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They Took The Road Less Travelled

All Ranbaxy promoters have taken on lesser-travelled paths to turn the company into the success that it is

Ranbaxy is an unusual name, even for a pharmaceutical company, but it has an unusual history behind it. The company, initially a distributor for a Japanese drug company, was founded way back before independence by two businessmen, Ranjit Singh and Gurbax Singh, who combined their two names for their new firm.

Eventually, it was acquired by their cousin, Bhai Mohan Singh, a Delhi-based financier, for a few lakhs. Mohan Singh knew nothing about drugs and tried hard to get rid of it, but there was nobody in Delhi at the time who knew about drugs either and he was stuck with Ranbaxy.

The company prospered and when the sales topped one crore, big money in those days, the management, which meant Bhai Mohan Singh, decided to go public. It so happens that I was working for a one-man outfit that handled public issues - I was that one man - a rare thing thirty years ago, so we decided to help out Bhaisaab, as Singh was known in Delhi, and take the company public.

It was a small issue, about a crore or so, but the company's products were popular and it received thousands of applications and the issue was oversubscribed 20 times, also something of a record. After that the Singh family never looked back.

We handled the issue and became the company's registrars. Most shareholders received only 25 shares, which they promptly tried to sell off. There were few buyers, so they came to us, but we did not deal in shares, and told them so, but most of them had never handled shares before and they were stuck with them.

The company grew and grew like Topsy and became so big with so many bonus and other issues that some shareholders became fabulously rich. I know an old widow who purchased a house in one of the better colonies of Delhi with the proceeds of the sale of her Ranbaxy shares though she did not know what Ranbaxy made and why the shares were such hot property.

By that time, I had developed other interests, and closed the company. But we kept our contacts with Ranbaxy, particularly with Bhaisaab and his elder son, Parvinder Singh, who had now taken over. One day, I ran into Bhaisaab at an embassy party, not far from his house, and after the usual powvows, he took me aside to tell a story, but I did not much attention.

Suddenly, Singh broke down and, unusually for him, there were tears in his eyes. He said that though he was now chairman emeritus or some such designation, he had no chair and the company had passed into other hands.

"What do you mean other hands?" I asked, "It is still with the family, isn't it?"

I made him sit down on a sofa and tried to change the subject. After all, we had worked together, or I had worked with him and his family for nearly a quarter century, and he had always treated me with kindness.

I do not know why his grandsons are selling the company to foreigners, but they must have their reasons. They were tiny tots when the company went public and used to play around in the factory at Mohali, when we had our AGMs there. Their father, who made the company what it is today, died a few years ago.

If Indian companies can buy foreign companies, there is no reason why it cannot be the other way round. Incidentally, the original company founded by the two Singhs seventy years ago were distributors for a Japanese company. And guess what, it's the Japanese who are now buying Ranbaxy. What goes around, comes around!