Sanjiv Goenka on acquiring 80 per cent stake in Mohun Bagan
2014. We were meeting Sanjiv Goenka three nights after ATK had won the first Indian Super League trophy beating Kerala Blasters FC. “I thought of my father (R.P. Goenka). He was passionate about football. And for me one of the reasons that I got into this is that my father would have loved it. He would go for every Mohun Bagan-East Bengal match for years. When the whistle blew, I thought somewhere up there he would be very happy,” the RPSG Group chairman and the principal owner of ATK had told The Telegraph when we had asked him to relive the winning moment.
A big believer in destiny as much as intent, effort and a winning mindset, life seems to have come a full circle for Sanjiv, as RPSG Group acquires an 80 per cent majority stake in Mohun Bagan.
Overwhelmed and nervous but assured and positive. That was the ever-smiling Sanjiv when we met him for this chat at Alipore’s RPSG House.
Congratulations for ATK Mohun Bagan! Like you were saying, it’s in the group’s DNA (to acquire and growing legacies)…
Yes, I think it’s something the family and the group has in a way specialised in… we have acquired several legacies and we have grown and nurtured them. So, whether it was HMV which was then ailing and sick, CESC which was not performing well, Spencer’s, which was not performing well… and these were companies with over a 100-year track record…. We have retained the core values of the legacies that we have acquired and there is so much to be learnt.
Every institution which becomes a part of your family, teaches you. There are so many good things which are there… so many values and conventions and traditions which are to be cherished. So, you not only add a valued logo to your logo or club to your family, but it is also a platform for learning. You get to know a lot more about a different thought process.
For me, Mohun Bagan is like ‘Oh my god, Mohun Bagan’. You have grown up admiring, almost revering Mohun Bagan. All I can I say is from our side it’s with folded hands and great humility that we welcome Mohun Bagan to the family. And it’s with open arms. I must confess that it’s overwhelming.
Has it sunk in?
No… it hasn’t. But I am aware of the responsibilities that go with a great institution. I am aware of the responsibility we need to fulfil vis-a-vis the fans, vis-a-vis all stakeholders. And it is also a moment of great humility that a huge legacy like Mohun Bagan has found us worthy of becoming their family. So, it also puts a huge responsibility on us.
When did you decide on this?
The dialogues have been on for a while… there were issues… I have a great belief that these things happen when they are meant to happen.
Did you have other clubs in mind?
Well, I wouldn’t really like to say very much about this except that whether it is East Bengal or Mohun Bagan, they are both great legacies and they are big dada clubs in football. So, when you are assimilating a legacy into your family, it is in a way like getting a daughter-in-law into your family… she has to be handled with compassion, care and sensitivity. It’s that which we are acutely aware of.
I have known the Mohun Bagan stakeholders for several years now. I have known the East Bengal stakeholders for several years. (Laughs) Frankly, it’s just about beginning to register. I remember when we acquired Saregama HMV, the managing director of HMV in the UK was an Indian called Bhaskar Menon. He and my father had lunch at the Grand hotel and my father came back from the lunch and said, ‘Maine sauda kar liya’. We were like… ‘Kis cheez ka sauda kar liya?’ He was like: ‘HMV le liya’. I asked him: ‘Aapne dekha hai kitni liability hai?’ He said: “Yeh desh ka culture hai… le liya’. We hadn’t realised what we were getting into, but we are delighted we did. My father took that step. My father was equally unhappy when I bought into CESC. And, I think I am very happy and delighted (I did that). So, also Spencer’s.
When we were much smaller, the magnitude of the task didn’t exactly dawn for a while. As you grow older, as you sort of mature, you go into everything with your eyes and ears completely open. You understand what is involved. You understand the sensitivities involved. You understand the emotions involved. You understand the sentiments involved. So you learn to deal with them in that manner.
You already have a football club. So, why acquire another?
Yes, ATK has done well… we are champions in two out of five years. We have been in the play-offs one year. Two years we didn’t do well. It was my father’s belief that you need to preserve the legacy of the country. And Mohun Bagan is an integral part of that legacy. I mean despite what anyone may say or what speculation may say, to me it is actually about the preservation of that legacy. And, I think, maybe it is destiny that you inherit that legacy or you are part of that legacy now.
To me it is about giving back to the city. At one point in time, success is important, achievement is important. But success and achievement with the right effort and values. That is what drives us. Having been in the city for 220 years, the city has given us so much. So, really for us, what can we give back to the city? We are giving better, consistent and reliable power. Feels good. We are making profits and that is important for every stakeholder and shareholder of the company. It is not charity that we are doing, but you feel good when you can do things for people. If we can build a great school, international-quality school, which we are going to do, it is a way of giving back. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are two names that every Calcuttan grows up with….
May be there is a message from somewhere up there that ‘I am giving you an opportunity to give back’. The older I am getting, the more philosophical I am getting. Am I excited about it? Right now, I am nervous about it because emotions are fiery in the field of football. The erstwhile coach of Mohun Bagan, Sanjoy Sen is with us and I see what a great mind and individual he is. I am hoping I will see more of these at the club.
What are the pros and cons of such a decision at this point in time?
I look at it from a responsibility perspective. It is a responsibility to the fans and stakeholders. The combined ATK-Mohun Bagan family… the RPSG assimilation of Mohun Bagan is something that benefits everyone… that is what we are looking for.
Have you watched a derby at Salt Lake stadium?
Yes, I have, several years ago when I wasn’t into football. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. To me, it’s not just about the derby but about actually being there. It’s that emotion of the city…. This passion you cannot get anywhere else. This is one city where the team doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the city. This realisation comes from being there. This is what is magical about football in the city.
What is your vision?
ATK Mohun Bagan to play internationally… to become good enough to play internationally… that is what I’ll ideally like to see.
How do you deal with failures?
Initially it used to daunt me. You are surprised by failure. You sort of believe that you are a special child of god for no rhyme and reason. At least I did. I asked: ‘Why me?’ Then ‘why me’ becomes ‘why not me?’ You are going to have moments, weeks, months where everything will go your way. And you will have days when nothing goes your way. You take the unpleasant with the pleasant. Your effort at the time of success or failure remains the same.
When you are absorbing a legacy, it is about understanding relationships. I have also learnt how to cut out the negative from my life. It’s worked for me. It’s something that I have learnt from both my parents and also the experiences I have undergone. I am looking forward to possibly and hopefully take Mohun Bagan to a different level of recognition, which is beyond just Calcutta. In Calcutta, it is an ‘oh my god’ brand. How do we make it ‘oh my god’ across? That’s the effort; that’s the dream.
What will be your top tip for every youngster on taking up challenges?
Head on! Trust yourself the most. That’s my experience. Listen to everyone. People are sharper than you, dealt with more situations than you have, but eventually take the call yourself, for everything that is critical. Eventually it is about delivering to yourself. You are eventually answerable to yourself. For me, success is not linked to money. Money and profits are not unimportant. But I measure my success not necessarily by the amount of money I make, but by the kind of recognition I get, the kind of acceptance I get.
What is the key to a winning mindset?
When we were growing up, we were taught to be accepting of situations. As I grew up, I realised that in a way, this mindset breeds mediocrity and it dawned on me that until you excel, you are not going to grow. In a protected environment it is alright. But once the economy started opening up, after the ’90s, you were not going to grow if you were not competitive or better than others or faster or didn’t out-think the other. That is when we sort of started recalibrating, changing… the fashionable word is ‘reinventing’… we started paying emphasis on internal efficiency and research… when you get success, you want to do more of it… you get encouraged to do even more. It is a cycle.