Keshub Mahindra, an Indian industrialist, and philanthropist passed away on April 12, 2023, at the age of 99. He was the chairman emeritus of the Mahindra Group, a conglomerate that spans several sectors such as automobiles, information technology, hospitality, and more.
Mahindra was known for his leadership and vision that transformed Mahindra and Mahindra, the flagship company of the group, from an assembler of Willys Jeeps to a global player in the automotive industry.
Mahindra’s death has been widely mourned in India and beyond. Tributes have poured in from business leaders, politicians, and ordinary citizens, all of whom recognized the significant contributions he made to Indian business and society. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described him as a “visionary entrepreneur and a patriot who played a key role in India’s industrialization.
A Look into His Life
Keshub Mahindra was born on October 9, 1923, in Lahore, which is now in Pakistan. He completed his graduation from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, US, before joining the family business in 1947.
He became the chairman of Mahindra and Mahindra in 1963, succeeding his father and uncle, who founded the company. He served as the chairman for nearly five decades before retiring in August 2012 and handing over the position to his nephew, Anand Mahindra.
Chairman of Mahindra and Mahindra
During his tenure as the chairman, Keshub Mahindra expanded the group’s business to several sectors and diversified its portfolio. Under his leadership, the company also acquired several international companies, such as SsangYong Motor Company in South Korea and Peugeot Motorcycles in France.
Apart from his business acumen, Mahindra was also known for his philanthropic activities. He supported several causes such as education, healthcare, and rural development. He also served as a member of the board of trustees of the K.C. Mahindra Education Trust, which provides scholarships to Indian students for higher education in various fields.
Keshub Mahindra was also associated with one of the worst industrial disasters in India, the Bhopal gas tragedy. The tragedy occurred in 1984 when a gas leak from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), a subsidiary of the US-based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), killed thousands of people and affected several others.
Mahindra was the chairman of UCIL at the time of the tragedy, and he was one of the several accused in the criminal case. He was convicted in 2010 by a trial court but was later acquitted by the Supreme Court of India in 2017.
Leadership at the Mahindra Group
Keshub Mahindra became the Chairman of the Mahindra Group in 1963, succeeding his father, J.C. Mahindra. During his tenure, the Mahindra Group expanded into a wide range of sectors, including automotive, aerospace, agribusiness, and hospitality.
Mahindra was known for his commitment to innovation, ethical business practices, and social responsibility. Under his leadership, the Mahindra Group became one of India’s most respected and diversified business conglomerates.
Under his leadership, the Mahindra Group expanded rapidly, diversifying into several new industries, including automobiles, finance, and hospitality. The company’s revenue grew from a few million dollars to over $20 billion during Mahindra’s tenure as chairman.
Mahindra was known for his strong leadership skills and business acumen. He was deeply committed to the company’s core values of integrity, customer focus, and innovation. He was also a strong advocate of corporate social responsibility, and under his leadership, the Mahindra Group initiated several philanthropic programs, including the Mahindra Foundation and the Mahindra Hariyali program, which aims to promote environmental sustainability in rural India.
Keshub Mahindra was also known for his philanthropic activities. He established the Mahindra United World College of India, a residential school for students from diverse backgrounds, in 1997.
Mahindra was also a member of the board of trustees of the K.C. Mahindra Education Trust, which provides scholarships to Indian students seeking higher education in various fields.
Contributions to the Indian Business Landscape
Under Keshub Mahindra’s leadership, the Mahindra Group became a leading player in India’s business landscape. He was instrumental in establishing several joint ventures with global companies, including Ford, Renault, and Mitsubishi. He also played a key role in the group’s foray into the hospitality sector, launching the successful Club Mahindra brand.
Keshub Mahindra was a proponent of ethical business practices, and he firmly believed in giving back to society. He set up the Mahindra Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on education, healthcare, and rural development in India.
Awards and Recognition
Keshub Mahindra’s contributions to India’s business landscape did not go unnoticed, and he received several awards and recognitions throughout his career. In 2002, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian honors, for his contributions to Indian industry. He was also a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry and served on the board of several leading Indian companies.
Controversies and Challenges
Despite his accomplishments and philanthropy, Keshub Mahindra’s career was not without controversies and challenges. One of the most significant events in his life was the Bhopal gas tragedy, which occurred on December 3, 1984, when a toxic gas leak from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant in Bhopal, India, killed thousands of people and affected hundreds of thousands more.
Mahindra was the chairman of UCIL at the time of the disaster, and he was later convicted along with seven others for negligence and causing death by negligence in 2010. The verdict was later upheld by the Indian Supreme Court in 2011.
Legacy and Impact
Despite the controversies and challenges, Keshub Mahindra’s impact on India’s industry and society is undeniable. Under his leadership, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd became one of India’s leading conglomerates, employing over 240,000 people and generating over $20 billion in revenue. His philanthropic activities and social responsibility set an example for other business leaders.