Yohan Poonawalla, the scion of billionaire Poonawalla family of Pune, is known for his passion for vintage cars and horses. Not many know that there’s a sincere family man and a perseverant businessman behind the facade of a rich and famous Yohan Poonawalla. In an exclusive chat with Nation Next, Yohan Poonawalla speaks about his business philosophy, family values and trials and tribulations of being rich and famous. Here’s all that you always wanted to know about him…
How would you describe being Yohan Poonawalla?
First off, I’m a family man. I’m proud to say that though I had a platform of family business, I have not only sustained the same but have grown it too. While doing so, I learned that ethics in business are a must and there’s no substitute for hard work. Rest, I leave for the others to decide. Let them reflect on the other personality traits of mine and conclude.
A common man is driven by the idea of acquiring wealth. What drives a rich man like you?
Like I said, I’ve been lucky to be born in a family like this! To grow and sustain the wealth is important but how to grow and sustain the wealth is more important. To be known as a respected businessman is more important than just amassing wealth. To me, the perceptions do matter.
What would you say to a young Indian who idealises a wealthy you and wishes to acquire as much as you possess?
I would say, there’s no shortcut to making money. You’ve to work hard, be dedicated, set your goals, do it ethically; and even if you don’t succeed, don’t do it the wrong way. My success mantra is getting into the nitty-gritty of everything, right down to the smallest details. I would suggest youngsters: If you do something, do it the right way or don’t do it! Even if its organising a party, or building a house, or putting up a factory – whatever you do, it should be perfect. Sometimes it may take a lot of time in doing things right but I like to do it that way only!
Among people at large, you are known more for your wealth than your businesses. How does it feel?
That’s why I asked you what the interview was about beforehand because nowadays, I tend not to give interviews just on my cars, horses etc. I have a passion for cars and horses but I would like to be known more for my businesses, rather than my wealth. In fact, beyond being a passion, stud farms is a serious business for us.
Is it the perfect marriage of passion and business that makes The Poonawalla Stud Farms the leading in the country in producing classic horses?
I won’t start a new business based on my passion, but for long while we’ve been passionate about horses, it’s always been a business too. We also love our other businesses but I guess we love the horses a bit more. It’s such a regal animal! My grandfather late Soli A. Poonawalla started the stud farms in 1946; since then the passion and the business of horses run in the family. In fact, the stud farms’ land is virtually in the heart of the city, and it doesn’t make commercial sense to run a stud farm there. We need to shift it out.
Please tell us about your other businesses.
Apart from running stud farms, in 1966, my dad and uncle (Dr Cyrus Poonawalla) started the pharmaceuticals company – Serum Institute of India Ltd. – which is now one of the biggest pharma manufacturers in the country. Then in 1987, two engineering companies were started (Intervalve Poonawalla Ltd.) and El-O-Matic (India) Pvt. Ltd. One with Dutch technology and the other one is a joint venture with a Fortune 100 American company called Emerson. I hands on run these two engineering companies, and my wife Michelle is now full time helping me in the same. I’m very proud that I’m the first one in the family to have diversified into other businesses than our traditional ones. I was the first to go into hospitality and commercial real estate investments in Pune and Mumbai – the two geographies that I know well. Our luxury spa ‘Grayshott’ in the UK is doing well. It’s a wonderful property in Surrey, which is just on the outskirts of London.
Between the engineering business and the stud farms, what would you like to develop more?
I would make the engineering business widespread since horses are doing well as a traditional business of ours.
Due to your wealth and lifestyle, the curiosities run amuck among people. How do you deal with them?
In a position like that of mine, one has to deal with people’s curiosities calmly and coolly. One can’t be offended. I wonder just being business entities, if we have to face the inquisitiveness and the rumours of this magnitude, what celebs like actors and cricketers must be going through!They are vehemently followed by a huge fan base of theirs. But when you’re looked upon by people and you’re in the public eye constantly, you can’t help being asked peculiar questions by the media and people at large.
Do you think while the common man wants to be wealthy, he also wants the wealthy to be apologetic about their wealth?
It depends… There may be a lot of people who see it that way but you can’t generalise.
Vijay Mallya, a family friend of yours, is being criticised for his lifestyle after the debacle of Kingfisher…
My family and I know him for many years; he’s a horse lover too. He’s achieved a lot in life. I remember, he was only 28-year-old, when his father passed away and he took over. I recently heard someone talk on the television that he inherited the business and he has done nothing, but it’s not true. He has grown his businesses like anything. Unfortunately, as it happens in so many big businesses, things went wrong in his airline business. He is a fine person and he’s worked hard. His lavish and flamboyant life, which he’s being criticised for, is his lookout. What he needs to do is just pay off the employees soon. Maybe, things will settle down!
What is your routine like?
Normal work days, I go to office, come back, a bit of gym in the evenings and spend rest of the time with my children. I’m very particular about spending time with my kids as I feel it’s very important to be a part of their growing up days. After growing up, they would get busy in their own things. I don’t want to miss out on these days of theirs. I take them out on holidays because that’s the time I get to spend the whole day with them. Today being a Sunday, I’m taking them along to Aamby Valley City for some car event. Like myself, my son likes vintage cars too, which is very rare for someone his age. It’s in his blood.
Talking about cars, Puneites say it’s a treat to watch when you’re out driving your classic Mercedes, Bentley or vintage Rolls Royce. Out of your enviable collection of vintage and classic cars, which one is your dearest?
The vintage car – Rolls Royce Phantom 3 – is my favourite. It’s a 1937 model and has V12 engine (the only V12 engine they made in those days). The new Phantom is named and based on this car. Interestingly, this car has a modified spit fire engine; it’s an aircraft engine. Rolls Royce, even today, makes aircraft engines. This car is very special to me! Of the classic ones, I prefer to drive the Lamborghini once in a while along with my son.
How and when did you realise you have a fascination for cars?
Ever since I was a child. I grew up looking at the vintage cars, so at an age when young boys follow sports cars, I developed a passion for vintage cars. Now I enjoy my sports cars as well.
Would you like to reborn as yourself?
Yeah! I would like to reborn as myself, having the same wife and same children!
Have you ever thought if you weren’t a wealthy man, what would you struggle for, and what would drive you?
I would have definitely liked to be an achiever under any circumstances. I don’t know what would that be but I’m sure I would be constantly driven to achieve something in life. My family had got what it’s got but I still have always been striving to take it to the next level. I would like my son and daughter to make our businesses grow, but only if they’re interested. I’ll allow them to do whatever they like. I won’t ever stop them from chasing their dreams.