Manu Chhabria Dead

Mumbai/Kolkata/Bangalore, April 6: | Updated: Apr 7 2002, 05:30am hrs
Manohar Rajaram Chhabria, chairman of the $1.5-billion Jumbo group and once known as a takeover tycoon, died in here on Saturday.

Manohar Rajaram Chhabria
Mr Chhabria, 56, had undergone a bypass surgery on March 16, and was recuperating at the Jaslok hospital in south Mumbai. His end came at 9.15 in the morning. His cremation will be held on Sunday.

Mr Chhabria is survived by his wife and three daughters, among them Komal Chhabria Wazir is an executive director in his Indian flagship, Shaw Wallace & Company. His other daughters, Bhavika Godhwani and Kiran Chhabria, are involved in senior management with Hindustan Dorr-Oliver and Jumbo, Dubai respectively.

Reacting to Mr Chhabrias demise, his once estranged brother, Kishore Chhabria said, this is the saddest day of my life.

See Obituary: Manohar Rajaram Chhabria

Rama Prasad Goenka, chairman emeritus of the RPG group, with whom Chhabria had teamed up in the mid-eighties to take over Dunlop India, said, Manus unexpected and untimely demise is a personal loss. The two parted ways in 1988.

The liquor industry reacted with shock at Mr Chhabrias death. Ravi Jain, managing director of Inertia Industries, who was one of the closest associates of Manu during his stint as managing director of Shaw Wallace, said, its a very sad moment for me. I pray for his soul and wish all the best for his family for whom he has left behind a huge empire. Whatever the differences I may have had with him on issues, it was a lifetime experience to come across an entrepreneur with such a vision and determination. The liquor industry will not be same again.

Mr Jain has left Shaw Wallace to team up with arch-rival Vijay Mallya of the UB group.

While Mr Mallya could not be reached, UB Group president, spirits division, Vijay Rekhi said, we are very sorry to have lost a leader of our industry. This is an untimely demise as Mr Chhabria was relatively young. While his loss to the family and the companies he was heading cannot be made up, our sympathies are with them.

Shaw Wallace Distilleries director Amar Sinha said, this is a great loss to the company. He has built up an empire and now the onus is on the family to carry forward the empire he has left.

Fosters India managing director Pradeep Gidwani said, I am extremely sorry to hear about the sad demise of the leader of the industry. He had a fair amount of vision to lead the industry as well as his companies which needs to be taken care of in his absence.

The chairman of the $1.5 billion Jumbo Group, which he built from scratch, Chhabria moved to Dubai in the early seventies with virutally no money to speak of. A Harvard University business graduate, he established the Jumbo Group in Dubai in 1974. At present, the Jumbo Group claims to be the largest distributor of Sony products in the world besides being the largest distributor of consumer and professional electronics in the Arabian Gulf.

Once Chhabria established himself in the consumer electronics business, he began to look towards India. Currently, more than 50 per cent of his business is based in India and is spread over seven companies Shaw Wallace, Dunlop, Mather and Platt, Shaw Wallace Gelatines, Hindustan Dorr-Oliver, Falcon Tyres and Gordon Woodroffe, with a total asset value of $600 million. He shot to fame in the 1980s with his acquisition of Shaw Wallace, and came to be known as the takeover tycoon. The Jumbo group, employing over 20,000 people has presence in 50 countries.

In 1985, forty year old Chhabria, who had already set up a successful Sony dealership in Dubai, Jumbo Electronics, turned towards India and bid for the hugely cash-rich Shaw Wallace. Unheard of in Indian corporate history, the professionally run Shaw Wallace braced by for a two-year legal battle to thwart the corporate raider.

Chhabria claimed that he had bought out the entire holding from the foreign promoters in 1985. A chunk of close to 40 per cent Shaw Wallace holding was held in four companies RG Shaw, Shaw Scott, Shaw Darby and Thames Rice Milling.

Mr SP Acharya, the-then chairman and managing director, who had risen from the position of assistant accountant, made a spirited bid to stop the takeover. He could corner between 15 and 16 per cent, but the financial institutions abstaining from voting at the end the three-day annual genneral meeting in 1986, it was all over.

Shaw Wallace old timers recall that, after the AGM, three key actors in the takeover drama Manu Chhabria, his brother Kishore and Mr Acharya left the Ice Skating Rink, the venue of the AGM, and went to Wallace House. All the three key people entered. Within minutes, Mr Acharya left the office never to come back again.

Following the takeover, Chhabria started gobbling up anything which came his way Dunlop India, Hindustan Dorr Oliver, Mather & PLatt, Tezpur Tea, Gordon Woodroffe and Genelec. However, he also made aborted bids for Larsen & Toubro and Gammon India.

On condition of anonymity, executives who had worked with both Chhabria and Acharya feel that while Mr Acharya was conservative in his approach and focussed on consolidation, Chhabria could take risks that rational businessmen will not dare.

Other than this aspect, hardly any employees have anything positive to say about Chhabria.

However, employees in the now-closed Dunlop India expressed grief over his premature death, they feel that their future has become even more uncertain.