Our June cover star is a businessman, industrialist, a car enthusiast, owner of a stud farm, social activist, a hippophile and what not. While in conversation with Just Urbane, Mr. Yohan Poonawalla talks about his versatile businesses, passion for four wheelers, lifestyle, his hustles to grow the ventures and much more.
Words: Amisha Shirgave
Photography: Shailendra Pardeshi
Did you always wish to take over the family business and expand it or did young Yohan have any other aspirations too?
Yohan Poonawalla: Like many young aspirants, I too had tremendous energy with several enterprising ideas. However, I am never emotionally inclined or passionate with businesses (the only passion that our family inherited is horse breeding which runs in our blood) and evaluate them only on their potential to complement our prominent business establishments. I had to make crucial moves so as to prove my individual capacity at that young age and that’s when I realised tremendous potential in realty and properties. Even though I started my career with basics including working on the top floor of our engineering businesses; Intervalve Poonawalla Limited and Elomatic India Private Limited, interacting with HR, Marketing and Finance, my focus till date has been acquisitions that are property based such as commercial assets. I am proud and happy that my ventures and investments have yielded significant returns.
In the public eye, Yohan Poonawalla is a businessman and a car enthusiast. Our readers would like to know about your business ventures and your efforts behind their achievements.
YZP: Though I am an industrialist, a horse lover and then a car enthusiast, I am also very much a family man. My priorities essentially revolve around these aspects. I head the engineering group of companies viz Intervalve Poonawalla Limited and Elomatic India Pvt. Ltd. which have grown multi-fold since I took over in 2002. My other business ventures include realty investments, finance, large scale commercial construction and development and commercial leasing.
You are the only one in your family to have diversified businesses. How do you manage it all and how does it feel to be the unique one?
YZP: Diversification and change are the key elements to success. All major conglomerates around the world embrace these elements to progress and retain their position in the market. However new propositions do not come risk free. I take calculative risks after studying the ability and credibility of the project and secondly, they should in no way negatively impact my principal entities. These 2 predominant factors govern my involvement in any new project. Mere initiatives or new businesses do not make me the unique one. What matters are the results and harvest that benefits the team collectively. I feel elated when my ventures provide commercial opportunities to our various business associates and employees.
As a businessman, is there a mantra that you follow to keep achieving everything that you wish for? If yes, our readers would be delighted to know about it.
YZP: Whilst I manage the Engineering group, I do run a separate branch that involves investments and finance. During my initial years at the factory, I learnt the most important aspect that differentiates between a businessman and an industrialist is his core ability to lead people. Anyone today can be a businessman but to be an industrialist one has to command the confidence of people. I feel privileged to be the source of livelihood for thousands of my employees and their families and all our various stakeholders. These are the true assets that the Poonawalla family has built over the years. We are committed towards the well-being of our people and look after them as we run factories and create employment opportunities. My mantra has always been to encourage teamwork and hone capabilities of deserving candidates. Investment in good people makes you an industrialist!
"I had to make crucial moves so as to prove my individual capacity at that young age and that’s when I realised tremendous potential in realty and properties"
The Car Affair
You own a very unique collection of cars. Which car in your collection is dear to you and why?
YZP: I am proud of my collection of vintage and classic cars as its no ordinary collection anymore. I have always been fascinated by vintage cars for their provenance and craftsmanship and love to study them and understand their assembly and mechanism.
Each car in my fleet is unique with rich history and heritage and is special to me. When I added my first Rolls Royce Phantom to my collection in the year 2000, little did I know that it was the beginning to a series of collectibles which are very precious and have multiplied manifold in value.
My collection of vintage and classic cars are special but my all-time favorite remains, my “Rhubarb & Custard’’ MYSORE Bentley as she is fondly called by one & all in the car fraternity, she is a 1949 Bentley Mark VI 4 Light Touring saloon by Hoopur & Co specially custom built for the Maharaja of Mysore, he had ordered 7 Bentleys at the time all together, Regarded today as one of the most historically important Bentleys in the world, chassis B294EY was coach built by the royal warrant holding coachbuilder Hooper & Co. In 1949 it was delivered new to the Maharaja of Mysore, who, at the time, was reportedly the second richest man in the world, after the Nizam of Hyderabad, personalized for the potentate, the car was finished in bright red & yellow which earned it the moniker “the Rhubarb and Custard car”. It was upholstered in cream leather & piped green and came with lots of regalia and a range of extras, Special features included cabinets to the back of the front seats, with flasks & a picnic set, a hollow arm-rest fitted with a cut glass toiletries set with silver tops, an open tray for spectacles, two suitcases in solid hide for the boot, folding tray, one large sandwich box, a recess in the top part of the rear seats to accommodate water bottles, thermos flasks and 4 silver beakers. This was in addition to power operated windows, 2 flag staffs, illuminated plaques & shields in solid silver and 24k gold fitted to the front and rear of the car, an illuminated plaque on the top of the windshield engraved with the Mysore royal coat arms. The Mysore coat of arms on the doors and the unique ‘MYSORE 1’ number plate complete the royal car.
The Poonawalla Lifestyle
Apart from being a car enthusiast, we know for a fact that you are fond of horses too. Tell us more about your horse affairs. Is it just a passion or is business involved too?
YZP: Horses are our first love and a family legacy which my grandfather incorporated in 1946. Our unconditional love and passion for horses bonds the family together. Horse Racing in India is synonymous with the Poonawalla family and I would like the legacy to continue for generations to come. I am the third generation in the Stud Farm business and my children are the 4th generation. It is always very exciting and interesting to attend top racing events around the world such as Epsom and Royal Ascot where the who’s who of the world attend, from Royalty and Sheikhs to business tycoons.
Moving on to your lifestyle, what does a normal day in Yohan Poonawalla’s life look like?
YZP: There is surely no same day for Yohan Poonawalla. Some days are packed with meetings while some days are spent at my factories, some at the stud farms and races. Sometimes it’s my real estate or investment portfolios that take up part of my day. In a nutshell there is a lot going on all the time. Quick and decisive decisions are always required to be taken.
Do you think your kids have inherited the same passion for life as yours? Would you want them to take over your businesses or excel in their own interests?
YZP: Certain attributes and passion are in their blood and need no introduction to my kids. They are equally passionate for horses as has been the legacy in the family. My daughter Tania is very passionate towards my Vintage car collection and Shows, my son Zayan probably loves cars as much or even more than me. I would definitely want my children to take over the family business but surely they will have full freedom and support from both Michelle and me to do what interests them hopefully in addition to the various family businesses.
"I am proud of my collection of vintage and classic cars as its no ordinary collection anymore. I have always been fascinated by vintage cars for their provenance"
The Social Saviour
There is no doubt in the fact that the Poonawalla Group has always had the back of people in need. They have helped and aided so many people. Right from students to sick old people. Mr. Poonawalla says that out of all the charitable initiatives taken by him and his wife Michelle, healthcare and education are dear to them.
You have been a supporter of social causes and there are various trusts under your name too. Tell us about the various social causes you support and how have the trust funds benefitted them?
YZP: Poonawalla Group has always believed in giving back to the society. We support several Corporate Social Responsibility activities such as providing gainful employment to the Poona District Leprosy Committee since 1990 thus playing an important role in almost eradicating the disease, donating towards a state-of -the-art building known as ‘Zavaray Poonawalla Cancer Building’ with ultra-modern facilities devoted to the treatment and care of cancer patients at the Ruby Hall Hospital, developing and maintaining ‘The Gool Poonawalla Garden’, construction, widening and resurfacing of the late Soli Poonawalla Road in Hadapsar and promoting English medium education at the ‘Soli Poonawalla Memorial High School’. During the Pandemic the YOHAN POONAWALLA FOUNDATION was committed to the well-being of our frontline officers and healthcare workers. The foundation also supported the Pune Police Force in appreciation of the commendable work during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has contributed towards the Shri Sant Gadge Maharaj Vidhyalay for Education, Sports ground development & maintenance and school bus facilities, renovation and refurbishment of the Turf Club House, Pune. It also provides benevolent assistance to needy people by aiding and promoting family planning especially among the lower strata of the society.
Words of Wisdom
As a business tycoon, what words of wisdom would you like to share with our readers?
YZP: I have always believed that there is no shortcut to success and there is definitely no substitute to hard work, dedication, integrity and passion in whatever be your field. The big wheel is the aptitude to make the right decisions and that too super quickly. If you do not make a calculative decision and strike gold when opportunity meets, any amount of hard work will not yield you the returns that you strive for. It is imperative to give a moment to deliberate important decisions before leading the cause with full determination.
So folks, that was Mr. Yohan Poonawalla for Just Urbane.