Yogesh Chander Deveshwar or Yogi Deveshwar to his friends will have enduring remembrance as the man who became the face of institutional ownership in corporate India, otherwise dotted by family ownership where leadership is often decided by birth. Deveshwar, who breathed his last at the age of 72 years, was one of India’s longest-serving corporate chiefs with over two decades at the helm as the executive chairman and CEO at ITC, which he joined in 1968 and rose all the way to steer its bold transformation from a tobacco company to retail and FMCG major in the years following India’s economic liberalization.

The metamorphosis of ITC under Y.C. Deveshwar

In the process he fought a defining battle for control with British American Tobacco Plc (BAT), one of ITC’s largest shareholders, which wanted to keep things the old way. And at the height of the battle Deveshwar along with a few of his senior colleagues in ITC found themselves in custody fending off charges of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA). But he prevailed in the end.

Y.C. Deveshwar’s management style, in the words of his colleagues

Deveshwar later described the takeover battle saying, “Those days were not as bad as they seemed—they were worse". But in his mind he was convinced that he had fought a hard fight to retain ITC’s Indian identity as he successfully rallied other investors, especially government-owned institutions, to back him in blocking BAT’s bid to raise its stake in ITC to 51% and take control of its cash flows.

Y.C. Deveshwar by the numbers

In his later years, Deveshwar had often talked about his legacy, which he hoped would be the model of institutional leadership and corporate governance at ITC, that he felt could be extended to India’s public sector undertakings (PSU) often plagued by bureaucratic inefficiency and apathy. To him ITC was a national asset and a perfect example of government and private partnership that could withstand the transient and volatile nature of Indian politics. Successive governments of opposing political ideologies have stood by him, extending him the same freedom and leaving ITC to its own devices. To many this would be perhaps be Deveshwar's legacy.

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