Ayon Banerjee
Obituary

The elder brother I never had...

The author pens a personal memoir addressed to veteran marketer and founder of Milagrow Robots, Rajeev Karwal.

The texts won’t go away.

No matter how much I want to stop seeing them, or believing what they say.

And now, the media too has picked up on it. So, there’s no escape. It’s not a bad dream, but a fact.

I try to gather myself and remind myself of all my spiritual beliefs – that death is just the opposite of birth, not of life. Life, of course, is the essence of it all, that neither begins nor ends.

Easier said than done. When death knocks this close and this hard, even the hardest nuts crack. I too cracked today.

Today, we lost Rajeev Karwal to COVID. It’s likely that you’ve read about it, or received some forwarded news clip about this. Rajeev, after all, was a hero and a role model to many, especially those who have spent time in the consumer electronics space of India.

Before I go further into this post, let me quote a paragraph from a chapter in my book that also had the good fortune of being blessed and endorsed by Rajeev.

As front line young Turks of the Indian FMCG/electronics industry in the late 1990s, we were often starved for heroes because most top guys used to be from the old order – defensive and conventional slow movers, who preferred a politically correct status quo over disruptive exponential growth. Then we started hearing of a certain gentleman called Rajeev Karwal, who was hired to lead a final attempt to establish LG Electronics in India (a company that had failed in the country thus far). Still in his 30s, Karwal was an outlier, to say the least. At the end of year 1, with Karwal at the helm, LG was the fastest-growing brand in India. By year 2 and eventually year 3, LG had become the undisputed market leader in India. Karwal then went ahead to repeat this feat with an 80-year-old hemorrhaging Philips Electronics, which started showing profits within the first year under his leadership. Later, as the CEO of the struggling Electrolux, he again miraculously turned it around. He was named in the Economic Times’ list of most powerful CEOs in 2004 and was, among other things, also featured on the cover of Business Today as one of the top 25 rising stars of India Inc. Over the years, Rajeev and I have shared a very warm personal bond and I always consider him the elder brother I wish I had. And he, in turn, has always reciprocated. On the professional front, I always held him as one of my role models, especially because of the sheer spectrum of turnarounds he engineered, not an easy task by any means. Especially in a world where we see most CEOs flounder after an initial orchestrated spark.’

But this post is not going to be about Rajeev Karwal, the visionary, the ‘Bachchan of Indian consumer electronics’, or the founder of India’s largest service robots company, Milagrow. It is about Rajeev Karwal, the human being. My Yoda, my Mr. Miyagi and my Frankie Dunn. He was an elder brother I never had.

I had ‘heard’ of Rajeev quite a few months before getting to actually meet him. When I finally did, he was nothing close to what the business media projected him as – brash, insensitive and aggressive. He was, on the contrary, one of the sharpest minds I had encountered till then, someone with immense clarity of thought, depth and breadth of vision, and boundless earthy energy to execute his vision. He was also a man of unflinching personal integrity and of courage to call a spade a spade. As I got to know him better, I saw that he was also one of the gentlest and the kindest human beings I’d encountered in my professional career.

When he joined Electrolux, the fanboy in me timed my joining date in my new industry to coincide with his, a fact he found amusing. He called me to wish me well. He also said I reminded him of his younger self. That was 2003. The beginning of a beautiful personal relationship. And the discovery of a role model and an extended family member.

In the past 18 years, as we went about our journeys, chasing our destinies, while being chased by our individual fates, ours was a relationship that stood like a rock, despite the differences in our political beliefs. His would be among the first wishes to come in during my special days. And while he went from strength to strength following his dream and breaking new ground over the years, he always found time for me whenever I needed him – by lending me a patient ear, offering me pearls of wisdom during a knotty bend and, sometimes, just inspiring me by being himself. An aspirational human being, who leaves you undecided, whether you respect him more or love him more. When he and Shobha bhabhi sent me a very personal invite for their son’s wedding, I knew that they too thought of me as family.

Last year, while chatting with him about my upcoming book, I asked him if he would like to endorse it. He sent me the endorsement for the back cover in five minutes flat. Little did I know that this is how he will live on with me.

The elder brother I never had...

I look at his words again. Suddenly I feel a little cold and incomplete.

A devout family man and a loving father, he leaves behind two fine sons, who we are all so proud of and who will continue to carry forward his legacy, just like what Samarth wrote to me in his text message. And like I told you – Samarth and Saksham, do reach out to me at any time you wish. I am family.

Rest in peace Rajeev Bhaiya. We’ll meet again, of course. Somewhere in the skies. And the lessons can resume.

Your younger brother,

Ayon

The author is APAC sales leader, services and digital – GE Renewable Energy. The article has been reproduced with permission from the author's LinkedIn blog.