CALL GODREJ GROUP CHAIRMAN Adi Godrej on his direct line or mobile and you are likely to be greeted by the man himself. He never leaves office until he has replied to every mail, however inconsequential it may be. The senior-most Godrej, with personal and family net worth of $17.60 billion, may be among the richest Indians, but his associates relate more to his humility than his wealth. The rich are associated with private jets, yacht and billion-dollar homes, but none of them figure among Godrej's prized possessions. His family's most valuable asset, apart from the ₹40,000 crore business, is 3,400 acres of land, of which 1,750 acres is covered with mangroves and rare plants. Its value is estimated at ₹2 lakh crore. At a time when the world is talking about reducing carbon footprint, a billionaire owning mangroves in the heart of Maximum City is notable.
The family lunch with larger family every Thursday is sacrosanct. The brothers (Adi Godrej and Nadir Godrej) and cousins Jamshyd Godrej and Smita Crishna have even cancelled important business meetings for the get-together. Another routine Godrej seldom misses is jet-skiing in Arabian Sea with grandchildren every Sunday. He travels in commercial airlines and doesn't hesitate to fly economy class. "My fondest memory of Mr. Godrej and his brother Nadir is them having lunch in the same canteen as factory staff every day," says Vivek Gambhir, CEO, BoAT Lifestyle (formerly MD, Godrej Consumer Products).
Executives have several stories about the senior-most Godrej's simplicity and humble idiosyncrasies. Godrej hates to check-in his baggage at the airport even if he is on a long business trip across continents. "He told us to pack efficiently so that we don't waste time at check-in counters. He also hates porters carrying his luggage," says Gambhir. During a trip to Santiago, he requested an ironing board in his hotel room. "The staff figured out who he was and told him they would get his suit dry-cleaned but Mr Godrej insisted on the ironing board." In office, too, Godrej has been approachable. "One could walk into his office without appointment," says Gambhir.
As an entrepreneur and a leader, Godrej is known to have a pulse on latest trends, be it technology, manufacturing or brands. "His command of data, his child-like curiosity, coupled with ability to zoom in and out is extraordinary," says a former senior executive. "He has always believed that the Godrej Group is tied with India's destiny. He would make mass, affordable, high-quality products, and innovation would be the hallmark. He was a passionate advocate of the 10X10 goal (to grow group turnover to ₹1.5 lakh crore by 2021; it is yet to reach the goal), as well as Godrej Green, as part of which he talked about the group's role in protecting the environment much before sustainability became popular," says the executive.
The octogenarian is also known for decentralised leadership and empowering professional talent. "He said each company should be independently run. This led to creation of GCPL, Godrej Industries, Godrej Agrovet, Godrej Properties," says a senior industry leader.
The Godrej Group, however, is on the verge of a split. The bone of contention is ownership of the land parcels. The senior-most Godrej is believed to have tried his best to avoid the split but now he himself wants an amicable separation. The Adi Godrej faction includes his three children— Tanya, Nisaba and Pirojsha — apart from brother Nadir Godrej. The Jamshyd Godrej group includes Smita and Vijay Crishna, and their daughter Nyrika Holkar.
Between the two businesses, Godrej and Boyce (with Jamshyd Godrej at the helm) and Godrej Industries and Associated Companies (with Adi Godrej at the helm), the latter has been the star performer. Godrej Consumer Products itself is valued over ₹97,000 crore. According to Unni Krishnan, founder, Longwealth, the senior-most Godrej has always understood the value of scarce capital such as the group's 124-year-old culture and heritage which others did not. "Adi has often said that their focus should be on their intangible bank rather than land. No wonder businesses where he was in the driver's seat have done better," Krishnan said in an earlier interview with Fortune India.
The senior-most Godrej is gradually handing over his empire to brother Nadir and his children after making Godrej a trusted household brand.