshwar, acknowledging his leadership which brought ITC to where it is, especially with the famous battle ITC had to fight off with British American Tobacco, stands testimony to his audacious outlook to catapult ITC towards a bright future.
In a statement, ITC Managing Director Sanjiv Puri said that Deveshwar had "passionately championed the cause for sustainable and inclusive growth as well as the transformative role businesses could play in creating larger societal value". Given his progress on fronts of sustainable livelihoods and the environment with respect to his company and country, Puri's words only commemorate Deveshwar's extraordinary vision. His legacy stands firm for all entrepreneurs, managers, businessmen, industrialists to take note and emulate if they may. But Deveshwar's stint as the top brass of ITC also tells a lot about how a traditional tobacco company transformed into a conglomerate with multinational status and arms in diverse sectors. His decisions are what brought ITC where it stands today and serves as a proper reminder of how erratic decisions, withstanding hinderances, is what marks a great leader. Be it his handling of mid-nineties control crisis with British American Tobacco, the largest shareholder or a section of old management behind bars for FERA violations, or for that matter, Centre's retrospective excise duty demand of 803 crores, situations posed an immense challenge and Deveshwar was always up to the job. Even his decision on ITC Sonar to be set up on the eastern fringes of the city with nothing around was a gamble only Deveshwar understood in his head but today his foresight has brought real estate and hospitality industry sprawling to around ITC Sonar. So what did the tall visionary leader in Yogi, as fondly called by people close to him, left us with? While his managerial prowess stands as an inspiration for many, his foresight urges other leading businesses to pick up sustainable development as an eco-friendly alternative to their current roadmap. And, not just that but YCD's push for sustainable livelihoods is an equally important ambition which, if realised by the leading business houses of the country, would catapult India's employment graph and yield a greater and committed workforce. What Deveshwar foresaw but could not realise due to his mortal limits is something others can realise. He wanted ITC to be responsible for the creation of sustainable livelihoods. Imagine, if not just ITC but other leading businesses decide to pursue his ambition. While livelihoods will boom and eco-friendly alternatives will provide sustainability, the economy will boom as the real winner. And, in all likelihood, that is what Yogesh Chander Deveshwar desired with his 'Let's put India First' calls.