| Singh: Fighter all the way
New Delhi, Sept. 30: India Inc’s success story of a refugee-turned-business baron—Raunaq Singh—faded away into the great beyond today.
His death sets at rest a nearly decade-old feud with his eldest son Onkar Singh Kanwar over control of the Rs 1,710 crore Apollo Tyres Ltd, which Raunaq had set up, nurtured and built to last. However, he had finally handed over control to his eldest son, partly in a fit of paternal goodwill and partly in a bid to save on taxes.
The battle between the father-son duo culminated in Raunaq Singh being ejected from chairmanship of the tyre giant just last week, when the son removed the father from even the nominal position of chairman some eight years after he had taken away effective control.
Singh died a bitter yet proud man. He always prided himself with having built up his personal empire, which at one time spanned tyres, steel tubes and global trading, after he came to India penniless on a refugee train from Lahore in 1947.
A daily wager with a Peshawar firm, salesman for a Lahore steel dealer and a small-time businessman just before Partition ended even that glimmer of prosperity, Singh worked the hard way up, taking risks that established players would not. He worked on profit margins which were difficult to see, courting the powers that be in the old Congress regime in a way which the old school Parsee or even Marwari businessman could not, just to get that extra order or that extra license.
His first venture in Delhi where he settled down after Partition was a cycle shop in Chandni Chowk, a shop he still retained for sentimental reasons.
From selling cycles, Singh graduated to selling steel tubes which went into making cycles. And then with blessings from none other than Indira Gandhi, he eventually went into making steel tubes himself through a company called Bharat Steel Tubes (BST).
The firm, however, went bust in the 1980s under the stewardship of his son Onkar. But despite what he himself described as the “bad business track record” of his eldest son, Raunaq Singh dotted on Onkar, the first born of his first wife, handing greater control over the day-to-day affairs of his flagship Apollo Tyres and trading arm Raunaq International. But with relations worsening between father and son, Raunaq tried to change the equation and bring in his two other sons into the business, kicking off the famous round of confrontation with Onkar, who was by then firmly in the saddle.
Till the end, he was a man trying to make up for what went wrong and in the process re-inventing himself. After his break up with son Onkar he tried to set up agro-businesses and fertiliser factories in Punjab which never took off.
Towards the very end he was excited by the new business opportunities which he saw emerging in the world of education—he could almost see a new empire spanning schools, colleges and universities with the brand name Raunaq glittering—before the curtain call came.