On Big Bull’s first death anniversary, Mrs Jhunjhunwala takes stock | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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On Big Bull’s first death anniversary, Mrs Jhunjhunwala takes stock

BySudipta Basu
Aug 14, 2023 06:07 PM IST

After Rakesh Jhunjhunwala passed away in August 2022, Forbes declared his spouse as one of the richest women in the country with a net worth of $5.7 bn.

Rare Villa, the 14-storeyed bungalow on Ridge Road, Malabar Hill, is yet to be fully explored by its occupants, majorly the lady of the house. The earlier existing building on this space, Ridgeway Apartments, was bought by late billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala in two phases between 2013 and 2017 for a cumulative price of 370 crore approximately. The building was torn down to make way for Jhunjhunwala’s lavish “dream home”, putting him in the league of similar homeowners such as industrialists Mukesh Ambani, Kumarmangalam Birla and Sajjan Jindal in south Mumbai.

Rekha is now the protector of both her children’s and husband’s legacy. To secure that, she is testing waters by stepping into the office when “I am asked to”. Legacy is “ensuring that the kids learn about his thought and value system”. (Satish Bate/ HT Photo)
Rekha is now the protector of both her children’s and husband’s legacy. To secure that, she is testing waters by stepping into the office when “I am asked to”. Legacy is “ensuring that the kids learn about his thought and value system”. (Satish Bate/ HT Photo)

The black and fuchsia that Jhunjhunwala’s wife Rekha chose to wear on a grey afternoon were among the few flashes of colour that stood out in the expansive living room in the mansion’s 12th floor – the others were some bright cushions on the sofa and a Paresh Maity on a wall at a distance. The waxen hue inside perfectly matched a pearly chiffon sea outside.

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In stark contrast, adjacent to this space is her late husband’s study-cum-den, an all wood and leather business, created by architect Ajit Shilpi who brought to light Jhunjhunwala’s fascination of the Churchill Era of World War II. “He was specific about that cherry leather chair behind the desk,” Rekha points out.

The study is unused, but Rekha, who turns 60 next month, will step into this space someday.

It has been a year since Rakesh Jhunjhunwala passed away at 62. And it is only recently that the family moved into their new home. She was reluctant to leave the “house full of memories” that was the penthouse at Il Palazzo, a stone’s throw away from here, where they lived for the longest time. But her children managed to outsmart her – they started moving their things in batches into the new home, until there was no option for their mother but to follow them.

For Rekha there is ‘life before Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’ and ‘life after Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’. And moving on is the act of adapting and learning.

She made a public appearance earlier this month at the Rakesh Jhunjhunwala Memorial Lecture, hosted by Ashoka University at the Taj in Mumbai. She welcomed the keynote speaker Uday Kotak, MD and CEO of Kotak Mahindra Bank, saying “it was a proud moment to see my husband’s dream – to build a world-class university – fulfilled and realised through the naming of the top economics school of India as the Rakesh Jhunjhunwala School of Economics and Finance. There is no great way to celebrate his legacy”. The school is the “biggest in the university in terms of student numbers and was named after RJ after his death,” says Prof Somak Raychaudhury, vice chancellor of Ashoka.

Going forward, the marquee event will be part of the annual calendar, focussed in thought leadership in finance and economics. “He would often say ‘don’t be in any limits; and any mistake you commit is also an investment’. It was a family trait ingrained in him,” she says.

It is famously known that the investor, as a full-time professional, started out small with 5000 in 1985. After he passed away in August, 2022, ‘Forbes’ magazine declared his spouse as one of the richest women of the country with a net worth of $5.7 billion. Her most valuable listed holding in the portfolio is watch and jewellery maker Titan, part of the Tata Group. Recently, Titan’s shares grew 65 % and Rekha was among the biggest gainers from the stock market, earning 2,400 crore. A month ago, Rare Enterprises, the private equity investment and asset management firm set up by Jhunjhunwala in 2003, sold 4.98% shares in Rallies back to Tata Chemicals for 208 crore.

Rekha is now the protector of both her children’s and husband’s legacy. To secure that, she is testing waters by stepping into the office when “I am asked to”. Legacy is “ensuring that the kids learn about his thought and value system”. And as for the wealth, she says, “End mein, kuch farak nahin padta hai. He had managed everything and secured us. Even this house… he sat with the architects and designers to convey his thought for every floor.”

When a “major development” occurs, she is called to work; otherwise, the office keeps her in the loop and seek s her advice. “I am reading a lot these days but taking it one day at a time,” she says. “Managing home finances was good grounding.” She adds, in the future she would like to be involved in the company’s many philanthropic activities.

Both sides of her family are used to living in quasi joint family structures, which she says has traditionally stood the test of time when called upon to create an inner circle. “A mix of people in the family, friends and professionals advise me about how to manage the business.”

The couple were married in 1987; he was a young trader and she the daughter of a well to do Andheri-based transport businessman. A big high, she remembers from her youth, was members of the extended family climbing into a truck during Diwali to visit the Mahalaxmi temple. Jhunjhunwala’s father, an income tax officer at the time, warned him that it would be hard to find him a match as he had no steady job; he needed to put his chartered account degree to good use. “Traders were looked upon as crooks at the time,” says the partner of Rare Enterprises.

To turn into an eligible bachelor, he set up a unit manufacturing bottle caps in Hyderabad and did business with Parle. He visited the Vile Parle office often, only to project an image of respectability. “But he soon got bored and returned to trading. He made trading respectable.” ‘Rare’ of Rare Enterprises was the name blending of Rakesh and Rekha. “And the portfolio he constructed left us with awe.”

“He taught us and many youngsters who sought his advice to be courageous. He was very good at imparting second hand courage,” she says. She recalls how he managed to convince a (now) well-known businessman to buy his own office space in his early days. The then small-time businessman was unsure as banks had refused him a full loan. Jhunjhunwala loaned him a portion of money that banks could not, at the same interest. “Winning excited him – he did not like losing in a game of cards either. But when he did, he put himself together and moved on.”

His devil-may-care attitude was evident off trading as well -- when he ensured entry to a private members’ club in London, stepped into a hot air balloon in Kenya despite being advised not to do so given his fragile health or getting the family to put down Breach Candy Hospital as a destination on Swiggy, when he was being treated there, to keep a constant stream of his favourite eats coming.

“He loved food. At one time, he left a dinner at Taj and went to Leopold Café because he wanted a piping hot meal.”

Their first-born Nishtha, 19, will start her degree course in media and communication at Regent’s University, London, next month, while 14-year-old twin boys Aryaman and Aryavir are Class 9 students at Hill Spring International School.

How did she navigate her young children through the tough time? “Hamne ek dusre ko sambhala hai.”

Someone who came to the city as a young schoolboy, and went on to make Mumbai his home – “south Mumbai was his life” – her husband would often say how some of the most prosperous cities in the world – London, New York, Dubai, for instance – thrived as port cities, as “they run on the clock and are defined by social mobility”.

Today, Dubai is the freest city and Mumbai will continue to thrive as long as financial markets and Bollywood thrive, he often said, as he financed a few film ventures helmed by R Balki, including his forthcoming release, ‘Ghoomer’, which tells the story of a paraplegic woman who becomes a successful cricketer, guided by her coach.

“Back in the day, sometimes, we watched films sitting in stalls, when premium tickets were sold out,” she says, and remembers how he often sang the Mohammad Rafi song ‘Rekha o Rekha, jab se tumhein dekha’ as a tease. He was also known to write her poems. “Sometimes. He wrote one on our 25th wedding anniversary.”

Soup for the soul often strengthens the mind, and those around her are waiting to watch her make the first strong stride. Will she surprise as her late husband did, like the way he disregarded naysayers about investing in an airline and went ahead to invest in Akasa Air in January last year. Today, the company owns upwards of 40% of the airline’s stocks.

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