Legal Luminaries

Rajinder Sharma

“We, as in-house counsel, are on the conscience keepers of the business apart from keeping the dignity of the law. Marrying both law and business, the recipe for success is totally different.”

From a backroom postman to a boardroom strategy player!” – Rajinder Sharma’s candid description of his journey from an in-house counsel to one of the most distinguished lawyers to ever walk the corporate legal firmament of this country. Sharma, who is Director on the Board of Samsung India Electronics Pvt. Ltd. and also a General Counsel (GC) for South and West Asia, started his legal career in 1982 and is known for the fastest acquisition ever of an on-going concern as the first and founder GC of Bharti Airtel, when a company was acquired in 58 hours flat, apart from many other firsts.

However, it was not law that young Rajinder had thought of pursuing. In 1977 he was all set to become a teacher and had happily travelled to a remote corner of Bhutan, where he needed to take a two-day pony ride to reach, to teach Geography and English at a UNICEF –run school. It was on his father’s advice that he took up law. “My father said you have great interpersonal and oratory skills, and are very good at debating. He thought I should do a professional course and I ended up doing law.”

Rajinder had earlier done his English literature from Kurukshetra University where he had gone to pursue Geography but “ended up studying Shakespeare and Wordsworth,” inspired by the English literature professor. Though Rajinder has pursued subjects that he did not aim to study, it is his passion, which has always lead him to excel at them. “I am passionate about whatever I do. It was also the very same lack of passion which kept him away from joining the defence services, although he was selected in the national Defence Academy in 1974. Yet, he is quick to add that “My fauji upbringing has made me very systematic.” Rajinder’s father was in the Air Force and a great disciplinarian.

Again, it is his passion that has seen him scale the heights of success in his long years of career. While working on the Airtel acquisition case, Rajinder slept under his office table so that he could be present whenever needed during the night. It was his efforts which saw that the Company’s Act provision was utilized for the first time at Tata Steel for vacating company’s quarters. “I am a hands on guy. I love to go argue for my companies,” says this successful lawyer. As a rookie lawyer he suggested that the company file a criminal case to recover money from dealers. Today the very same case is a success model.

Having initially started as a private practitioner, he soon took up an offer with Punjab Tractors as an in-house counsel in 1983. He admits that when he began his career in 1982, the role of the in-house counsel was like that of a postman, a mere messenger between the company for a case. However, Sharma says, the in-house counsel is far more adroit and dynamic than given due. “We know the law and also understand the business. We can strategize and innovate as well,” he argues. He further adds that in-house counsel are capable of appearing in front of a small sales tax officer to the highest judge while a practising lawyer will fix his expertise in a particular court. “We are the conscience keepers of the business apart from keeping the dignity of the law. Marrying both law and business, the recipe for success is totally different,” are his wise words. He has been a first general counsel in companies like Punjab Tractor, IBM India, Lucent Technologies, Bharti Airtel, JSW Group and, now, Samsung India, while also sitting as a board director in Coca- Cola, Lucent, DuPont and Samsung India.

However, it seems law was not the only thing on his mind when he was undertaking his LL.B. at Indore Christian College. This was also the time when he met a quiet and simple girl—quite unlike him—whom he married in 1984 when he got his first salary. While Rajinder was smitten by Madhavi’s simplicity, Madhavi liked his talkative and full-of-life nature. Madhavi, a Marathi, and Rajinder, a Punjabi, hardly faced any resistance from parents as Rajinder’s parents were very clear on the fact that “marry whoever you want but should be capable of supporting her.” Having walked a long way together, they have a son Pradyumna who is an Orthopaedic Surgeon and daughter Priyanka who is a hotelier and runs her own small eco-resort of 11 huts in North Goa.

Rajinder is an avid reader and cricket player. Although he says he does not understand much of an art and music, yet it soothes him. But it is travelling that is closest to his heart. “Apart from the work, whenever I am in a new town, the first thing I do is I check out the local temple and a restaurant known for serving local rustic food,” says this foodie. Aheli in Kolkata where he relishes Paturi Machh and Southern Spice in Taj Chennai that serves Andhra Mutton are his favourites. “To enjoy a city, I become totally local.” Interestingly, even though there is not one airport in India where he has not landed, Rajinder when travelling for sheer leisure prefers the Indian Railways.

For Rajinder Sharma, it has been a pleasurable journey thus far. Let’s hope he is able to fulfil his one unfulfilled wish so far—that to be a teacher of law and “disseminate a repository of knowledge to the younger generation.”

We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001.

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