ITC Chair, a Business Czar ‘Yogi’ Deveshwar Passes Away
| Pooran Chandra Pandey, Founding CEO, DOC RI, Germany - 12 May 2019

Obituary

ITC Chair, a Business Czar ‘Yogi’ Deveshwar Passes Away

By Pooran Chandra Pandey

New Delhi, May 12, 2019: ITC Group Chairman & CEO Yogesh Chander Deveshwar passed away yesterday, 11th May. A man of many accomplishments including being the youngest Executive Director of ITC Ltd, Deveshwar spearheaded the FMCG foray of the Kolkata-based conglomerate and helped create brands which have become household names. In 2011, Deveshwar received the Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian award.

On a personal note the author is saddened enough to learn about the sad demise of the Chairman and CEO, who he had privilege of knowing him in a personal capacity through a professional route.

As he says: My remembrance of him comes across as a perfect gentleman who valued people and put a premium on professional and personal relationships. A person who embraced humility even through odds and smiled to a reason, leaving today many of his colleagues, friends and well wishers coping hard with sorrow while finding it difficult to reconcile at such an irreparable loss in his death. He was a national asset by any standards and whose passing away leaves a void, difficult to be filled up. 

I came to know him in the year 2012 when UN was holding a global conference in Rio themed Rio+20/Rio 2012 or more popularly known as The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development during June 20th-22nd that year, which was the first step collectively thinking of a global agenda beyond Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which later came to be themed as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the year 2015.

In my then capacity as Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact, India, I was in charge of coordinating his trip to Rio where he would speak later on the day of June 22 on an important theme of the 'role of the private sector in development' along with other senior executives from private sector assembled from around the globe along with senior UN officials and heads of states.

His speech at the Rio+20 in Brazil on the day, if one were to compare his notes of then with that of now, would easily figure out that many of his thoughts on fairness, equality, inclusion and human rights in sphere of business operations and supply chain found their rightful place in SDGs framework, when the 17 fold goals were firmed up by the UN and announced in December 2014 and later ratified in the early months of 2015 by 193 nations including India under over all auspices of the UN. 

I vividly remember him speak then and talk passionately about how business systems and its interface with sustainability would bring about transformation in industries across the board to only further help the community in its efforts to contribute to the national economy, well being and society at large.

On the professional side, ITC Executive Chairman and CEO YC Deveshwar called Yogi, affectionately by many, stepped down from the executive role in 2017 however continued to remain as a chairman in non-executive capacity with the company. He also paved a pathway for ITC’s transformation into one of the most diversified and valued companies, working silently and often times behind the scenes with methods nothing short of sheer perfection.

His business ingenuity can well be gauged by the turnaround of ITC's business that he brought about in a span of about a decade. At one point, the company was confronted with formidable challenges when he took over the reins of the ITC with revenue pegged at less than Rs 5,200 crore and Profit Before Tax (PBT) stood at Rs 452 crore. 

In contrast though, in 2017-18, it was a complete turnaround with the company posting revenues of Rs 44,330 crore and net profit of Rs 11,223 crore. There seemed to be some magic in his approach towards creativity and transformation. Such was the magic, Yogi carried in his action and approach to things in life and business, alike. 

As a silent admirer of his personal virtues more than anything else, over the years, I continued to follow him along his views on myriad issues and how he went about transforming business landscape within ITC, his own company while inspiring and motivating  his peers to join in a collective call to action on many complex issues that Indian businesses once found hard to even speak about, let alone evidencing impact of corporate action on society, climate and economy, in general, and equally in parallel.  

In 2011, Deveshwar received the Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian award and his journey with ITC was nothing short of a marathon, where he was appointed the Director on the board of ITC on April 11, 1984, and went on to become its Chief Executive and Chairman on January 1, 1996. 

He was an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and the Harvard Business School. Besides, he also served as a director on the board of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), India's central bank and also as a member of the National Foundation for Corporate Governance.

A man with a vision for tomorrow, a humanist ahead of his times and a business Czar who firmly believed in business sustainability, individual integrity and in the fairness of opportunities for all will sure be missed.

Y C DEVESHWAR, EX-CHAIR & CEO, ITC GROUP – A PROFILE

 Appointed as a Director on the Board of the Company on April 11, 1984 and became the Chief Executive and Chairman of the Board on January 1, 1996. On splitting the role of the Executive Chairman between Chairman and Chief Executive Officer with effect from February 5, 2017, Deveshwar, at the request of the Nomination & Compensation Committee and the Board, recognising the need for orderly transition in a company of ITC's size and complexity, agreed to continue as Chairman in non-executive capacity and also play the role of Mentor to the executive management.

Deveshwar joined ITC in 1968 and was an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and Harvard Business School. Between 1991 and 1994, he led Air India as Chairman and Managing Director.

Articulating a Vision to put “Country before Corporation” and serve larger national priorities, he had led ITC's strategic thrust to create multiple drivers of growth that would make a significant and growing contribution to the Indian economy. He also shaped and implemented a Strategy of Organisation to effectively manage multiple businesses whilst retaining focus on each one of them, in the process deriving unique sources of competitive advantage from ITC's diversity.

Spearheading a journey of growth that has led the Harvard Business Review to rank him as the 7th Best Performing CEO in the world, his stewardship has guided ITC to become India's foremost FMCG marketer, the country's largest and greenest Paperboards and Packaging Business, a globally acknowledged pioneer in farmer empowerment through its wide-reaching Agri Business, the second largest Hotel Chain in India and a trailblazer in 'green hoteliering'. The Company's wholly owned subsidiary, ITC InfoTech India Limited, is also a player of promise in the Information Technology sector.

Deveshwar had served as a Director on the Central Board of the Reserve Bank of India and as a Member of the National Foundation for Corporate Governance. He was a Member of the Board of Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and a Member of the National Food Processing Development Council, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Government of India. Deveshwar was a Member of the Governing Body of the National Council of Applied Economic Research and also the former Chairman of the Society and Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. He had also served as Member of the Governing Council of the Central Manufacturing Technology Institute, Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, Government of India and an Independent Director on the Board of Air India Limited. He served on the National Executive Committees of some of India's premier trade and industry bodies, and had been Member of the UK-India CEOs Forum and US-India CEOs Forum instituted by the respective Governments. Deveshwar had also been a past President of CII.

In 2011, Deveshwar was conferred the Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian awards in the country, by the Government of India. Amongst several other awards and recognitions during his distinguished career, the Government of West Bengal also conferred the 'Banga Bibhushan', the State's highest civilian honour, on Deveshwar in May 2017. He was conferred the CII President's Award for Lifetime Achievement in April 2018.

(Author Pooran Chandra Pandey is Founding CEO of the DOC Research Institute, Berlin, Germany; Has worked for TOI and Ispat Industries in senior leadership positions among other large industry associations and non-profits; Launched and led national campaigns such as Teach India and Lead India during his stint at the TOI earning appreciation from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Also on boards of World Food Program Trust India, ACC Limited, Ambuja Cement and Dainik Bhaskar Etc; Has Authored 12 books.)

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