Rakesh Jhunjhunwala: An Interviewer's Enigma, A Newsroom's Delight
Rakesh Jhunjhunwala was any newsroom's delight. For whenever Rakesh Jhunjhunwala would appear on a video screen or when his commentary was carried in print, a good conversation, sharp quotes, pithy sound bytes, and ratings/clicks were guaranteed. The remarkable part is that he arguably remained one of the most watched/read/heard voices in the Indian investing landscape for my entire journalism career of nearly two decades, and maybe even before that. One has to be able to trade and invest that amazingly well to be able to command that position for such a long time. The fact that his conversations transcended from a place of just 'investing' to also about 'India in the world' shows how the man morphed into not just an investing giant but also a colossal personality on all things investing and economy.
I did not know Rakesh Jhunjhunwala well enough. I did very few interviews with him over the span of my 18 years of journalism. The fact that I am still able to write about him shows how much he was followed, and how well he was heard by me and all other journalists covering equity markets. Believe me, when Rakesh spoke, not just the viewers, but the whole newsroom listened. For he could enthrall a newsroom with his wisecracks and rip to shreds the calmness of any interviewer with his sharp rebukes. While was a newsroom's delight, he was also an interviewer's enigma.
Rakesh Jhunjhunwala engaged with the media in various forms. Not only did he give chart-busting interviews, but he also got interviewed by top film personalities, and then also played interviewer to business leaders on Budget Day, In all, he imparted in equal measure both wisdom as well as common sense about investing. His interviews would start with a declaration of how he is not doing the conversation to help people make their portfolios, but ended up, directly or indirectly, doing just that. For that, people followed him and revered him.
Television newsrooms would gear up, debating about the colour of the newsflash to run, and ensuring internet connectivity backup for the person sending out those newsflashes about what the Big Bull was saying. He mattered, and no one left anything to chance when it came to an interview with Rakesh Jhunjhunwala.
Quite a few people would say that Rakesh Jhunjhunwala became the Rakesh Jhunjhunwala because he had the gumption to take sizeable positions. That probably does half justice to the sharpness of the investor that he was. Ramesh Damani, who was very close to Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, once cleared the air about this impression. In an interaction on BQ Prime, Damani asserted that Rakesh did not buy all of Titan on the same day. Sure, he may have needed some resolve to make the first investment. But topping up his investments as time went by, required skill... to assess the company's business model over time, the management's integrity and practices and the fate of the economy. That takes much more than just luck or guts.
Another story about how it was to work with Rakesh came from one of the sharpest brains in the business, Atul Suri of Marathon Trends. In the days when used to work in Rakesh's firm Rare Enterprises, Atul had visited the ET Now studios, where I used to work before BQ Prime. In some off-the-screen remarks when asked about working with Rakesh, Atul said it was like being in a classroom where no matter how hard the rest of the class tried, the first rank always went to this one student who would come up trumps. Atul spoke of how Rakesh had an investing brain that would think much ahead of others. That would make others in his team work much harder to be able to surprise him with a novel thought.
All these years later, I recall the reverence that Atul narrated this story with, such was the sharpness of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala's investing and trading mind.
BQ Prime got a handful of chances to talk to Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. I remember when we first spoke to him in 2017, Moody's had upped its rating on India, there was a buzz in the newsroom when Rakesh Jhunjhunwala's name came up on the list as a speaker who would connect with the platform in 10 minutes. He spoke for 12 minutes that day, in an interview where he appeared restless and in a hurry, but still made prescient remarks on fund flows and the economy. It was not easy to foresee the 'tsunami of flows', as Rakesh had predicted, back then, and not everyone did. But Rakesh did. The rest, as they say, is history. At the time, I may have thought it was one of my worst interviews, for Rakesh cut my questions in his indomitable style and chewed on his paan while talking. Still, the interview went viral and I got messages for doing a fabulous job. Such was the persona of the man I had interviewed.
His passing away is a big loss to the investing community, and I say this with sincerity. He was a man whose optimism about India was infectious. It is said that you can make money in the stock markets on the investing side if you are an optimistic person. And boy, was he optimistic about India! But the bigger reason I say that his passing away is a loss is up and coming investors will now never be able to get the perspective of the Big Bull, the way so many did over the last many years. That voice is almost irreplaceable.
Most memories voiced today by equity market veterans are filled with glowing mentions of the big-hearted man that he was. The investing wisdom that he left everyone with, and the fact that a self-made man made the billions that he did in the markets, is a gift from his end to the investing world, a gift of possibilities that come with the profession and practice of investing. India has many amazing investors, and there will always be an opinion of who has been the finest. It does not matter, for each investor has his or her own chutzpah and speciality, but comparisons there will be. In the eyes of the common investor of India, Rakesh was the king and the first amongst the equals.
Rest in peace, Mr Jhunjhunwala. You shall be missed.
Niraj Shah is Markets Editor at BQ Prime.