Just as Warren Buffett believed in the power of the U.S., so did the late Rakesh Jhunjhunwala feel about investing in India. While the Sage of Omaha wrote, “never bet against America” in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Jhunjhunwala always held the view: “Believe in India.” Though Buffett invested in companies outside of the U.S., Jhunjhunwala stuck to his India knitting.
In fact, during an in-person meeting with the writer in 2009, when the market had just bottomed out, Jhunjhunwala autographed his visiting card on the reverse by signing: “Believe in India.”
The narrative never changed and during an interview with CNBC-TV18 on June 21, he said: "Please don't invest in the U.S. When the food at home is good, why eat outside. Believe in India. Invest my fellow Indians and prosper."
Shankar Sharma, co-founder and vice-chairman of First Global, believes, Jhunjhunwala, wore his heart on his sleeve: “Rakesh gave Indian investors hope. That's his enduring legacy. That's why he stood apart from the rest of us. His early vote on India story, beginning 2003, was breathtakingly farsighted. He simplified investing. And that's what made his philosophy so endearing to the masses.”
Right from the first million to the billions that Jhunjhunwala made, came from investing in stocks that were big beneficiaries of the India growth story. For instance, when he first invested in Titan Company in 2002, his thesis was that the-then watch major would be a big beneficiary of a consumption boom, especially the jewellery business, as he believed the economy would grow at 7-8% in the coming years.
As per latest shareholding of listed entities, Jhunjhunwala held 32 stocks worth over ₹31,904 crore. But what separated the Big Bull from the others was how he chose to play his high-conviction bets. Kenneth Andrade, founder and CIO of Old Bridge Capital Management, says, “It’s one thing to spot an idea, but Rakesh was bold enough to build an out-sized position in a stock.” For instance, among the big bets, Jhunjhunwala held 23.37% in Aptech, 17.51% in Star Health & Allied Health Insurance, more than 10% in NCC and Nazara Technologies. Besides, he held between 7% and 8% in four stocks (Rallis, Bilcare, Geojit and Va Tech Wabag).
Though patriotic, the Big Bull was discerning when it came to investing and never fancied government-owned companies. It is only, of late, that he started investing in public sector banks, most notably Canara Bank. Prashant Jain, who recently stepped down as the chief investment officer at HDFC Asset Management company, says, “While he had clear and strong views, he was nevertheless open to new ideas and to change, both of which are hallmarks of great investors.”
Outside of listed equities, Jhunjhunwala invested in the aviation business (Akasa Air) and also a couple of start-ups. Not surprising that Samir Arora, founder of Helios Capital, believes Jhunjhunwala was cut from a different cloth. “Investing across all forms of equity — public markets, private markets, start-ups and trading — showed his versatility,” says Arora.
Besides investing, Jhunjhunwala was also engaged in philanthropic initiatives. He supported the cause of Friends of Tribals, Society Olympic Gold Quest and was also building an eye hospital (Sankara Eye Hospital) at Panvel in Maharashtra. He was also one of the founders and donor of Ashoka University.
“Being so approachable despite being one of the richest people of India, made him very different from many other rich and successful people,” says Arora.
Concurring with Arora is Sanjeev Bikhchandani, cofounder of Info Edge, who remembers Jhunjhunwala as a passionate investor. “I have known Rakesh since 2006 when he met us just before our IPO. He was always a friend and a supporter of Indian entrepreneurship,” says Bikhchandani, also a founder and trustee at Ashoka.
“His opinion counted for a lot in all strategic matters pertaining to the University. I last met him a few months ago when Ashish Dhawan and I hosted him at Ashoka University for a panel discussion regarding investing. The students were enthralled. A great investor and a great person with a very large heart — Rakesh will be sorely missed. He was a true champion of India,” says Bikhchandani.
Though his death was untimely, Sharma of First Global believes Jhunjhunwala’s legacy will be enduring. “He will be immortalised, much like great visionaries.”