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Vijaypat Singhania: As we all age, we start to lose confidence in ourselves

In his autobiography, Vijaypat Singhania devotes an entire section to why gifting his entire 37.17% stake in Raymond to his younger son, Gautam Hari, was the "biggest mistake" of his life.

October 30, 2021 / 10:25 PM IST
Vijaypat Singhania with his wife Asha. (Photo from 'An Incomplete Life: The Autobiography')

Vijaypat Singhania with his wife Asha. (Photo from 'An Incomplete Life: The Autobiography')


An Incomplete Life: The Autobiography by former Raymond Ltd chairman and managing director Vijaypat Singhania is a rather detailed biography.

Readers get a glimpse into his childhood, including how he and his brother were routinely slapped by their stepmother; how his marriage to Asha Singhania was fixed at the age of 12 (she was 9); how he and his brothers went off to the family's Kamla Retreat for cold coffee and relief; how he became a pilot; a 2-hour chat about microlight planes that he had with J.R.D. Tata over tea and biscuits; his relationship with his cousin Gopal Krishna Singhania; how they brought Merino sheep from Australia to India; how they finally closed down JK Chemicals Ltd (a workers' strike helped them close what had become an unprofitable business by then); and how he bestowed his shares in Raymond to his younger son Gautam Hari and came to rue the day.

Asha and Vijaypat Singhania with their son Madhupati. (Source: 'An Incomplete Life') Asha and Vijaypat Singhania with their older son Madhupati. (Source: 'An Incomplete Life')

The following excerpt is from the section titled "The Biggest Mistake of My Life", in which Singhania talks about his exit from Raymond, and how he came to give away his shares to Gautam Hari though that was not the original plan. (This excerpt is reproduced from the book, and has not been changed or edited in any way except for a deletion requested by the publisher.)

Things really started to go downhill in 2000–2001, when our clashes became more frequent. After a period of unpleasantness, I thought that the only way out for me was to, in fact, resign as Raymond’s Chairman and Managing Director. I committed the first Himalayan stupid mistake

of my life when I sent my resignation letter to Gautam. I had foreseen a scenario where he and I would hug each other – as we had done several times in the past after a disagreement – and we would make up.

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But this is not how things went. A meeting of the board of directors was urgently called, and my resignation was accepted in my absence. I was in London at the time. You can imagine my abject shock when I came to know of it. But what surprised me even more is that I said nothing to Gautam when I finally came back to India and we met face to face. You’d think we would have a shouting match at the very least. But we didn’t. I kept quiet and continued on, now as Chairman Emeritus of Raymond, a title bestowed on me by the board for my exemplary services to the company. But in private, I berated myself mentally and not a day went by when I didn’t kick myself for being so impulsive with my legacy.

Even after what had felt like an appalling betrayal, I just forgave him for what he did. What else could I do? Or could I have done something else?

***


I have always been a proud, confident person, and my flying adventures around the world led me to believe that one can achieve things beyond their imagination if one has the commitment and determination. Youth lulls us into a sense of complacency, leading us to believe that we are insulated

from the harsh realities of life. But a few years ago, the situation changed. Insecurities began to creep in as I began facing my mortality.

I wondered if I would be able to coordinate the more complex activities at Raymond as I aged. I wondered if my advancing years would lead me to make a decision that would prove detrimental to the company that I had put my blood, sweat and tears into building. I did not want the company to suffer because I had made the wrong call. The company had started as a woollen fabric manufacturer but had now diversified into a large number of products such as readymade garments, cosmetics, denims, suits, shirts,
among other things. It had become a household name. If people wanted a pants piece, suit piece, readymade suit or safari suit, the first thing they would say is, ‘Let’s go to a Raymond shop.’ Raymond has a few hundred shops across the country, and thousands of dealers. As we all age, we start

to lose confidence in ourselves, and we believe it’s better to leave the important decisions to the younger generations. I had started thinking along similar lines.

vijaypat singhania an incomplete life book cover

A little over six years ago, I was in London with my senior advisors. We were having a heart-to-heart chat when I told them that I was thinking of gifting away all my shares of Raymond and its associate companies to Gautam. There was absolute silence in the room for a few seconds. Looking back, the unease on their faces was pretty comical. There were four men in the room and each one of them, when they regained their ability to speak, told me that this might not be a good idea. But I leapt to my son’s defence.

‘Gautam will never mistreat me,’ I said.

Those were my exact words to them. How fervently I wish I could take them back. The debate on the gifting of the shares continued for a while that day. I was advised to put my shares into a discretionary trust to make sure the beneficiary couldn’t take advantage of my generosity. I would own and hold the trust till I died, after which Gautam would become the executor on the condition that he would pay certain sums of money to my wife, my younger brother’s widow Veena, and my daughter Shephali. Under the terms of the trust, a certain sum would be divided among the three women. They would receive the money over a period of ten years after my death in equal monthly instalments. It sounded like a smart decision that would ensure everyone that I loved and cared for, including Gautam, would be taken care of.

Gautam agreed to the terms in writing and agreed to pledge all his assets to fulfil his obligations in the event of my death. He signed as proof of his acceptance. I accepted it all in good faith and got all the documents ready with the help of my tax advisors. I was on the verge of activating the

trust and getting everyone on board when things took an unpleasant turn...

That fateful day was 13 February 2015. The day I made the stupidest mistake of my life. And signed a letter that would change the shape of my life forever.

Excerpted from An Incomplete Life: The Autobiography by Vijaypat Singhania, with permission from Pan Macmillan Publishing India Private Limited.

Also read: Veterans Unpacked | I didn't retire. I was thrown out by my son: Vijaypat Singhania



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