REALITY MOST OFTEN BELIES PERCEPTION. Gautam Hari Singhania may have over the years created a popular persona of flamboyance and good living, who is equally known for his passion for fast cars, adventure sports and socialising, as for being the Chairman & Managing Director of the country’s finest manufacturer of woolen fabrics with an international repute.
However, during the course of our interview, Singhania surprises us with his amazing propensity for organising himself and his schedule. “At the beginning of every year, I set out my entire calendar, with the first priority being my children’s holidays. Name any date from now to February and I will tell you what day it is and what my schedule is for that day”.
We choose October 25, and he responds: “It’s a Sunday and I am in Goa.” We check the calendar and he is correct.
Your birthday, September 9? “It’s a Wednesday; I am at home,” he says, leaving us quite speechless.
For Singhania, the only way to lead the complete life of a complete man is to plan things beforehand. If something is of priority, one will find the time, he believes. “You have to strike a balance between business, family and personal life. So, after my children’s holidays, next to be added to my calendar are AGMs, board and review meetings. Next comes my racing schedule.”
The driving force
Singhania, the man at the helm of Raymond Limited, India’s leading manufacturer, marketer and retailer of worsted suiting fabrics over the last eight decades, meets us at the Raymond corporate office in Worli, Mumbai. Looking dapper in a Raymond made-to-measure pure wool suit, he arrives on time and is ready to get on with the interview.
His responses are quick and to the point, a trait that can be attributed to his latest passion—motor sport. “It started about four years ago,” he begins. “The desire to race was always there, but it had been many years since I had last raced. So, I decided to practise a little and see where I stood.”
And how long did it take to get the rusty edges back on track? “Unfortunately, I met with an accident and hurt my leg. For 18 months I couldn’t do anything. But after that I decided to do a few races and this year I’m doing the Ferrari Challenge Europe Championship. I think the time is right.”
For a person who took over the reins of the business from his father, Vijaypat Singhania, quite effortlessly, it was but natural that he did the same when it came to racing. “Adventure is in my blood. I’ve inherited it.” There’s a twinkle in his eye that you can’t miss.
A sense of adventure does indeed run in the family. His father had made it to the Guinness World Records when, in 2005, he became the first man to fly in a hot air balloon to a height of 68,986 ft above sea level, breaking the erstwhile world record of 64,997 ft.
The Raymond Group has an aviation charter licence and owns one Bombardier Challenger 604 business jet and two helicopters. Gautam Singhania, who loves to sail, owns a couple of speedboats, and is also the founder and chairman of the first ever Super Car Club in India.
Discipline is the key
Like everything else in life, Singhania believes in giving a 100 per cent to his racing. “If I am going to race, it’s either a 100 per cent commitment from my end or nothing at all. I don’t want to spend my time, energy and effort if I am not going to give it my best shot.”
Singhania is currently running third in the championship, which is quite a spectacular feat considering this is his first attempt at completing the entire championship. He has already got five podiums and experienced two crashes—which was not his fault. So what is the secret behind his success? “Discipline”.
“Tests and races are gruelling. You just have to get to bed by 9 pm and be up by 6.30 am. You need to fight the temptation to stay up late. In the end, it all depends on your desire to win. This has made me very disciplined,” Singhania says.
But there’s more to racing than just discipline; one has to be alert and extremely competitive. It is this spirit that helps Singhania stay on top of the arduous championship. Talking of his experience at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France, he says, “During the test drive, the temperature was around 38-degree centigrade, and the temperature inside my Ferrari car was an insufferable 50-degree centigrade. Egged on by my coach, I managed to finish the test but was left exhausted and dehydrated.” With tests this exacting and races that are even more challenging, one needs to be physically fit and mentally alert. Singhania believes in sleeping well to allow the body to recuperate when he isn’t racing. “Even a 40-minute race is physically tough, for which I need to stay fit. I haven’t been to the gym of late because I get tired. On days I am not travelling, I go to bed by 11 pm and I’m up by 7.30 am,” he says.
Living in the present
For Singhania, who turned 50 on September 9 this year, age is just a number and there is no bucket list that he maintains. Living in the moment is his mantra. “Enjoy the moment. If you cannot enjoy what you are doing now, you’re never going to enjoy,” he says. So, has the CMD of Raymond and the motor sport enthusiast always been this calm and collected? “My wife changed the way I thought. I was building a house in Alibaug and it had taken me 20 years to find a property. I used to be agitated every day. One day she told me to ‘enjoy the process’. That changed my mindset and today I enjoy the process of life,” Singhania says with a smile.
The impressive track record
Talking about his foray into the family business, Singhania says, “I did my schooling from St. Mary’s School, Mumbai, and then went to The Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai. But, I didn’t have too much faith in the institution of education, and by the time I was in college, I was already working. Unlike my friends and colleagues, I did miss out on getting an MBA degree, but the knowledge and experience I gathered while working with my father was invaluable.”
This year, Singhania completes 30 years at Raymond. Calling it a decent journey, he feels he has come a long way since he first started working at the factory in Thane, near Mumbai. “I’ve gained invaluable experiences over time—from newspapers to the textile business, buying and selling companies…” he says.
Singhania has been instrumental in the restructuring of the Raymond Group, which today is a brand leader in almost all the industrial sectors it is present in, including textiles (Raymond), apparel (Park Avenue, Parx, Raymond Ready-To-Wear and ColorPlus), FMCG (Park Avenue deos, KS deos), engineering (JK Files & Tools), aviation and prophylactics (KamaSutra Condoms).
The company has seen a steady growth ever since Singhania took over as the CMD in 2000. It is interesting to note that the annual turnover for Raymond Group in FY 2002 was R1,980 crore while the figure stands at R7,000 crore in FY 2015.
There has also been a jump in the number of Raymond retail outlets. In March 2005, there were more than 300 outlets in India, while there were 21 overseas. The numbers for March 2015 are nearly 1,000 in India and 43 overseas.
Exports and FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) growth over the last five years have also been quite impressive. Earnings from exports grew from R546 crore in March 2010 to R1,245 in March 2015. While FMCG stood at R188 crore in March 2010, in March 2015 it was worth R489 crore.
Business in his blood
It takes grit and hard work to take over the reins of a mammoth business such as the Raymond Group. With Singhania, the process was seamless, as he had begun learning the ropes of the trade from his father from a young age. “And now my kid attends my meetings!” he laughs.
From CMD to racer to a loving family man, Singhania dons all the roles with finesse. “My 9-year-old daughter is very keen on business. She attended her first meeting when she was just five. She tells me she is going to the office to find out what’s going on there,” he says with much pride.
Trust and Raymond go hand-in-hand
“What does Raymond stand for?” he poses a rather rhetorical question, and then goes on to explain: “Raymond stands for trust. Trust is an encompassing word that basically means that everything we do improves your life. You trust us to dress you well. You trust us that we have the best products.”
But surely there are traffic signals along the way, which force one to pause or slow down? “Well, you just have to play with the hand that you are dealt with. But never wish for somebody else’s life because you don’t know the other person’s problems. I believe that if you are not happy with your life, you’ll never be happy in someone else’s shoes. You have to deal with your situations and then attain some amount of happiness in that,” says Singhania, sounding nearly philosophical, a far cry from the way he is generally perceived. “Perception and reality are two different things,” he laughs.
No compromise on quality
Quality of products is something Singhania isn’t ready to compromise on. “We are very focused on doing the right thing. Our concerns revolve around what’s best for stakeholders in the next 10-20 years, how to ensure longevity of the business, how to give consumers the best,” he says. Often he disconnects himself personally from the decision-making process to achieve desired results.
A competitive spirit
With the business world becoming more competitive and demanding, an entrepreneur needs to be ahead of the game. Technology is changing the way people do business, and Singhania is quick to adapt to the latest developments. “There’s a lot that we are trying to learn and innovate, but I can’t discuss right now because it’s work in progress. It’s surprising to see how much technology there is out there, but one needs to really filter it.”
Raymond retails in Japan, and as Singhania says, “If our suits are good for the Japanese, they are good for everybody.” As with any other company, Raymond has seen its ups and downs. But over the last two decades, the brand has become stronger with new products being introduced and increased market dominance.
Singhania is at the pioneering services such as the Raymond ‘Made to Measure’ fashion advisory and outfitting at most Raymond stores, e-tailing services on raymondnext.com and womenswear under the Park Avenue brand. Raymond Textiles now also offers furnishing and blankets, in addition to its acclaimed clothing fabrics.
From the rear-view mirror
Singhania isn’t one to dwell on mistakes or missed opportunities. Although he feels to err is human, making the same mistake twice isn’t what he approves of.
He had the opportunity of being a partner-promoter of a business around six years ago and went through the entire process, only to back out on the day of signing the agreement. “That business is rocking today and I could have been minting a serious amount of money.” Such missed opportunities are bound to bring down even the most flamboyant person. Singhania, however, has no regrets. “As much as I would have loved to be involved in that business today, I did what I thought was right back then. Today, I am happy with what I do; I am very content,” he smiles.
The CMD of Raymond doesn’t believe in waiting—he lives in the moment. “People say I will do this when I am 60… who says you’re going to be 60?” he asks.
Talking about his desire to perform well in the World Finals, which is to be held over the first weekend in November in Mugello, Italy, Singhania doesn’t undermine the element of luck involved. “There are 50-60 cars on the track and it depends on how good you are on that day; eventually you are fighting for half a second.”
“The World Finals is just one shot, as opposed to the championship comprising 14 races. In the eight races that I have done, I had two bad races. While one was a gear box failure mid-corner, which was sheer bad luck; in the second race, two drivers were fighting it out on track and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got taken out while I was speeding at 180 km per hour.”
Singhania is passionate about his sport and his life. Motor sport is a serious business for him—a commitment he has made. This year has been tough because he had to get acquainted with all the racing circuits. “This year I am doing the full championship. There is pressure but I am enjoying it,” he says.
Drafting future plans
If this season goes well, Singhania plans to compete in next year’s Ferrari Challenge Europe Championship as well. Not yet certain of his future plans, he wants to compete in at least two more championships. “One race at a time is how I will take it. I want to see where I finish in the World Finals this year. I need to prove to myself that I can do it,” he says.
One day at a time, is how Singhania prefers to construe life; because for him, life is a journey and not a destination. “Destination is the day you are going to go. So, don’t wait for that. That is your eventual destination,” he signs off.
Gautam Singhania is the only Indian competing in the 2015 Ferrari Challenge Europe Championship. He is currently in the middle of the 2015 championship, where he has completed four rounds, with podium finishes in five—Monza (double podium), Budapest and Paul Riccard (double podium). The entire season comprises 15 races with two races a weekend, mainly in Monza (Italy), Imola (Italy), Mugello (Italy), Le Castellet (France), Valencia (Spain) and Budapest (Hungary).The World Finals, to be held in Mugello, Italy, in the first weekend of November, will comprise three races, where two races will be held with the teams from the other two regions of Asia and North America. The Finali Mondiali (Finals) will be on the third day.