If there is any regret I would nurse all my professional life, it would be not meeting Mr. Raghu Pillai, whose sudden demise this morning (April 10, 2011) has left me baffled with life’s uncertainties. Last month, I was at the Corporate Office of Home Town, which is also the Head office of Future Value Retail, where he had moved in a few months ago as CEO after being at the helm and putting up Reliance Retail to shape. I saw him walk past the cabin in which I was in a meeting; when I walked out, couldn’t spot him and left in a hurry for the next meeting. Little did I imagine that I would never see him again! It is ironical that I write this column on board a flight from Chennai to Kolkata where I started my career a decade ago at Musicworld Entertainment, part of RPG Retail for which we was the founding CEO since 1995. He suffered a massive heart attack and passed away at his Chennai home this morning and is survived by his wife, son and daughter.
Raghu Pillai was one of my first inspirations into Retail. I was among those 40 other Management trainees who were deeply inspired and influenced by his baritone-voice inaugural speech even as we were settling in our chairs that morning during the first day of the induction session at the RPG Retail’s former headquarters at Spencer’s Plaza at Chennai. He came across as a very simple and down-to-earth person but was a towering personality. His trademark Cotton half-sleeve shirts and Chinos trousers with a notebook and some papers on one hand and a box of Classic cigarettes on the other was an inspiration that many of us imitated, although out of sheer fan-following and respect than anything else. I had the privilege to interact closely with him during his regular visits to the RPG Headquarters in Kolkata – he would silently walk into the Musicworld store at Park Street and would be browsing the shelves, observing Customers and ideating new ways that we should be taking-up. Later on, when I moved to Foodworld Supermarkets Ltd., which was the Food & Grocery chain of RPG Retail, I continued to have interactions with him as I was heading the flagship store of Foodworld located at RA Puram, a South Madras residential locality where he was instrumental in opening the first Foodworld store, which was inaugurated by the late Carnatic Music Legend, Smt. MS Subbulakshmi. He used to frequent the store, usually on his way back home as we were also preparing for the store’s renovations in 2003.
Raghu was a big fan of music, as he spent many years with Gramophone Company of India (popularly known as HMV, a company that RPG Group bought over many years ago). He was a Retail Wizard – after all, he was the first working professional who had commenced the organized Retail set-up in this country. At RPG Retail, he was responsible for the introduction of various formats such as Foodworld, Musicworld, Health & Glow and Giant Hypermarkets and later on moved to Reliance Retail where he was the Group CEO for Strategy, Operations and Business Development. In Oct. 2010, he joined The Future Group as CEO of Future Value Retail and also as an Executive Member of the Board. His keen sense of understanding of markets and consumers came from his hands-on extensive experience – he used to spend a lot of time at the Retail stores. He was one person whom the entire Retail Industry looked up to – the first Retail Professional in this country to pave way for thousands of us who followed this unchartered territory.
I write this column with deep regret; it’s a pity I cannot attend his funeral on Monday morning at Chennai, but Sir, you will remain in our hearts forever as a great role-model and as an inspirational leader. May your Soul rest in peace…