It is a sad day for the Indian automobile industry, as it loses one of its most vocal, influential and visionary leaders, Jagdish Khattar. On the launch of Maruti Udyog Limited's first-generation Wagon R tallboy hatchback, Mr. Khattar spoke of the opportunities in a market that was poised for explosion. He always marveled at his sharp wit, his ability to call a spade a spade, and his no-nonsense attitude. His fine way of speaking in chaste Hindustani was always something admired by everyone in the industry. He was extremely respectful and eloquent regardless of whom he may have been speaking with.
Jagdish Khattar at the launch of the Maruti Suzuki WagonR
At the NDTV car and bike awards 2006 - the Swift was the winner for Car of the Year. He was always seen enjoying and celebrating with his colleagues at award functions. He was always someone you could rely on for an opinion, advice or even perspective.
Born in pre-partition India, on December 18 1942, Mr Khattar belonged to a family of entrepreneurs. A Bachelor's degree from St Stephens' College, a subsequent Bachelor of Law, also from Delhi University, and then a prolific career with the Indian Administrative Services that lasted from 1969 to 1993. That was the year when he was called upon to join Maruti Udyog Ltd - by none other than Maruti stalwart and current Chairman, Mr R C Bhargava.
Mr Bhargava was extremely sad that Mr Jagdish Khattar has left us. He was an outstanding member of the IAS and he persuaded him to join Maruti, giving up his civil service career. He made a big contribution to the growth of Maruti. A wonderful human being and friend, he will be missed by all.
Mr Khattar was credited with transitioning the company from simply being the monopolistic car maker to a credibly competitive company. CV Raman, Senior Executive Director, Engineering, Maruti Suzuki, remembers Mr Khattar as an 'effervescent, enthusiastic and affable person, always impatient for results & change.' Mr Khattar was a Marketing man to the core, the transition and transformation of Maruti Udyog to Maruti Suzuki happened under his leadership as MD. Mr Khattar was instrumental in laying the foundation for many new strategic business initiatives & people practices in Maruti Suzuki. New Products including the World Car Swift were launched under his leadership. All these initiatives helped Maruti Suzuki retain its leadership position over the years.
He began in marketing in 1993 and was appointed Managing Director in July 1999 as a government nominee. In 2003 when Maruti became a wholly owned Suzuki subsidiary, the Japanese carmaker appointed Mr Khattar as MD as well, where he remained until his retirement in December 2007. He was at the helm of privatization, public listing, and charting the company into a new direction of model development, expansion, and growth.
After his stint at Maruti Suzuki, Mr Khattar opened Carnation, a multi-brand sales and service company.
Saying his passing leaves a huge vacuum in the industry, Executive Director - Marketing and Sales at Maruti Suzuki India, Shashank Shrivastava shared, "I had the good fortune to work closely with Mr Khattar for many years through the changing scenario of Indian economy and the auto industry. He always spoke of embracing change and in turbulent times his guidance was even more sought. His deep understanding of consumers and his restlessness for doing things in a better way were remarkable. He encouraged the youngsters to speak up their viewpoints rather than just take orders." Over the years, Maruti has been a training ground for many in the Indian automobile industry. Several key professionals today found their grounding there, and in many ways, that foundation is linked to Mr Khattar. Today the MD at Volvo Car India, Jyoti Malhotra was in Maruti from 2000 to 2008, and while not at the company HQ, found that Mr Khattar was deeply involved with those dispatched to the field. He says, "He was a legendary leader & a great human being. He was a mentor & role model to a lot of people at Maruti in his years there. It was a privilege to have worked closely with him, (and) I owe a lot to him for my progression. It's a great loss for me and the industry."
Mr Jagdish Khattar received the Automotive Man of the Year - a tribute to all his hard work at Maruti. He knew that award was both personal and professional for him and it was so for him too. His years after retiring from Maruti, were anything but inactive or less busy. His venture Carnation was deemed ambitious and ahead of the times but that is clearly who he was too. He had other wrangles of the financial kind, and off late was vehement in his rejection of a recent CBI probe into his business.
For most of all in the industry, a true gentleman and a sharp leader will be missed forever.
Go well, Mr Khattar - a vibrant industry salutes you, your spirit, your contribution and thanks you for shaping it.