R Thyagarajan, the visionary co-founder of the Shriram Group, stands out in the realm of finance. His journey challenges the conventional norms of profit-seeking and showcases a remarkable approach that places people before profits.
The $8.5 billion (₹70,400 crore) Shriram Group today encompasses 30 companies and it all began when he saw banks charging poor people interest rates as high as 80% for financing trucks. Thyagarajan, who has been awarded with the Padma Bhushan, has since given away most of his wealth to employees.
Lending To The Poor
In an industry where lending to low-income borrowers was often dismissed as too risky, Thyagarajan saw untapped potential in without credit histories or regular incomes, he said in a rare interview with Bloomberg. He pioneered extending credit to India’s underserved population, offering loans for vehicles like trucks and tractors.
Thyagarajan’s philosophy extends beyond financial gain: He reshaped the narrative of corporate ownership by transferring a part of his own holdings in Shriram companies, now valued at over $750 million (₹6,210 crore), to an ownership trust benefiting employees.
Changing The Lending Game
He calls himself “a bit of a leftist”. He says in the interview that lending to the poor is a form of socialism grounded in creating a financial model that is both safe and profitable. This approach not only transformed Shriram Finance into a conglomerate employing over 108,000 people but also inspired a wider industry transformation.
Thyagarajan’s influence extended beyond his own venture. His unorthodox approach compelled others to reconsider their own lending practices, fostering a movement towards fairer borrowing costs. His legacy challenges the assumption that profit and ethics must exist in opposition, proving that a more compassionate financial landscape is not only possible but also more sustainable in the long run.
Amid a sea of profit-driven businesses, Thyagarajan’s legacy shines brightly. His commitment to simplicity, inclusivity, and equitable wealth distribution offers a blueprint for a new era of financial practice. His journey reminds us that innovation need not come at the cost of ethics, and his influence continues to inspire a more compassionate approach to finance that prioritizes the well-being of all.
Thyagarajan says he now spends his time listening to classical music and reading Western business magazines, living in a small house and driving a ₹4 lakh car.
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