On Sunday 17 January 2021, we lost another icon (after FC Kohli
) in the management consulting world in India – the passing away of Sharu Rangnekar, a titan for 40 years in the field.
A great thinker; author of books and producer of management videos; speaker at seminars and a guardian of ethics in the profession, who never hesitated to call a spade a spade! In our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguity (VUCA) world now, one rarely comes across such people; people with qualities of head and heart, whose integrity can seldom or never be questioned!
I had first known him as the managing director of Searle India, who were my clients in the late-1970s. I had myself come from the pharma industry after 14 years and had started a consulting company. It was a pleasure working for this company where this unusual man set up a new culture of informality, to the extent that his immediate reports (people reporting him) were expected to have private meetings with him at regular intervals, to give him feedback on himself and talk to him about his strengths and weaknesses.
It was feedback for the boss, about the boss. At a time when appraisals were done only by bosses for subordinates, this was unthinkable (and rare, even now). I saw and felt that here was a chief executive officer (CEO) who was loved and respected.
I will never forget one morning when I was at a hotel in Bangalore on an assignment. I came to the reception to leave my keys and was surprised to see Sharu sitting there with his briefcase on his lap, going through papers. It was 9am.
“What are you doing here, Sharu? Is your room not ready?” I asked.
“No, I have not booked a room. I have only come for the day to give a two hour talk this afternoon. I leave by the 6pm flight this evening. Our sales manager, Subedar, is here and I am waiting so he can get ready unhurriedly, and I can then use his room to have a wash and later join the meeting. It is a waste to book a room just for two hours of work here.”
Searle could well afford it. But Sharu was setting an example - NO Waste!
The previous evening, I had met the managing director (MD) of a German pharma company, who had come to Bangalore for just three hours and had booked a suite for his use at the same hotel. A contrast in attitudes!
When his term was over in the corporate world, that had started with doing work study with IBCON for various clients (IBCON were pioneers in this field in the 1970s); then a long tenure at Union Carbide in Calcutta; and then in Searle, he decided to start afresh as a management consultant.
He was among the pioneers as an individual consultant in the line of Drucker, Kotler, Porter, and such icons. Again, Sharu began to have influence on people and on companies.
He was a popular seminar speaker; trainer; systems analyst; CEO coach; author; guide to management students and young professionals; and helped to build professional organisations, e.g., National Productivity Council (NPC), Indian Society for Training and Development (ISTD), Institute of Management Consultants of India (IMCI) and others. Sharu touched many lives.
My friend, Harish Mehta, once confided in me that when he returned to India after studies in the US, he was planning to return to the US. He felt there was no scope for him in India. But he happened to meet Sharu who convinced him to stay back and work in and for India. He took his advice and then set out to build and grow Onward Technologies, which is still growing. Harish later became one of the founders of NASSCOM (the premier association of IT companies and startups in India) and for some time, also its president.
In the early 1980s, Sharu visited me at my home and left an application form for membership of the nascent Management Consultants Association of India (MCAI) that later became IMCI. Soon after I joined, Sharu and Eknath Kshirsagar prevailed on me to become the Honorary Secretary of MCAI. I accepted under pressure and then enjoyed the assignment, to later take on as president for five years and even later, to get elected as the chairman of the world body (ICMCI). All started by the spark lit by Sharu!
Sharu seldom said NO to invitations as a seminar speaker or trainer. It did not matter whether the event was in Sangli or Hubli, or any place where the choice was only to travel by train or long distance bus. Such inconvenience did not seem to bother him, as it did many of us. He then spent his travel time reading or going through Urdu ‘shayari’ which he had mastered and could recite at the drop of a hat.
Sharu might have done many systems assignments, but one housewife raved to me about Sharu’s book on ‘Management for the Housewife’, which gave a detailed account of how to manage the kitchen effectively – among other useful processes.
Sharu did not allow his life to get too sophisticated or complicated. Yes, he stayed in a stylish neighbourhood in South Mumbai but that was all. After corporate life, Sharu travelled by black & yellow cabs without complaint. He never used this as an excuse to refuse invitations even to the distant suburbs. His was a standard outfit of safari suit and sandal shoes. His favourite ‘going out lunch’ menu was baked chicken and a Bloody Mary, followed by a large dessert (where variety was allowed).
In fact, at his favourite club, the NSCI, the waiters would ask the guest for his choices but never ask Sharu. They already knew his order.
As I write this piece on the Wednesday after his passing away, I see a message from IMCI on my mobile that they have received a donation cheque from Sharu, sent just before he died. He had donated his body for medical research and his fiscal assets to charities.
This was an example among the finest of a passing generation: the highest integrity; acquiring wide and deep knowledge and sharing it; a clearly defined role of money and using it sensibly; living simply; and truly as Rudyard Kipling said, “walking with kings, without losing the common touch.”
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)