Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao, the 61-year-old chairman of the Bangalore-headquartered GMR group, with interests in airports, energy, highways and urban infrastructure, pledged to create an endowment worth $340 million (R1,540 crore) last week, in favour of the GMR Varalakshmi Foundation, for charitable activities.
In an exclusive interview with the Hindustan Times, the media-shy Rao spoke about a range of issues including his views about philanthropy. Excerpts:
The grant announcement came at a time when Warren Buffet was in town. Any special reason?
It was a sheer coincidence. We have a family constitution, which was initiated in 1999 and drafted and signed by all family members in 2007. At that time itself we had mentioned that my own part (in the company) would go to the foundation.
It took us some more changes and better clarity to legalise the constitution and the date of signing the revised documents was fixed almost two months back.
Since we are a listed company and the money involved is significant, it was our duty to notify the stock exchange and the public. It so happened that Warren Buffett was here the same day.
The announcement said it was equivalent to the entire portion of your share of the entire business. Please elaborate.
The family holding is divided into four trusts of 25% each. Out of my 25%, my wife has 12.5%. The balance 12.5% has been earmarked for the foundation. This amounts to the entire portion of my personal wealth.
Top industrialists including you had a close door meeting with Buffett. What did you tell him and what did he tell you?
Buffett has done an admirable job. I listened to what he and others said.
Philanthropy is in our history and culture. Earlier donations used to be routed through temples. We have four areas of focus — education, health care, empowerment and community development.
First generation entrepreneurs say it is not possible for them to pledge their wealth because they have to save enough for the subsequent generation...
I do not agree. Take our example. I pledged my entire part to the foundation. Whatever we have is because of society and it is our fundamental duty to give back to society.
Another charge is that charities are owned by promoters (of companies) themselves and the money remains with the family, so they save taxes.
Again, not wholly true. Personal philanthropy for me is not for tax saving at all.
When you give what is it that you are looking at?
Everything cannot be done as a business. I am doing it without expectation of any earning. I expect my money to impact society in a positive manner. GMR Varalakshmi Foundation is a decade old, a Section 25 company. We have recruited professional people. All my money for philanthropy is routed through it.
Will you give to some other foundation not related to you?
Every year I give money to several good institutions in a systematic manner after checking their credentials.
When was the foundation formed?
I started my career in 1973, and established a school then. In 1992-93, when we became established, I formed a trust. In 2004, as funds flow for philanthropy increased, I formed GMR Varalakshmi Foundation.