It was sometime in October 1990. An eclectic mix of guests had gathered at the late LM Thapar’s house to celebrate his 60th birthday. Hemant Luthra, the-then COO and CFO of Ballarpur Industries, and his wife chose to gift Thapar a present wrapped in The Pioneer, which the latter had just relaunched in Delhi. As the evening progressed, the late Vinod Mehta, the recently hired editor of the newspaper, stood up and raised a memorable toast to Thapar: “I have been hired and fired many times… and am told that all bosses are SOBs. But it seems to me that LMT [Thapar] is the best SOB that I have ever known.” The toast brought the house down.
Sometime after joining the Mahindra group in 2001, Luthra narrated the episode to Anand Mahindra at the farewell of a respected company veteran. There was an awkward silence at first, but Mahindra — forever a good sport — had a good laugh. That night, when Luthra got home and narrated the incident to his wife, she was furious. “You worked with LM Thapar for 18 years; you have been here for just three months. Are you completely crazy?”
Her reaction worried Luthra, who immediately sent a mail to Mahindra to make amends. “Anand… apologies… I took some liberty and poetic license with the SOB story. It was only meant as a compliment to reflect the spirit of freedom that has made M&M fun in just three months. No offence meant and, I hope, none taken.” In a flash, at what was well past midnight, Mahindra replied: “Hemant, I must be a bigger SOB than anyone thinks if I could take offence at what you said!”
That self-effacing email proved to be a defining moment for Luthra, whose respect for Anand Mahindra has only grown in the 15 years that he has been with the group. Sitting at Mahindra Towers, the group’s corporate office in the Worli locality of central Mumbai, the chairman of Mahindra CIE Automotive — earlier called Mahindra Systech — says, “I have had terrific bosses at IBM and Ballarp