Mahesh Kothari was the Chairman and Managing Director of Exedy India Ltd when he died on 25th January 2017!
I must thank God that Rajendra Shitut (God bless his soul) was my classmate. I came in touch with Ceekay through Rajendra, who used to then work for Ceekay. With Rajendra, I went to Ceekay office at Nariman Point in Mumbai; at first, I met Pradeep Chinai the MD, and we just hit off. (Ceekay later became Exedy India Ltd) Then I met Mahesh Bhai; I did not know how to place Mahesh Bhai as I could see that he was different. We chatted, then he took me out for lunch, he was a little serious by nature, but I don’t know when our relationship changed to friendship and then into the family! I had become Ceekay advisor in 1981 and continued to date. I was taking my baby steps in professional life, and Mahesh Bhai discretely guided me as if I was his younger brother.
I am so lucky that I knew him when one reads about bad things in this world, I have always wondered that when there are humans like Mahesh Bhai in this world, how the world could go wrong. He was the epitome of clarity of thoughts, softness and purpose in life; he was definitely “Clutch Man of India.” In his way, he has guided many at Aurangabad plant through their career. Desai, Medsing, Malani, Kale, Shekhar, to name a few. Mahesh Bhai had a great ability to get the right people in the right place. Most accompanied him till the end in his life’s journey.
I have seen a few professionals in my life from close, but Mahesh Bhai with his empathy, kindness raced well ahead of others though others may have been equally good technically, business acumen wise and thoroughness. He used to get a bit agitated sometimes, and he could not withstand people who were not clear in their mind. He had a great generosity to accept errors made by others. I was always amazed by his ability to know minutest of the technical details from the factory shop floor. I asked Mahesh Bhai once about this, and he smiled and said, “Pramod, I just remember such details, somehow.”
Maheshbhai would never mince words and always called a spade a spade! Once during a meeting with a senior officer of a large manufacturing unit, we were bombarded by the officer about the poor quality, even before we sat in the chair. The officer continued his diatribe without allowing us to say a word. After things cooled down a bit, I said, “Could you call your person who is handling our product at your end?” The person came and was asked to explain the quality problems of the clutches supplied by us. He said, “The problem is not with their supplies; it is there for the other vendor’s supplies.” The senior officer was ashen-faced and mumbled, “Sorry boss! I did not mean to say this. Would you have a cup of tea?” Maheshbhai got up and said, “Thanks for the offer for tea, we just had it with someone else. Please remember one thing, if you don’t mean to say something, don’t say it!”
Another excellent quality in him was humility. Once he called me early morning and gave me a piece of his mind. The general rule was, when he spoke, you would just listen. At the end of the discussion, I told him, “I will study the issue more and come back to you, but perception on this appears based on insufficient data.” After two hours, he called me again. He said, “Pramod, my apologies! I passed judgment based on insufficient data.” As a CMD he did not have to apologise, but that was Maheshbhai for you!
In another incident, we were making clutches as per customer’s design, but there were severe warranty failures. Customers engineering team would not allow us to change the design. Our efforts to convince the customer were not succeeding. We were a single source. One day in a meeting at the plant, he called me and said, “Pramod, tell that engineer who has come, that we are stopping the manufacture of this item after one week.” With his firm stand, the design was modified in two months, and the issue was resolved.
Till the 5/6 years back, Mahesh Bhai used to visit Pune regularly, and it was always a high point for me as I could spend the whole day with him. We would talk on any subject in this world. His working style was that he would never impose anything on anybody. Work just happened. All people in Tata and Bajaj had great respect for Mahesh Bhai as he would always stick to commitments and was forthright in all his dealings.
I have travelled with him from Pune to Aurangabad many times, and he used to love driving. He would always share with me the driving time. We have had many chat sessions with only two of us, at the guest house. He would share many things, he would explain many things, and for me, they were more of training sessions of life. He would care very much about his family. He was 100% family man. He was always very proud of the way his son, Saurabh, grew and matured into an excellent professional and a human being. Saurabh has also picked up a significant number of helpful things from Mahesh Bhai. Lately, when I asked Maheshbhai about his next visit to his daughter in Singapore, he would smile and say “Yes, we will go shortly”!
Aurangabad was his second home. He was so much involved in work if he needed to visit a vendor quickly, he would hop behind on some one’s bike, if required, and rush to resolve some technical issue. All the people at Aurangabad plant were his family. When someone was travelling to Japan for the first time for work, he would personally make sure that the person had the clothing, suit and vegetarian food if required. He wanted to ensure that nobody ran into unnecessary trouble in a foreign country.
Mahesh’s presence for my family functions was always assumed. He would find time in his busy schedule. He always knew small nuances of so many things, Jaya and I would still be amazed. Mahesh, Nauka and two of us have had a few dinners together, and he was a fun person in a small private group. I last met him in Diwali when Jaya and I went to be with him. In spite of his body not supporting him, he, as usual, had very pointed questions about, work and my health (unfortunately both of us had similar health issues on which we exchanged notes), my children. He asked me when we were leaving and how we were going to Pune. When I told him I am taking eastern free-way via Crawford market, he, of course, knew the more straightforward way through Prarthana Samaj. But I never knew that it would be his last guidance to me in life!
We will always ask this question to ourselves with moistened eyes, why Mahesh Bhai had to go early! If Mahesh Bhai had been around and if we were discussing someone’s death, Mahesh Bhai the pragmatic would have told me, “Pramod, टाईम आता है तो जाना पडता है. (if your time has come you have to go)”