Rajendra K Saboo, says, don’t lose heart, losses are cost you pay for gaining experience
Rajendra K Saboo, 85, is synonymous with Chandigarh.
The public-spirited industrialist made the city his home in 1960 after setting up a factory with German collaborators to make hosiery needles. “I had applied for land in Faridabad but the then chief minister of undivided Punjab, Partap Singh Kairon, suggested I open the unit in the new city of Chandigarh. I remember walking into a huge hall with a mosaic table and three Sikh gentlemen seated in a row. There was silence till one of them said, ‘Dasso ji (Yes, please)’ and I guessed he was Kairon,” Saboo says with disarming honesty.
He bought a six-acre freehold industrial plot for Rs 4/square yard and even got 25% rebate for completing the factory in a year.
Before the Chandigarh unit, Saboo had dabbled in two ventures for which he had taken Rs 50,000 each from his father, TC Saboo, the general manager at Kolkata-based Hindustan Motors. “When I lost the money in the ventures, my father said I shouldn’t lose heart because that’s the cost of my experience,” he recalls. A bronze bust of his father, a rare photo of spiritual guru Ramakrishna Paramhans, a calendar with Swami Vivekanand’s quotes, a picture with pioneering businessman GD Birla and a photo of his friend and late lawyer OP Vaish along with family memories watch over Saboo’s office desk. They speak of his values and commitment to honesty and humility.
“I was fortunate to have met Mahatma Gandhi twice in 1946. The biggest lesson from him was to stay true,” he says.
MAKING A MARK
Before branching out, Saboo spent 11 months writing the account books at Hindustan Motors. “The Birlas had their own system of parta through which they assessed the company’s performance. Though I was a science graduate, I got my strength in accounting from there. I was promoted as efficiency officer and my job was to coordinate with technical heads. It was a gruelling 18-hour work schedule but it gave me an insight into team building.” He became an assistant works manager when he wanted to opt out and have an independent identity.
Being an aide of Brij Mohan Birla, his father was in a fix. “We are natives of Pilani in Rajasthan. My father had joined the Birlas as a clerk in the jute mills, risen to the top, shifted to Kolkata and eventually established Hindalco. My father-in-law, Durga Prasad Mandelia, too was Birla’s right hand man. So when I expressed my desire to quit and start a venture, it was a dilemma for them. My mother understood and convinced my father.”
Saboo’s tryst for an independent identity took seed way back in 1942 when he was barely eight. “I was at school when I saw senior students jumping the gate to join a freedom procession in response to Gandhiji’s Quit India movement call. Since I was in Class 3 and couldn’t accompany them, I shared my disappointment with my mother, who not only consoled me but also got me dupattas dyed in the tricolour with a charkha printed that I proudly waved, raising the slogan of Vande Mataram with my friends. Nearly 100 people joined our march through the market, forcing the police to detain us for three hours,” he says.
It was his teacher at St Xavier’s School, Kolkata, Van Buynder, who instilled self-confidence in him. “I was so nervous during the interview for admission to the English medium school that when he asked me my age, I blurted out 12 o’clock instead 12 years old! Perhaps, he saw a challenge in me and became my mentor.”
He credits his wife, Usha, for the social work he undertakes. “She is service-minded. Otherwise, I had joined Rotary Club in 1961 for networking. I wanted to climb the corporate ladder. God opened another door.” Saboo is a former president of Rotary International, a non-profit organisation dedicated to community service. Though he headed industrial associations, including CII, North, and PHDCCI, and is the chairman of the Saboo Business Group that includes Kamla Dials and Devices Limited, a manufacturer of watch dials and components, and ETHOS, a watch retail boutique chain, he effortlessly engages in promoting education and volunteers in medicare projects across the world.
He believes Chandigarh needs to change with the time but hopes its original character lives on and it remains free of political influence. “I’m all for the flyover at Tribune Chowk to ease the traffic congestion. We need to be practical, idealism doesn’t work,” he adds.
Stay true and develop an ethos of trust.
If you take up a responsibility, put your heart into it.
Difficult times bring out the best in you. Only when you put an iron in the furnace do you get steel.
Whatever your plans, God opens another door. Walk in with gratitude.