m i l l i o n a i r e PA S S I O N & P O W E R

Speed demon

Doing business at300kph
Gautam Singhania is known for the yachts he sails – the Ambassador 47 and the newly built Ashena; for the cars he drives – a Lotus Elise and a Honda S2000; and the company he keeps – everyone from Hurley-Nayar to DJ Aqeel. Millionaire meets the head of a $600 million empire to ask him about all these and more
text Shalini Seth

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A product of a rich tradition of hand-crafted boat-building using indigenous products such as Burma teak

autam Singhania, chairman and managing director of raymond, is the biggest advertisement for his fabric. not only because he epitomises the tagline, ‘the complete man’, used by raymond, one of the world’s largest focussed textile and garments manufacturing conglomerates. or because he wears his product. on the contrary, because he does not. “i haven’t got one. it was sold out,” he says, after he proudly talks about the fact that his company created the Super 230S, the world’s finest suit fabric made up of 11.8 micron wool, which comes from a special breed of australian merino sheep called Saxony merino. “There are only about 60 suit lengths of this fabric. You can’t produce more than that in a year. lm got the first one,” Singhania says, referring to UK resident laxmi mittal, the richest indian and the fifth richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine. Singhania himself is at home in torn jeans and an embroidered summer shirt abroad his yacht, the ashena, which was docked at Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach resort. like his host city, on whose skyline the world’s tallest hotel, the floodlit

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“It’s the only 45-metre, fIve-deck super-yacht to be buIlt from burma teak. there Is nothIng else lIke thIs In the world. you are sIttIng on a very, very specIal boat”

Burj al arab, and the full moon compete for your attention, the man must love superlatives. “it’s the only super-yacht in the world ever that is made entirely from Burma teak. it’s the only 45-metre, five-deck super-yacht to be built from Burma teak. There is nothing else like this in the world. You are sitting on a very, very special boat,” he says softly.

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aboard the yacht is a careful selection of people. Friends such as landmark Group chairman miki Jagtiani, the indian Consul General among others, are invited for a casual evening along with some members of the press that were issued invitations from india. There are some photographers as well, but it is unlikely that his party will make it to any of the society pages. Gautam Singhania’s annual pre-new Year bash at his lakeside bungalow in Powai, mumbai, would be a night-long celebration ending with a champagne brunch the next morning. With about 1,500 invitees each year, the party would still be a private affair with no paparazzi given access. When liz Hurley and husband arun nayar came to india for the second leg of their wedding celebrations in march, Singhania was the first to welcome them with a party before heading off to Jodhpur to join in the festivities. So, is there a wish-list of people that he would like to meet, in the overlapping world of millionaires and celebrities? “There is no celebrity i want to meet. if i had to choose five people i would like to meet, they would be the people i want to become friends with. You meet those kinds of people in different walks of life. There is no icon i want to meet. i want to meet good people with whom i feel happy, with whom i can bond, with whom > i can have fun. That is important,” Singhania says.
The Ashena

“I always look for something new to do, something crazy... Change causes stability”

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Singhania is at the helm of an empire with an annual turnover of $600 million, 20,000 employees, 26 manufactories, 450 ownbrand stores and 20,000 multi-brand stores

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In IndIa, sInghanIa’s fast-paced lIfestyle, peppered wIth cars, jets, partIes and yachts, makes as much news as hIs company’s wInnIng bId In an auctIon of fIne wool

it, made it higher and it just got into a different proportion. Today, she is like a super-yacht, which is a different scale,” Singhania says. The ashena, a three-deck luxury yacht, is, he says, india’s first and only indigenous yacht, one of the few in the world that is constructed entirely out of wood, probably the only one with an all-wood superstructure. Designed by third-generation boat-builders in a village in Gujarat on the west coast of india, the yacht’s uniqueness is in the fact that it is the product of a rich tradition of hand-crafted boat-building using indigenous products such as Burma teak, the expertise passed down over generations.

Singhania is routinely called names such as speed-addict

Equally important is privacy. Some years ago, he was involved in designing his hideaway. “i like to explore different resorts. The places you visit the more you learn. my hideaway spot is my farm in alibaug that is just across the harbour from mumbai. Just as you can get away into the desert, i can get away to the village. it’s another world. There is no one there. it is just the most beautiful place in the world,” he says, till you get him back to the question of what he calls ‘projects’. “i love it! i always look for something new to do, something crazy. This yacht project is now coming to an end so i need to find something else,” he says, so softly that you wonder at all the talk of a fast-track lifestyle. The yacht, for example. Five years in the making, it has been the talk of the indian press for months. “i actually started this project as something completely different. on the way, it grew and grew into what it is today. and we stretched it, we pulled

The huge master cabin spans the full width of the vessel; there are five guest cabins, six jet skis and a Jacuzzi. What’s the significance of the boat’s name? “She is named after the three most important women in my life – my mother, my sister and my wife.” and his daughter? “The jet’s named after my daughter. She was actually named before my daughter was born,” he says. “i think change causes stability. You change as a person, you evolve. i had a daughter last year, and it has definitely changed me. it’s an amazing feeling. You have someone in your life that completely comes and take charge.” in india, Singhania’s fast-paced lifestyle, peppered with cars, jets, parties and yachts, makes as much news as his company’s winning bid in an auction of fine wool. He is routinely called names such as speed-addict. When there was a Formula one event in the country, he brought >

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even In mumbaI, the cIty of celebrItIes and cIne-stars, sInghanIa-spottIng Is a sport. he once confessed to have drIven a mercedes benz s-class at 250kph at 4am on mumbaI’s marIne drIve

his best cars – the lotus Elise and the Honda S2000 – to race in the Foreign open class. He once confessed to have driven a mercedes Benz S-Class at 250kph at 4am on mumbai’s marine Drive. in 2004, he participated in Supercar racing in Europe, where he made a 5,000km high-speed dash across the continent in a 400bhp Ferrari 360 modena. Singhania had earlier notched the 300kph mark participating in a non-competitive race. a chance mention about being allowed to fly Sukhoi military aircraft in Ukraine had Singhania raring to go – in the cockpit above ground, doing tail spins, rolls and vertical rides. “i love cars, i absolutely love cars. i have a nice collection of cars,” he says. ask him about his next car and without a moment’s hesitation he replies, “Surely, it is going to be the Zonda. it’s an awesome machine. You drive it in Europe in the Cannonball. in mumbai i have a lotus, a Honda S2000 fully blown to race specs, i have a Skyline GT3 which is once again fully blown to 1,100bhp, which is incredible and really very fast,” he says. Even in mumbai, the city of celebrities and cine-stars, Singhania-spotting is a sport. You can catch him off the Gateway of india at the helm of Shazma, his dhow, or moonraker, another yacht, or driving one of his speedboats – Golden Eye, octopussy, Smokin Joe or raymond – to the limit. at work, he is at the helm of an empire with an annual turnover of $600 million, 20,000 employees, 26 manufactories, 450 own-brand stores and 20,000 multi-brand stores. He is as hard-headed a businessman as his father, the well-known aviator Vijaypat Singhania, who retired in 2000. Singhania, a fifth generation representative of raymond, whose family founded the company in merwar, rajasthan, in 1925, has ambitious growth plans for the middle East, where the company has a network of 27 exclusive stores and over 1,000 multi-brand outlets. The company witnessed a 52 per cent growth in the

region last year. He predicts the rise of india. The acquisition of a Portuguese textile company (regency Texteis Portuguesa) has given raymond a manufacturing and distribution base in the European market. The company owns raymond, Park avenue, monzoni, Be, ColourPlus and Zapp! among many popular brands across india. “We have started a design studio in italy. i believe the Dna of the italian business is design. instead of bringing italians to india and setting up a studio, they can feel the style and passion that works for all our brands. indians travel the world. They want to conquer the world. and they want to conquer the world very quickly, i think. That is what is going on right now,” Singhania says. But foreign cars and friends notwithstanding, there is a core of indian-ness, he claims. “i am a hundred per cent indian. i take a huge amount of pride in that. at heart, i am indian; by vision, i am global. You can’t take my heart away from me, which is from india. my values, my traditions, my culture, they are all very indian. “This yacht is a manifestation of what i am. its hull is indian. it is designed in india. it is designed by me,” Singhania says, pointing at the white embroidered curtains. and does the same apply to the indian market? “There is no other brand in the world that sells fabric over the counter. india is a very unique market. We [raymond] are today the largest manufacturers of worsted fabric in the world. and people don’t sell fabric; they sell garments; which is what india is going to move to in 10 years. There is no brand that compares to this. Eventually, raymond suits will come. raymond stands for one thing, which is trust. The only thing raymond translates into

One of the most important women in his life is wife Nawaz

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A part of Raymond’s vast empire

is trust, and trust works into any price segment that you look at – whether it is inr200 or inr200 million. our philosophy is very simple: at whichever price point we are, we will give you the value at that price. “Within india, we are very proud that across all product categories, across the board, we are in the top 10. raymond in india, across the board, is amongst the top 10 in all categories, counting multinationals, indian brands, everything,” he says, in what would seem like his publicist’s dream, a CEo rattling off superlatives. How does he strike that elusive balance between work and projects? “When i take decisions in my business, i believe that the power of combined decision-making is greater than the wisdom of each individual. our team works together and we work very strongly together. like they say, the smartest person is the room is the collective wisdom of the group. So that’s the way we take decisions. You have got to leave your emotions behind when you take decisions. You mix in emotions, you mess up the decision. in your business you have to focus on business. There is no place for emotion. Because if you mix up emotion in your business you are going to make the wrong decision. “on the other side, with something like this [yacht], it is emotion; there is no business in it. Then you do something very,

very unique,” Singhania explains, in an uncharacteristically long speech. Does he go to work in a suit, even if it is not made of the most expensive fabric on their shelves? Says the soft-spoken Singhania: “When i work, i wear a business suit. i have my own schedule, i work on holidays, play on weekdays. You gotta work on the weekend; then, if you take a few days off during the week… look, it is monday, and i am here.” and is there room for more superlatives? With the Burj al arab and the moon in front of him, what would he choose to look at? “The moon, any day,” comes the unhesitating reply.

At home in torn jeans and an embroidered summer shirt aboard his yacht, the Ashena

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