In Xerxes Desai’s death, the country loses a master strategiser
He created an Indian brand that over time has evolved into a premium lifestyle brand. In the process, Xerxes Desai, the former vice-chairman and managing director of Titan Company—part of the Tata group—who passed away on Monday was instrumental in changing the way Indians kept time. At a time when the choice in watches for the Indian consumer was restricted to what the friendly neighbourhood smuggler had and the mechanical watches that state-owned Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) dished out, Desai raised the level of competition by a few notches. Over time, demand for HMT’s watches began to taper, with the PSU being shut down this year. Though Titan relaunched quartz watches in India—HMT had tried to sell these earlier and failed—making quartz watches was not easy at a time when the Indian economy had not yet opened to competition. Titan raised the level with design playing an integral part of watches. Today, the R11,280 crore Titan Company is a key link in the Tatas’ overall play.
That’s a sea-change from when Titan was conceived in 1979— Desai was then the MD of Tata Press. The first watches rolled off its Hosur plant in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (Tidco) only in 1986. Locating the plant in Hosur helped as Titan was in a position to source talent from HMT’s watch unit in Bangalore. Soon after the watch division stabilised, Desai started work in 1993 on jewellery brand Tanishq that became a reality in 1996. Titan’s setting up its plant in Hosur, has opened the way for the region to emerge as a precision engineering hub. It is in these plants that Xerxes Desai’s legacy lives on.