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"The Golden Indian" published in Outlook India on July 19, 1999
AS I stood in the small study where his body lay wrapped in a white sheet, his face as serene as it was in life, I could not help but recall our last conversation in the same room barely three weeks ago. It was an evening when we spoke of life and death. Pammi (as Dr Parvinder Singh was known to his friends) and I had spent the evening reminiscing of times past.
We had first met at St Stephen's College 37 years ago, and although he was senior to me in college we had developed an instant rapport. Throughout the long years that elapsed we maintained our friendship. In due course we both married and had families. His wife Nimmi and my wife Rupika became friends. We often discussed every aspect of our growing children's education. I recall that when Malvinder, his older son, was about nine, I took him up to my old school-The Lawrence School, Sanawar-to get him admitted for a short time before he went on to Pammi's alma mater, the Doon School. When it came for their respective times to be admitted to university, we spent several hours preparing both Malvinder and Shivinder for their interviews for St Stephen's where the elder boy did well enough to read economics.
Towards the end of that last evening in the study, as shadows lengthened, we spoke of death. I knew how brave Pammi had been over the last couple of years since cancer was diagnosed. I told him how Mother Teresa often said to me that she considered death to be the highest form of human life, because it was for eternity. He in turn delved deep into his spirituality, for he was a devout Radhasoami, as he viewed the certainty that faced him. I knew he would have turned to his faith for his innate strength, because he spoke of death with no trace of fear. When his energies began to flag, I decided to take my leave. He insisted on getting up from his chair, to put his arm around my shoulder as he invariably did, to say final farewell.
What I, as indeed all his friends will remember, were his endearing qualities. More than anything else his sincerity to all his commitments, his diligence, a clear vision, a sharp focus and a quiet but relentless determination stood out. Over-riding all these, there remained an innate decency. I think everyone who knew him either as a friend or as a business colleague or as the head of his company would agree that he was a thoroughly decent chap. He played the game according to his principles, and showed that even in India's tangled corporate world, things could be done his way.
While Ranbaxy was still a comparatively small family-dominated firm, his vision envisaged for it the role of a global player. He would share his triumphs quietly. His company emerged as a major Indian, then an Asian player; he entered the United States not merely as an exporter, but as a significant manufacturer. While Indian companies were still looking inward, Pammi was taking the company outwards, to breach new frontiers, to a number of emerging markets including China. We often discussed his dreams of thoroughly professionalising Ranbaxy. He believed in recruiting the best professionals available not merely in India but from elsewhere in the world. This resulted in harnessing talent irrespective of nationality. In every sense he understood globalisation much before his counterparts in India, and was able to realise his dreams within his own lifetime. I asked him whether he was preparing to leave his legacy to his sons. He replied in the negative. There had to be a clear distinction between ownership and management. He could only give his sons what all parents could give their children, a decent upbringing and a fine education. For the rest, they had to work their way up from the shop floor and match up the best professionals in the company. At the last agm held a few weeks ago in Mohali, a frail Dr Singh presided over the board which nominated Devinder Brar as the ceo, to take over from October 1. Pammi, prudent in everything, not least of all his corporate affairs, had been told by his doctors that he had only till the end of the year. He wished to ensure that after he passed away, the succession to professional management would be smooth. Although death preempted him by a few months, the Ranbaxy board met a day after his death to fulfil his resolution passing the mantle of chairman to Tejendra Khanna and of the ceo to Brar. In this area too, he was a pioneer. For, as is well known, in Indian industry there is little distinction between ownership and management. Yet it's because he brought in the most competent people he could find, and institutionalised professional management, that the company was able to hold its own, particularly in the last few turbulent years of the market.
It was not only that he provided leadership that was both confident and humane, he also had the capacity to enthuse his professionals with the standards that he set for himself. He spoke with pride of the amount of time and money set aside for research and development, and time and again stressed that money spent there could reap its own rewards.
Like with everyone else, there were the vicissitudes in both our lives. When I would stumble and fall, he invariably made the time to lend a helping hand. When he went through some trying years, we discussed the emotive issues at length. Yet never once did he utter a single word of recrimination, not even when he was himself wounded. Ever since he became a Radhasoami, he would travel frequently to Beas to shore up his spiritual reservoir. As many of his friends in India and elsewhere would testify, it was this that enabled him to achieve the equanimity between life's conflicts and his own unimpeachable pragmatic vision that he so successfully achieved.
(The writer is principal secretary to the Delhi government and is also the author of Mother Teresa: The Authorised Biography.)