Ahmedabad: Until a month ago, Arvind Narottam Lalbhai was a regular at the office of Arvind Mills Ltd, of which he was chairman. Then he took ill. But even from his bed, the 89-year-old bachelor kept a close eye on the office. Not in a micro-management sort of way, but in his characteristic paternalistic style. He had long ago handed over the day-to-day and strategic responsibilities to his nephew Sanjay Lalbhai.
“He was the most loved nephew of his uncle Kastur (bhai) Lalbhai, who founded the mill and named it after him—Arvind. A very handsome man in his heyday, he loved his smoke and a sun downer,” says Dwijendra Tripathi, a former professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), a business historian and close family friend of the Lalbhais.
Arvind Narottam Lalbhai
Kasturbhai Lalbhai was a nationalist businessman in the same mould as G.D. Birla and Jamnalal Bajaj.
Arvindbhai (as he was popularly known) was a lover of nature and people. “Arvindbhai has one of the best rose gardens I have seen, with a large collection. During the full bloom season, he would invite all the people (he knew) and throw a big breakfast party to show his roses,” recalls Pankaj Patel, chairman and managing director of pharmaceuticals major Zydus Cadila.
Arvindbhai was on the board of directors of several textile mills and other companies, including State Bank of India. He also served on the board of several industry bodies and charitable organizations, and on the board of IIM-A. He was also interested in hiking, mountaineering, and shooting.
“He was the last man standing” from an earlier era of towering business personalities, says Patel. “He was known as a straightforward, no-nonsense business leader, straight and clear, with broad vision.”
Patel and Arvindbhai were both involved with Gujarat Sankat Nivaran Society (Gujarat Disaster Mitigation Society). Arvindbhai would walk to many of these meetings.
Arvindbhai has an adopted son, Samveg. Tripathi says it’s early to say whether there will be a power struggle between the three Lalbhai brothers and him. Arvindbhai’s loss is unlikely to affect the business itself, he adds: “As far as business is concerned, it is unlikely that he would be missed more than being a father figure.”
Sanjay Lalbhai has been managing the Arvind group for some time and people familiar with the matter say that chances of a fallout between the brothers and their cousin were remote. “The Lalbhais believe in a joint family concept and it is highly unlikely that there could be some kind of a bloodbath in (the) open,” the people say. Samveg Lalbhai is the managing director of Atul Ltd.