Keki Gharda: 'I Haven't Cooled Off'

After four decades of giving MNCs nightmares by copying and selling their products far cheaper, the elderly Keki Gharda now wants to sell his company and focus on research. Forbes India chats with the untiring entrepreneur

Published: Aug 14, 2009

Name: Keki Gharda
Age: 79
Career: Founded Gharda Chemicals as a partnership firm in 1965.
Education: Chemical engineering degree in 1950 from Bombay University, Masters from University of Michigan and Ph.D from University Of Oklahoma.
Interests: Reading; he claims he knows the boiling and melting points of most substances used in his company.

Are you selling out your agrochemical business because the magic has worn out?
May be in relative terms, the chemical industry appears a bit jaded in national importance compared to other. But, it is a basic industry with fundamental importance in every sphere of life. In the new world, we would want better and better chemicals and newer ways of manufacturing them. Though I will be 80 years old in two months, I want to do focus on newer, exciting areas like polymers.

There are media reports you may sell out to a foreign private equity investor or a multinational firm. You founded Gharda in almost a patriotic way to fight multinationals. Have you cooled off?
The reports are unfounded though we have several multinational companies who have expressed interest in buying us. Though we made only legal allowed copies of chemicals, you can’t fight like a pirate forever. The transition from a small to a medium sized player requires some smart tactics. Over time, the same multinationals [have become] my clients.

What do you intend to do with the money?
I will put all the money in a foundation which will in turn fund largely two activities: Gharda Advance Technologies and Gharda Foundation. The former will conduct research in new high technology polymers and the later will take care of philanthropic activities. Some of my polymer experiments are cash intensive.

Why didn’t you exit the business earlier when you were still younger? That way you could have spent more time in the labs.
Well, I tried to. I wanted to put the shares that I owned in Gharda Chemicals in a trust, which would receive dividends. But, that plan got mired in a court controversy after my sister’s son pledged some of their shares. But, I now I see some end in sight and therefore, have made known my intention to sell publicly.

You didn’t even have a professional management structure in Gharda Chemicals for the past several years. What are you going to sell – a few factories that sell chemicals?
I don’t like spending much. Even now, I take only a small salary. So, I didn’t think it was necessary to have a management team when I was going to have a final say in all the decisions. In all this, the company has grown to sell Rs. 1,000 crore worth of products and makes a profit of Rs. 100 crore. That, however, stands corrected now. Recently, we appointed Alexander Luke, someone with a lot of experience in heading public sector enterprises, as an executive director on the board. A lot of things will get formalised now.

The Godrej family holds a stake in your company and seems to be in a legal battle with you. Is it the problem that is holding back your sell-off?
I can only say that there are some issues regarding transfer of shares that are still being fought in the court. It’s true that the Godrej family holds some shares in our company and we rejected a request from them to transfer the shares to their name. I think it is for the courts to decide on the issue now.

(This story appears in the 28 August, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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