Yogesh Chander Deveshwar, 72, Chairman of ITC, and a powerful voice of India Inc for many decades, died Saturday. Deveshwar, who is survived by his wife, daughter and son, was ailing for some time.
Between 1996, when Deveshwar became ITC Chairman, and March 2017, when he retired from the executive role, ITC’s annual sales expanded over 11-fold to Rs 55,000 crore, shareholder returns grew at a compounded annual rate of over 23 per cent, and market capitalisation zoomed to fifth position among listed firms at Rs 365,000 crore.
He was instrumental in transforming the Kolkata-based company from being mostly a cigarette maker to 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 its revenues come from non-tobacco related businesses.
Deveshwar, who was born in Lahore, Pakistan, six months before India got independence in 1947, was among the first chieftains of a major company to tap India’s vast countryside, by way of his unique e-Choupal concept, which hooked up famers via the Internet for procurement of their produce — and by pushing the FMCG products in rural areas.
He dealt with tough situations, including the turbulence at the company during a fight with its largest shareholder, British American Tobacco (BAT) which wanted to increase its stake in ITC from around 29.7 per cent to 51 per cent. He managed to keep ITC under a professional management without a promoter with the help of Indian financial institutions as government regulations prevented BAT from increasing the stake in ITC.
Between 1991 and 1994, he took a break from ITC to run Air India as Chairman and Managing Director, when the then government brought in private sector leadership to revive the fortunes of the national carrier. He was appointed as a Director on the board of ITC on April 11, 1984 and became the Chief Executive and Chairman on January 1, 1996.
On splitting the role of the Executive Chairman between Chairman and CEO with effect from February 5, 2017, Deveshwar agreed to continue as Chairman in non-executive capacity and also play the role of mentor to the executive management, recognising the need for orderly transition in a company of ITC’s size and complexity.
According to corporate observers, Deveshwar led ITC’s strategic thrust to create multiple drivers of growth that would make a significant and growing contribution to the Indian economy. 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 Ltd is also a player of promise in the information technology sector.
The ITC e-Choupal initiative is today the world’s largest rural digital infrastructure and is a case study at the Harvard Business School besides receiving several global awards.
Deveshwar, who joined ITC in 1968, was an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and Harvard Business School. 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.
Sanjiv Puri, Managing Director, ITC, said, “inspired by a patriotic fervour, manifest in his clarion call of ‘Lets Put India First’, he led ITC’s strategic thrust to create an exemplary Indian enterprise dedicated to serving national priorities. Deveshwar passionately championed the cause for sustainable and inclusive growth and the transformative role businesses could play in creating larger societal value. This vision drove ITC to pursue business models that today supports over 6 million livelihoods, many amongst the weakest in society.”
His leadership transformed ITC into a valuable and admired multi-business conglomerate with a robust portfolio of front-ranking businesses in FMCG, hotels, paperboards & paper, packaging and agri-business, Puri said.