Mumbai: The origins of the Bajaj group date back to 1926—the year it was founded by Jamnalal Bajaj, a freedom fighter, philanthropist and close confidante of Mahatma Gandhi. It is said that Gandhiji treated Jamnalal as his fifth son.

In 1931, at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi, Bajaj founded a sugar factory in Lakhimpur Kheri of Uttar Pradesh, paving the way for the formation of what was originally the flagship company of the group, the Hindusthan Sugar Mills Ltd, renamed Bajaj Hindusthan Ltd in 1988. Kamalnayan Bajaj, the eldest son of Jamnalal Bajaj, had an early start in the family business. After completing his education from the University of Cambridge, England, he returned to India, joined the family business and diversified into scooters, three-wheelers, cement, steel, and electrical appliances. Bachraj Trading Corp. Pvt. Ltd (the earlier avatar of Bajaj Auto Ltd) was founded in November 1945. In 1948, Bajaj Auto started its sales in India by importing two- and three-wheelers. In 1959, it obtained a licence from the government to manufacture two-wheelers and three-wheelers. Kamalnayan Bajaj’s son Rahul Bajaj worked as a junior purchase officer in Mukand, the steel company of the group, and later left for Harvard Business School for an MBA. He took over control of the Bajaj group in 1965.

Twists & Turns

Rahul Bajaj took over at a time when India was a socialist state shackled by the stringent rules and regulations of the licence Raj and nothing could be done without the government’s permission.

Rahul Bajaj became chief executive officer (CEO) of Bajaj Auto (BAL) in 1968; he was 30. Given the constraints of the licence Raj, the company was restricted to producing only 20,000 units a year. There was a huge gap between demand and supply; customers would book a scooter and wait for years, sometimes 10, to get it. Still, Rahul Bajaj did what he could, increasing production (ignoring government restrictions), reducing costs, and building a truly Indian brand.

He wasn’t interested in merely continuing the Hamara Bajaj legacy he inherited from his father; he wanted to reinvent the company. He pushed the company into selective international markets, and oversaw the launch of products that redefined entire categories in the market. Rajiv Bajaj took over as managing director in 2005.

File picture of Rahul Bajaj at a Bajaj Auto factory. Photo: Bajaj Archives

Through the 2000s, the original unified Bajaj group saw several splits. Rahul Bajaj’s brother Shishir Bajaj and nephew Kushagra went their separate ways, with Bajaj Hindusthan and Bajaj Consumer Care, after a messy fight. Rajiv Bajaj and his brother Sanjiv quietly carved out their own domains from Bajaj Holdings and Investments Ltd: the former got the auto business, and the latter finance. Mukand and the electrical business were anyway managed independently by others in the extended Bajaj family.

There were other changes as well. Rajiv Bajaj invested in R&D, product development, and a new factory and created, even before he took charge of the company, the Pulsar brand of popular bikes. In 2008, he oversaw the company’s exit from scooters.

Conglomerate @2014

Taken together (a process that makes sense only from the historical perspective), the Bajaj group has revenues of more than 50,000 crore. The group comprises 34 companies including Bajaj Auto Ltd, Bajaj Holdings and Investments Ltd, Mukand Ltd, Bajaj Electricals Ltd, Bajaj International Pvt. Ltd, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Pvt. Ltd and Bajaj Finserv Ltd.

Many of the companies are managed independently by family members.

Madhura Karnik contributed to this story.

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