Sunday, October 19, 2014



PRAKASH TANDON (1911-2004 )

Surely you may not be familiar with this name. Those who are, may not have adequate  knowledge about his contribution and background. 

  He was Chairman cum Managing Director of  the  first Swadeshi   Bank  known presently  as Punjab National Bank. Before that he was chairman of the  State Trading Corporation and  first Indian chairman  of Unilever ( Hindustan Lever Ltd. ). He made HLL truly Indian not only in name but also in spirit. There was a genuine realisation in London, and a sense of pride in Bombay that Indians could manage the company. He was also on the board of  directors of Food Corporation of India ,Hindustan Steel , Hindustan Aeronautics and Reserve Bank of India . 
He   taught at the universities in Berkeley , Boston, California , Chandigarh , Delhi and Ahmedabad. He happened to be   a founding director of IIM Ahemdabad . Once while  addressing the IIM faculty he said this:-
“The essence of management is the ability to sort out the relevant from the irrelevant. If you have to plough through reams of case material and exhibits for tomorrow's classes, you must train yourself to read selectively and fast - take what is strictly worth remembering, and discard the rest.”

Wherever he served , he left his imprints . He   brought freshness, efficiency and  unique organizational culture in many organizations which  he entered in any capacity . As individual , he lived a simple life and always liked to stay in small flats .

The day he retired from Hindustan Lever, he arrived at the Backbay Reclamation head office in the chauffeur driven company car. After the farewell tea party, Prakash walked down, waved the driver away, got in to his old Fiat and drove off. Just like that. No fuss. No fanfare.

For a man who was at the very top of the heap in Hindustan Levers, STC and PNB, Prakash took no favours. He lived in a modest DDA flat in Vasant Kunj; drove his  Fiat car  everywhere; never jumped queues; and was unfailingly courteous to all. He read everything under the sun; and whenever he heard something interesting, out would come the small red leather diary for taking short notes.

I need to say something more  about this gem of a man .

Born in 1911   to a wealthy  Punjabi family ,  Prakash Tandon  graduated from Govt College ,Lahore as  science student but suddenly shifted to Commerce, went to UK wherefrom he   returned as  a  qualified   chartered accountant  in 1937.He married a Swedish girl whom he met at Oxford .

While Prakash  Tandon  was proud of his Punjabi heritage, he never favoured or promoted Punjabis. His closest associates in the Hindustan Lever Ltd.  were Maurice Zinkin, a Britisher, and R. Ramaswamy, a Tamil Brahmin. His chosen successor was Vasant Rajadhyakshya, a Maharashtrian. He applied this principle to all other organizations that he headed.
About his method of popularizing DALDA in India, The Daily Telegraph wrote this:-
 '"He was the first Indian marketing manager for DALDA ,the hydrogenated vegetable oil (vanaspati) and established it as a substitute for ghee by using many novel techniques to propagate its use. He had puppets and minstrels wandering the small towns and villages propagating the virtues of Dalda. In Rajasthan he used the pichwai that wandering storytellers used to entrance audiences with the story of the Ramayana to tell the story of Dalda. He had men with folding tables and kerosene stoves go to village haats to cook dishes with Dalda and sample the food to convince everyone that the taste was no different from dishes cooked in ghee but at less than half the cost. Dalda became the first national and purely Indian brand and a generic word for vanaspati."
 Tandon   revolutionized the  financial sector  In India especially banking by his guidelines  that came to be known as' Tandon Norms '. These fundamental guidelines on working capital finance  together  with a  scientific methodology for working out credit requirements of    Industrial    enterprises have been put to use by every financial institution in the country  . Most of my friends in the banking sector must be familiar with his methods of lending based on current assets , margin and  well defined holding norms for raw material , stocks in  process , finished goods and receivables . Industries and banking  sector in India  remain indebted to this genius for these  basic guidelines on working capital finance . He was a pioneer of  'Management Education ' in India.

A  lover of fine arts , Prakash Tandon was a    connoisseur of Urdu poetry , ancient history , music and  classical literature . It was always a real treat  to listen to him on any subject under the sun. His ideas were original and innovative and he would speak for hours extempore  . The  three books authored by him which comprise his autobiography – Punjabi Century , Beyond Punjab and return to Punjab – are regarded as Modern Classics . These Books have been published by Penguins as Punjabi Saga . 

His admirers were to be seen  in all segments of the society . Some names that come to my mind at the moment are  playwright Balwant Gargi ,   Punjabi writer Kartar Singh Duggal,  Dr Mulk Raj Ananad , Actor Devanand  ,   Ram Nath Goenka ,  J R D Tata , Shreyans Prasad jain , Dr Manmohan Singh and  Dr. A M Khusro.

His  book  BANKING CENTURY , published by Penguins in 1989  is an  interesting story about a public sector giant known as  Punjab National Bank .  A story about how the idea to start a Swadeshi Bank at Anarkali ,Lahore  was conceived  and given practical shape in 1895  by three gentlemen ( Sardar Dayal Singh MajIthia , Babu Kali Prasun Roy and E C Jesswala .  A Sikh , A Hindu and a Parsi ; All the three were followers of Bengal’s Brahmo Samaj ) highly motivated by a nationalist leader lala Lajpat Rai.  They were dreamers for  their time , who could have little realized that a two room office  at Anarkali , Lahore would ultimately flower into a national bank with more than 10900 branches spreading from Leh to   Kanyakumari  and Kohima to Kathiawar . He worked as chairman cum managing director of the bank for three years and inducted more than 1000 young management trainees who rose to become executive directors and managing directors  of various banks in the country. 

Half of this book     takes the reader on a journey through Babylonian ,  Roman, Greek , Chinese , Egyptian , Persian , Arab and Indian civilization examining the evolution of finance and  trade in these cultures .The book also explains interestingly how finance and trade evolved itself in ancient and medieval india through Hundis and traditional Sahukaars  . The story of Seths ,  Multanis , Marwaris , Banias , Nattukottai Chettis ,  Chettiars , Nagar Seths ( city bankers ) finally settles  down at  Birlas , Tatas , Goenkas , Jains etc. In between  You also come to know that  founding families of  Levers , Krupps , Duponts, Dunlops , Bayers , Lavals , Thomsons and Marellis have disappeared while much of the Indian Industry is still managed and controlled  by families who , often owning a fraction of equity wield total power and control. 

You are also updated about the Arya Samaj movement of Punjab , Brahmo Samaj movement of Bengal , Tribune newspaper in its formative years ,  Lahore (the grand city of Punjab )  ,  Darshani ( payable on  demand  ) and Dekhanhar ( payable at sight ) Hundi system in indian trade and commerce  , The East India company , Mughals , Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule , The Sikh Misels ,Zamindari and Jagirdari system in  India ,Indian railways , Irrigation canals in Punjab ,  barter system in Indian trade , journey of currency from metal  coins to paper notes in india ,  post war economic recessions in  the world , arrival of post offices in India , partition of the country with    rebirth of  Indian economy , Nehruvian industrial and economic policies ,    social control and nationalization  and the final phase known as Financial Sector Reforms.

From this book  I came to know that Mahmud of Gazni , who invaded India 14 times had issued gold coins in 1007 AD  each weighing 180 grains and bearing Kalima and the name of Khalifa Al Qadir B’Illah , on whose behalf he conducted the wars and invasions . In india , he did something unique in history ; he issued coins with  Sanskratized  Kalima ; “  Ayyaktamekam   Muhammad  Avatara samvati 418 Mahmudpur “  followed by the name of the issuer , Nripati Mahmud with a motif of Hindu deity . He had renamed Lahore as Mahmudpur .

From this book I also came to know that from Kings  to common man , every person would  borrow from  Nagar Seths and discharge Hundis .  Prakash Tandon informs  that  during the first  mutiny  also known as Sepoy uprising of 1857, Seth Amir Chand of Bikaner and Seth Mool Chand of of Ajmer financed British government .Bhama Shah , the Oswal banker , financed the maintenance of 25000 men of Rana Partap for many years to enable him to carry on his wars against Akbar .

The house of Jagat Seth were hereditary  bankers to Nawabs of Bengal. Jagat seth was instrumental in the overthrow of Nawab Siraj Ud Daula and setting up of Mir jaffar as Nawab . When Mir Kasim became the new Nawab of Bengal , he ordered Jagat Seth to be thrown into Ganga from the bastions of the  Monghyr fort.

 About this book Prof A. M. khusro adds

“ In the history of money and finance , there are few works which claim greater depth , erudition and elegance than ( this ) fascinating Book “  

About Prakash Tandon , Dr Ashok Ganguli former Chairman HLL adds ..

"He established standards and norms for corporate conduct, governance and social conduct that have now become popular and fashionable around the world."

  Some quotes of Prakash  Tandon that come to my mind  are :-

“ Room at the top is always vacant ”

“  Recruitment , training and cadres must be built on continuous basis in any organization . Overlooking  this may land any organization into managerial crisis. ”

 “ Greatest tasks have been performed by men using   simple common sense  “ 

“Managers are functional entities and not bureaucrats . They have to keep their doors open .”

“ Age  plays  a key  role in the process of   taking a decision   .Beyond a certain age, managers tend to  tread   the safe and secured path. Quite often , their movement along these paths may prove  disastrous for the  organization.”

He read voraciously but was hesitant, particularly as he grew older, to push his ideas on people. He would refrain from commenting  unless he had something positive to say about a person.Despite his achievements, he remained to the end a decent, wise and courteous listener. Wherever he went, he introduced  the culture of non-ostentation that he applied to himself.Men like him are rare and leave imprints wherever they  walk. A true Karamygi, Tandon put to practice what Kabir says in this Doha;

( Kabira khada bazaar mein
Sab ki maange khair,
Na kaahoo se dosti
Na kaahoo se bair ..)

(Avtar Mota)

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CHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
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