Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’s private office embodies the fabled stock-market investor’s dream. A corner room with an AstroTurf terrace garden, it overlooks a glimmering Arabian Sea. It is a peaceful sanctuary for quiet reflection, in contrast to the financial carnage which may be taking place on the five computer screens on his desk. Jhunjhunwala, particularly over the last decade, has carved a reputation for himself as one of India’s wealthiest and most astute stock-market investors and traders.
His investment firm Rare Enterprises has had a 5,550 sq. ft workspace, located on the 15th floor of Nariman Bhavan in Mumbai’s Nariman Point, since 2004. He moved there from a compact space in Vithaldas Chambers, also in Nariman Point, when the firm needed to expand. The present location is, quite literally, vertically removed from his start “on the pavement outside the stock exchange” in 1986, as he describes it.
Jhunjhunwala monitors market movements and investments through several trading screens on his large, custom-made desk. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Jhunjhunwala’s tastefully appointed rectangular room has lounge seating for visitors and an eight-seater meeting table. Colleagues are seated outside in adjoining cabins, in a trading room, and in open-plan workstations.
And that is where the resemblance between most corporate offices and Jhunjhunwala’s workplace ends. Rare Enterprises’ office design and layout speak volumes about its chief occupant. In fact, the office has been personalized to an extent not seen in most workspaces.
Personal touches: A glass bull, presented to Rakesh Jhunjhunwala by a friend, reflecting the popular perception of his investing style. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
First, the desk. Like many senior managers, Jhunjhunwala sits at an imposing desk, which is nearly 3m long, and over 1m wide. However, unlike most chief executives, the hefty desk serves a purpose beyond conveying authority. Five computer monitors placed on it enable Jhunjhunwala to simultaneously monitor his “equity portfolio, smaller investments, trading positions, futures and Bloomberg”. It is his “workplace”, he says, laid out in a space-efficient way.
Most managers conduct meetings across a table, but Jhunjhunwala turns his back to his desk during our conversation; a gesture as informal as his descriptions of himself. “I’m very forthcoming and open,” he states, admitting during the course of the conversation that “I have very bad habits, I smoke at least 20-25 cigarettes a day, drink four-five large pegs of whisky a day”. He is equally candid about his approach to wealth creation, stating that “I need a sense of achievement; I want to earn the greatest wealth of the world with greatest practical integrity and give as much as possible to charity”.
Hand-drawn sketches and words of wisdom from stock-market gurus such as Warren Buffett and George Soros are scattered through the office. Jhunjhunwala’s opinions feature prominently on the walls of his cabin, in the form of “10 commandments on investing and trading”. “Take a loss. The first loss is the best loss”, I read, and “it’s important what you buy, it’s more important at what price you buy”. Even the coasters are inscribed with advice; certainly the most idiosyncratic approach to office décor I’ve come across so far.
His personal workspace is divided into two work settings, with a conference table to meet visitors. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Jhunjhunwala’s views are as distilled as his choice of evening beverage. More than any senior manager I’ve met, he has packaged his professional learning into pithy one-liners, on investing, and life in general. “I think the most important thing I’ve learnt in life is that all adjectives are transient” or “the hunt is more enjoyable than the kill”, he tells me. I am even shown a handbook titled My Investment Approach, with a curated collection of quotes and anecdotes from varied sources.
The quotes reflect his curiosity, his desire to learn from reading and observing others, and his penchant for sharing his thoughts. “I’m a thinking person,” he says. While he acknowledges the value of expert knowledge, he stresses the supremacy of independent decision making. “Everybody’s chemistry of success and failure is different,” he professes. “You cannot make money on borrowed mortgage.” His humour can be self-deprecating. “Even 20 years ago,” he says, “when no one was ready to listen to me, I used to give everyone my advice” (the tongue-in-cheek humour extends to the rarely used office gym, outside which a sign reads, “We pray that this room remains the best utilized part of this office for our true prosperity”).
A Ganesha idol. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Divinity and family gospel
Finally, there’s the visible presence of close relationships. A row of Ganesha statues, all gifts from friends and business associates, are lined up against a wall. Apart from photographs of his wife and children, there is a prominent portrait of his late father, a man he continues to revere. A painting of the stock exchange depicts him chatting with old friend Radhakrishna Damani—“a person I consider my guru,” he says.
He reads out a poem dedicated to his wife Rekha, cites his father’s childhood gospel, and tells me he gets in to work at 1.30pm on most days, after spending the morning at home with his family. Both his brother and brother-in-law have their own cabins in the office. Family clearly matters to Jhunjhunwala, yet he is categorical about remaining “ruthless in business” and “emotionless in leverage”. Do close family bonds provide the foundation for his maverick spirit? I wonder. “Being practical and grounded not only helps in investing, it helps very much in the outlook on life,” he agrees. This approach extends to his cabin; he likes it for “its peace and quiet”, not for its spectacular view or the terrace garden.
Although Jhunjhunwala is often called “India’s Warren Buffett” by the media, Rare Enterprises is not an institution like Berkshire Hathaway. Its founder is also not bothered by the fact that so many try to emulate his actions. If anything, the office captures a slice of Indian entrepreneurial capitalism: self-made, individual-driven, secured by strong family ties, paternalistic, peppered with folk wisdom.
Thinking aloud: Quotes line the walls, and are even on the coasters, of Rare Enterprises. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
By remaining the centrepiece of operations, he has also freed himself from worrying about succession. “I don’t want my children to do what I choose for them. The modern world is all about human right and human choice. Maybe Rare will die with me, what’s wrong?” Another ode to independence.
Painting of the Mumbai Stock Exchange, presented by a friend, showing Jhunjhunwala and his long-time friend, Radhakrishna Damani. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Aparna Piramal Raje, a director of BP Ergo, meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspaces and working styles.
Write to Aparna at email@example.com