If anyone has seen him speak in public, which he does frequently, it’s a pattern oft-repeated- he almost immediately connects with the audience. Sleeves rolled, an urgency always broods in his voice and actions. He’s a man in a hurry and he celebrates his 65th birthday today. ‘Don’t worry about making mistakes. Only those who try can go wrong’ he assures anyone around him. That’s the quintessential Rajeev Doddanavar for you.
“Let’s do it” has been his mantra in life. Being the son of Late Shri Komalanna Doddanavar, a senior Congress leader of Karnataka, meant carrying forward a big legacy. But he soon came into his own. Today, he is known around the country for his role in Bharatesh Education Trust and as a leader of the Jain Samaj. When I mention ‘country’, it’s not an exaggeration, for many have witnessed the depth of his connection with people.
Rajeev Doddanavar studied at St. Paul’s and even today holds the institution dear to his heart. He even participated in the Guinness Record that the school achieved for its largest alumni reunion. He was among the first few students from Belagavi to study engineering at SIT-Tumkur. Being an ardent cricket fan, it meant he represented his University in cricket tournaments. At a crucial time in his life, he had a slew of matches to play for his university and he decided to drop a year at engineering college for the sake of the game.
What happened next is something few could fathom, His father just asked him how he planned to take his remainder exams. When he replied he would clear all, he readily got permission. “I took 32 papers at once and cleared them by the end of my engineering course,” he says nonchalantly. Such was the passion for sports. He also played badminton and golf.
Joining the family business at a crucial time when the original family business was just being divided meant he had to think out of the box. That is when he got the opportunity to venture into the logistics business. His company became the first in this part to make use of GPS devices way back in 2005, to monitor vehicular movement while ferrying iron ore to Belikeri port near Karwar. At one point, he, along with his brothers, managed a fleet of over 1000 trucks during the peak of the iron ore export business.
When forest laws changed, he also had to change the direction of his business altogether. It was then that he, along with his elder brother Ajit Doddanavar, ventured into the aromatic chemicals business, as his younger brother Vinod Doddanavar had, by then, returned to join the family business with a masters degree in Pharmacy and a rich experience in R&D in Astra Xeneca, a Swiss MNC.
Rajeev Doddanavar recalls traveling to Mumbai and Delhi for business work, clocking over a lakh kilometers a year in his Skoda Octavia, many times returning back from Mumbai the same day. He would also fly to Delhi from Mumbai and return to Belagavi in 24 hours flat. Back then, Nandi Chemicals, the company that they had started, supplied aromatic compounds to Cycle Brand Agarbatthis and S. H. Kelkar & Co., two of the largest companies back then. They had leases to vast tracts of Eucalyptus (Nilgiri) forests.
During liberalization of the 90’s, the duty on imports of the compounds was slashed and his company suddenly became obsolete for it was cheaper to import now. Never to give up, the family decided to sell the beautiful factory which was bought by the Polyhedron Group and is now the Business Ashram.
As an astute businessman, spotting business opportunities at the right place and right time, he was always the pioneer in many ventures. With his father being the founder of Bharatesh Education Trust, Rajeev Doddanavar soon began showing interest in social service and found himself attending board meetings. Because Late Komalanna was a total people’s person and a visionary in the field of education, the young Rajeev soon picked up the nuances. ‘I used to sit outside the board room and listen to the happenings inside’ he says of his internship days. It was not long before he was actively participating in the growth story of Bharatesh. A lot of the growth spurt achieved by Bharatesh owes it to his active participation and ideation. He was also active in the 2006 Mahamastakabhishek at Shravanbelagola and even today is wholeheartedly engaged in the activities of the Bharatiya Jain Sangathan and JITO.
It was his relentless dedication that saw the construction of a beautiful Jain Basadi at Kasmalagi near Khanapur which now has one of the most beautiful 11th-century idol of Bhagwan Parshwanath which was unearthed during the construction of a school. The renovation of the Jain Basadi at Shetty Galli is also a work of his efforts, whereby he brought to closure a longstanding issue.
What makes him stand apart is his zeal for knowledge. He reads voraciously. God knows how many books he buys, reads, discusses and gives away. He knows a hell lot of things about politics, technology, plants, geology, animals, education, minority rights, and everything in between. And loves his music, being a huge fan of Mukesh himself.
He was like a child in Disneyland during his visit to the USA last year, keenly observing, noting and asking questions. He visited every place, every zoo, and museum with his grandchild, like a kid himself, learning and assimilating at every step. And when he returned, a lot of the observations found meaningful channels in his fields of work. His eyes twinkle with any new idea. He’s willing to take risks and move ahead.
He asks questions. Why can’t we do it? What solutions do you have? Let’s try and see. These are some of his patent exclamations. That spirit of facing life head-on rolled sleeves and all, was in full display when he encountered the most difficult of health issues in 2018. The data gathered, analyzed, possible solutions debated, diet plan, he is deep into research mode to handle the crisis. It’s almost another engineering project for him which he must complete. He calls his staff and discusses ideas even from the hospital bed. His office is full of people, books and loud discussions, constantly buzzing with ideations and debates. It’s a matter of time before he is back in his office and doing what he does best. Lead by example.
Wishing him many more happy birthdays in the years to come!