Parag Desai, executive director of Wagh Bakri Tea Group, passed away in Ahmedabad on October 22. The fourth-generation entrepreneur had met with an accident during his morning walk on October 15, in which he suffered a brain hemorrhage following the fall. After being on a ventilator for a few days, he succumbed to multiple complications yesterday. He was 49 years old.
Exactly two months ago, I had met Desai when we were working on Forbes India’s family business issue focused on scions from Gujarat. During the interaction, he spoke about his personal plans to diversify into new avenues, and education was something that had recently caught his interest. “I personally have a lot of plans. I see a lot of potential in infrastructure development, the packaged food industry, and education. So many things can be done in India now. We’re spoiled with choices. We have waited long enough as Indians. In the past, we’ve never had so much liberty,” he said.
After pursuing his master’s degree from New York’s Long Island University, Desai joined the family business in 1995, when revenue was less than Rs100 crore. Under his leadership, the revenue grew to more than Rs2,000 crore in 2023. He took charge of expanding the business outside of Ahmedabad and introduced the ecommerce platform buytea.com two decades ago. Son of Rasesh Desai, he launched over 70 tea lounges and tea worlds across India. He also told us about plans to expand Wagh Bakri, the third-largest packaged tea company in India after Tata and Hindustan Unilever (HUL), in the eastern region soon.
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A well-known tea tester, Desai was always full of fresh ideas and new plans. As someone with a straight-forward approach, he believed in receiving critical feedback from his teams and always advised them not to be "yes-men." During our conversation, he credited the professionals for running the brand smoothly.
Desai was also a key member of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). He will be remembered for playing a pivotal role in guiding the company towards achieving various accolades by adopting innovative marketing, branding, and packaging strategies and, most importantly, taking the legacy brand to over 60 countries. Desai, who is survived by his wife and daughter, loved traveling, wildlife, and taking part in globally relevant environmental sustainability projects.
The main operations of the 131-year-old business are being managed by Paras and Priyam, the fourth and fifth generations of the family. Veterans Rasesh and Piyush, from the third generation, have taken a back seat and mostly look after corporate social responsibility (CSR).