A couple of days after
Jagdish Khattar died on April 26, 2021, India’s leading car manufacturer Maruti
Suzuki released half page obituaries in the country’s leading newspapers. The
company had reasons to fondly remember him. After all he was the former
Managing Director of the company when it went by the name of Maruti Udyog Ltd and
had served the company well.
“An inspiring leader, a
successful CEO, a celebrated bureaucrat, a passionate innovator, a reformer and
a true people’s man; Mr Jagdish Khattar was admired across the industry,” the
obituary said. It was signed ‘Maruti Suzuki Family’.
Yes, Mr Khattar was an
extremely successful Managing Director at Maruti Suzuki. Besides, many who
worked under him when he was a bureaucrat, remember him for his hard work and
progressive ideas. He worked in a senior position in the Ministry of Steel
& Mines and his juniors, who have retired by now, recall his great
contribution as a government official.
But I have a different story
to tell about him. As Managing Director of a big company, he was readily
available to journalists working with leading newspapers and magazines. In
fact, you cannot hold that against him because top honchos of many auto
companies seldom agree to be interviewed by those journalists working in middle
rung publications and channels. Many of these leaders are sometimes unmindful
of the existence of these hard working journalists from smaller publications.
My first direct meeting with
Mr Khattar took place when I was working as a senior journalist with an English
auto magazine. My Editor from Mumbai called me up and asked me to go along with
my cameraperson to take pictures of Mr Khattar at his plant in Gurgaon. He was
running a cover story and he wanted a picture of him posing with the cars at
the plant. The picture was to appear on the cover page of the magazine.
Since I was just a senior
journalist with the magazine and not the Editor, he was not at all warm when it
came to greeting me and my cameraperson. He made us wait for some time and
later started walking towards the yard where the cars were stocked. He did not
bother to walk with us. No pleasantries were exchanged, and the atmosphere was
as serious as it could be. I found it quite odd that he behaved so pompously.
We quickly took the pictures, thanked him and left the place. On our journey
back to the office my cameraperson and I were too shocked to react to this rude
Before I left the magazine
to start my own publication Motown India, I was again asked by my Editor to
accompany my cameraperson to take some pictures of Mr Khattar in his office.
This time it was a different cameraperson who was accompanying me. I warned him
of the top man’s disdain for “ordinary” journalists. This time it was the turn
of the young cameraperson to go through an unpleasant experience. When he asked
Mr Khattar to pose for him, he rudely interrupted him and said in Hindi, “Just
finish your work fast, I have not much time”. The poor lad quickly took some
pictures and hurriedly walked out of Mr Khattar’s cabin. On our way back, the
young photographer kept asking me, “What’s his problem. Why is he so rude?”
“The problem is simple, we don’t work for the Times of India or the Economic
Times nor the Hindustan Times, neither do we work with CNBC TV18 or some top TV
channel,” I retorted with a smile.
After that, thankfully, I
was never asked to meet Mr Khattar. I did not want to meet him, it was so
By the time in 2010 when I
started Motown India magazine and
became its Founding Editor, Mr Khattar had quit Maruti and had started his own
business Carnation Auto in 2008. Carnation Auto started off as a multi brand car
dealership chain. That was the idea. In the years that followed, the business
changed its offerings several times trying to cope with the rapidly evolving
business dynamics in the automotive space.
I did a cover story on
Carnation Auto for my magazine in January 2011 for which I interviewed Mr
Khattar at his office in Greater Noida on the outskirts of Delhi.
CLICK HERE TO READ ARTICLE: KHATTAR’S
I took along with me the
same young photographer who had met him at his office years back. We were
shocked at the way he greeted us. He got up from his chair and shook our hands
and told us, “Big guys like you finally have time for me!” We could not believe
our ears. Were we hearing it right? My photographer and I looked at each other
in disbelief. Where did all the pomposity go and where did all the humility
come from? It was as if Mr Khattar had turned a new leaf in life.
After the interview, we
asked him to come downstairs in the open where we spent a decent amount of time
taking his pictures. He was so patient with the photographer. On our way back,
my photographer asked me, “Sir, what’s happened to him? He is a different man
now.” I smiled and replied, “Well, that is life, it teaches us to be humble and
to respect everyone”.
At the 2012 Auto Expo held in Pragati Maidan
in New Delhi, Motown India set up its maiden stall as a media partner to the
show. The crowds were huge and it was here I spotted Mr Khattar walking towards
the exit gate of the venue. He was carrying a large bag full of printed
material and the wind was blowing hard, dishevelling his hair as he
walked. He was alone and he looked a
tired man. It was no longer the confident face that I saw when he was at
This time there were no
journalists surrounding him, no one was pestering him for an exclusive story
and he walked his lonely walk all by himself. I ran towards him and wished him
and he greeted me with a smile. I wished him well and we parted ways. The
Khattar I knew at Maruti had mellowed down over time.
Khattar’s business did not
do well at all. I felt it was ahead of its time in its services. Besides, I
also learnt that some of his erstwhile colleagues at Maruti Suzuki did not
support him fully. I wonder whether these were rumours or were genuine. The
business went through a turbulent phase and at the end of 2018 Mahindra First
Choice Services entered into an asset acquisition agreement with the official
liquidator of Carnation Auto. As a result, MFC Services acquired assets of
Carnation’s car-servicing business including the trademark ‘Carnation’, its
website, software licenses and Carnation’s workshop network.
A year earlier in 2017, Punjab National Bank had filed
an insolvency petition in the National Company Law Tribunal against Carnation
Auto India under Section 7 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
Carnation had begun with a
lot of hope. The company had raised its first round of funding of Rs 108 crore
from Premji Invest and IFCI Ventures. It also received a loan of Rs 170 crore
from Punjab National Bank for executing the nation-wide rollout of its
multi-brand auto solution hubs. Eventually, everything vanished and his dream
was left in tatters. He had to eventually eat the humble pie.
Khattar had a successful run
as a bureaucrat and as the head of Maruti Suzuki. As an entrepreneur, he failed
miserably. But I don’t call that a failure, because businesses succeed,
businesses fail. At least he was daring and I admire him for that. But what I
learnt from Mr Khattar’s life story was that he discovered humility and that,
by all means, is the essence of good living. That’s how I see life! This
journey from Maruti Suzuki to Carnation was also Khattar’s final re-inCARNATION!
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