Young and dynamic, Vishwang Desai is a modest and down-to-earth person. He feels that success is a vain quality that he would not like to associate with. “Life has phases, ups and downs, and all you need to do is keep doing your work. Success will fade, may come and go, it doesn’t last. My focus is on doing my work and keeping a work and home life balance.”
Vishwang Desai is the Managing Partner of Desai & Diwanji, which is one of the largest and oldest law firms in India with offices in various cities. He did his schooling from St. Xavier’s High School, Mumbai. Law was not on the agenda for Desai even though his father Yeshwant Manibhai Desai was a lawyer and partner with the firm. “I actually wanted to become a heart specialist,” he says, “but I was short of just two marks and got admission in a medical college outside Mumbai, but I did not want to leave my hometown. And then a friend suggested that I opt for law. It’s only after joining the firm in 1985 that I really started enjoying the profession.”
The firm was started by Ambubhai Desai and Kishonlal Diwanji in 1928. Ambubhai was Yeshwant Desai’s uncle. Yeshwant Desai completed his law studies in 1955, joined the firm as an article clerk, was then made into an assistant and finally became a partner in 1959. “Vishwang is a braveheart, has no fears, he plans and executes well, and is open to risks and challenges,” says the 83-year-old Desai shyly. “At times an obstinate child, the quality has now flowered into single-minded determination.”
Vishwang Desai went on to graduate in Chemistry from Jaihind College, Mumbai, and finally passed his LL.B. from Government Law College, Mumbai in 1985. He is a solicitor and a member of the Incorporated Law Society, Mumbai, and other trade bodies. He specialises in M&A, project finance, private equity, infrastructure and corporate finance. He has advised governments, large multinational and domestic corporations, multilateral agencies, and lenders in some of the largest transactions in these sectors. He has repeatedly received ‘Lawyer of the Year’ awards from various International publications.
But the journey has been an innovative walk since 1985. The firm landed on its current path in 1990 when liberalisation happened. “In the 1980s, there was no international flux. And changes in the government were the buzz. I felt the correct approach would be to introduce ourselves to the MNCs. But doing that was not easy, as they were not aware of Indian firms and norms. Also, communication was not as easy as it is now. The STD service was through operators at a cost of Rs 180 per minute. There was no internet or fax, only telex. Also contact details were not easy to find. Though I wanted the pace to be quicker but communication was a slow process,” recounts Desai.
On a fortunate day, he saw a poster in the book shop India Book House which talked about a guide to 8,000 companies in Europe. “The bookseller told me that it would take six months to come by ship, that’s how books would come from overseas in those days.” Six months later, the book with him, Desai went on to introduce the firm to companies across France, Italy, Germany and UK using the Indian postal service. “My first letter was to Mercedes Benz, then Volkswagen, Totale, and Aventis. I did not think I was going to get a response, but they invited me to come for a meeting in their offices and the course of the firm changed,” recalls Desai.
A man who keeps a low profile, Desai lays emphasis on fitness and is an art collector. His home has a wide range of green teas and walls lined with fine artworks. Even the office has some works. “Art is a passion. I like to collect anything that strikes a chord and most of them are modern artworks,” tells Desai. Colours at home abound, where he relaxes in bright tees and jeans. “I like the artist Biren Dey.”
A healthy body and sound mind is the age-old adage that describes Desai well. “Very disciplined about food, he does not take in salt,” says his wife Paulomi. Being fit and fine is Desai’s mantra to living life well and has eliminated milk, fried foods, sweets and all forms of bread from his diet. Missi roti, veggies, fruits and white meats are the daily norm but “he experiments during holidays. He will spend time to study food and try different things. Sweet dishes he likes are Egyptian Umm Ali and baklava.” Paulomi is also an advocate but did not take up practice in order to take care of the family.
Desai likes to keep fit, doing half-an –hour of strength training thrice a week with his trainer Vijay Raj. He also enjoys playing badminton.
On Desai as a professional, Paulomi says he does not appear restless on the surface but is always thinking and is a team player. “He does not like to be in the limelight.”
Quality time is holiday time, elucidates Paulomi. “An annual holiday we enjoy with our children Chaitanaya and Rianna is at Gstaad, a ski resort, in the Swiss mountains. We have been going there for nine years.” May usually sees a long holiday of three weeks and then, as opportunity comes up during the year, the family spends time travelling for shorter periods. “My kids like to ski, but I have given up after falling again and again,” laughs Desai. He is keen to visit South America, as he is interested in history and would like to explore the Aztec sites and Peru of course.
“I loved the holiday to Greece,” says daughter Rianna who enjoys listening to music with her parents. The family likes all kinds of music. Desai enjoys rock and techno rap too, besides the 1960s and ‘70s music.
His son Chaitanaya, studied in UK’s Seven Oaks School.
On languages, “Paulomi is better at Marathi than me,” confesses Desai. The couple also enjoy playing a game of poker with close friends. “Paulomi is very good at acting and friends call her Hema Malini while playing the game,” he reveals.
He misses his mother Aruna Yeshwant Desai who passed away in July 2013. On more milestones, Desai says, “I hope the high point has not yet come in my life as then I would not know what to do next.” With great faith in God, he moves on in life creating harmony at home and work.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org