September 30, 2023
A Man For All Seasons

A Man For All Seasons

Nov 19, 2022

RAKESH JHUNJHUNWALA, 62, died in Mumbai on 14 August, 2022.

I am certain that my friend, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, was possessed by some extra-terrestrial energy force. His adrenal glands pumped huge amounts of adrenaline incessantly. For, he was on a perpetual high in every department of life. As a hyperactive trader pumping his fists excitedly in the Bombay Stock Exchange ring. As a doting father to his three children who came rather late in life. Rattling off statistics about the coming glorious period for India. Or while downing large pegs of Scotch at his favourite watering hole in Marine Drive.

To make 50,000 crore out of a Seed Capital of five thousand rupees is not merely a hallmark of genius. It is the equivalent of walking on water. And when you achieve this consistently over 40 years of investing, it cannot simply be luck. Like a trained pig sniffing out precious truffles from the ground, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala had a nose for the most promising promoters.

Once an entrepreneur passed his smell test, and he liked the business plan or the sector, he was willing to quickly place his bet—due diligence be damned. He was a master of evaluating human material. Rarely, of course, he made mistakes; when he did, he did not hesitate to book his losses, and harbour no regrets.

Rakesh was one of the most colourful personalities that I have come across. On the one hand, he was loud, gregarious, impatient, short-fused; on the other, he was kind, compassionate, ready to unabashedly apologise if he had caused hurt, by his tongue lashing. How can you dub a man as an egotist, when he was always owning up his mistakes and saying sorry to the humblest in society?

He was a true nationalist whose confidence in India’s success was total. He harboured not the slightest doubt about the India story, even at times, when most thought that it was over. He had long realised that India’s potential had hardly been unleashed yet. A 300 million strong middle class would spell boom time for decades. His most successful investments were linked to the Great Indian Consumer—Titan (jewellery); Lupin (pharma); Star Health (health insurance). Nor was he deterred by high risk, if the reward too was high. Perhaps, this reasoning permeated his last big bet on Akasa Airlines whose inaugural flight from Mumbai to Ahmedabad he boarded on a wheelchair. Exactly a week later, he was gone, at dawn, after watching a movie with his wife and three children up to midnight.

It is futile speculating whether he shortened such a great life by his excessive love for whisky and cigars. It was all a package deal. Restraint and caution were for the timid. He was the Big Bull—raring to go, notwithstanding any obstacle.

Apart from the markets, he was a voracious reader. Those who thought that he decided impulsively were mistaken. His grasp and memory of the minutest details of his investee companies made many promoters distinctly uncomfortable.

For a few years, he enjoyed horse racing by owning a few horses. His Midas touch was present here too. In a short time, with hardly any horses, he won the Pune Derby, the Poonawalla Million and several other Indian Classics, whose trophies he proudly displayed in his den. We co-owned several horses—the one called Sensex never ran; the colt named Nifty did very well; and a cheap horse won the Hyderabad Derby against all odds. It was appropriately called Mahateji.

Today, as I survey his empty conference room, with many bulls of varying size and shapes on the large table, no sadness envelops. His explosive energy may have shed the physical body but it continues to exist on some finer plane, for all those who adore and love him.

For you, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, no RIP. I am sure you are already creating a rumpus in heaven.