Politicians, industry mourn ITC's longest-serving chairman Y C Deveshwar

PEOPLE’S CEO: A young Y C Deveshwar being greeted by ITC Hotels employees. Though the hotels business was faltering when he took over as executive chairman, Deveshwar decided to retain it and made it into one of India’s largest hotel chains (Source:
Celebrated industry titan and ITC Chairman Y C Deveshwar, who transformed ITC from a cigarette major into a diversified Indian conglomerate, died on Saturday morning after a brief illness in Delhi. He had stepped down from an executive role in the company after leading it as chairman between 1996 and 2017.

Though his original term as non-executive chairman was scheduled to end in 2020, the ITC shareholders recently extended it to 2022 so that he could continue to mentor the senior management “given the increasing size and complexity of the organisation”.

Deveshwar, 72, is survived by his wife, Bharti, and two children — Gaurav and Garima. He had also served as chairman and managing director of Air India between 1991 and 1994. Deveshwar was instrumental in transforming ITC from being mostly a cigarette maker into a conglomerate with interests in sectors such as fast-moving consumer goods, hotels, paper and packaging, and agri-business. 

Now over 50 per cent of the revenues come from non-to bacco business. Under his stewardship, the company created several world-class Indian brands in the FMCG space. During his time as executive chairman, the company's net revenues grew 17-fold to Rs 42,777 crore and profit after tax nearly 40 times to Rs 10,289 crore. Total shareholder returns grew at a compounded annual rate of around 20 per cent.

Deveshwar was conferred Padma Bhushan by the government in 2011. He was also ranked the seventh best-performing CEO in the world by Harvard Business Review.     

He also 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. His death not only came as a blow to industry stalwarts but saddened the nation’s political leaders as well. Expressing his grief, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Deveshwar made a strong contribution to Indian industry and his efforts helped ITC become a professionally-run Indian company with a global footprint. 

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also expressed grief, while West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she had many memories of him as a distinguished captain of industry. British American Tobacco Chairman Richard Burrows said it is because of Deveshwar's leadership that today ITC is one of India's leading businesses. "The thoughts of all at BAT are with his family," he said. BAT is one of ITC's largest shareholders.

ITC Managing Director Sanjiv Puri said, “Inspired by a patriotic fervour, manifest in his clarion call of ‘Let's Put India First’, he led ITC's strategic thrust to create an exemplary Indian enterprise dedicated to serving national priorities”. Puri said Deveshwar passionately championed the cause for sustainable and inclusive growth and the transformative role businesses could play in creating larger societal value. "It was this vision which drove ITC to pursue business models that today supports over 6 million livelihoods, many amongst the weakest in society," he added.

Deveshwar, ITC’s longest-serving chairman, joined the firm in 1968 after passing out from IIT-Delhi. He was appointed director on ITC's board in 1984. He took a brief break from ITC during 1991-94, when he joined Air India but returned as ITC's vice-chairman. Two years later, he rose to become its chief executive and chairman on January 1, 1996.

Expressing his condolences, Vikram Kirloskar, president of the CII, said, “A titan and guiding luminary of Indian industry, Deveshwar’s commitment and passion for sustainable business was an inspiration for all. Deveshwar’s devotion to inclusive growth in India was laudable and he led by example.”

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