When the World Steel Association, better known as Worldsteel, elected Sajjan Jindal as its Chairman for 2021-2022, he was the first representative from India to hold the position.
Not only did this prominent role make Sajjan Jindal, Chairman and Managing Director of JSW Steel, an inspiration for all CEOs from his home country, it also gave him the opportunity to exercise incredible influence on the industry he has worked in his entire career.
As a global body, Worldsteel represents nearly 85% of the world’s steel production including more than 160 steel producers, national and regional steel industry associations, and steel research institutes. As its chairman, Jindal was tasked with creating their agenda, which translated into a focus on increasing efficiency, safety and security as well as finding ways for steel companies across the globe to be more environmentally friendly.
It’s a level he didn’t always see himself reaching.
“I always knew I’d work very hard and become pretty successful in life. But I never imagined I would make a mark for myself like this and do so many things to build up India’s position in global forums,” says Jindal. “It’s been a very satisfying journey.”
Second generation success
Jindal was raised in the small town of Hisar, about 100 miles from Delhi. One of four sons of Om Prakash Jindal, a businessman and parliamentarian, he earned his mechanical engineering degree from the Ramaiah Institute of Technology in Bangalore. After returning home to work for his father’s business at the OP Jindal Group, one of his first challenges was to turn around the operations at a fledgling steel facility located a few miles beyond the city of Mumbai.
His father warned him that it wasn’t the most successful business, but it had a lot of promise. “He told me if I worked diligently and with passion, I could turn it around and then grow it however I wanted,” he recalls. When he inherited it in 1982, it was worth USD9 million. Today, JSW Steel is the largest private-sector steel manufacturer in India. Moreover, it’s just one business arm of the JSW Group, a global conglomerate operating across sectors like steel, energy, infrastructure, cement, paints and sports, among others, with a significant presence in both domestic and international markets. Currently, the Group’s overall revenues are USD23 billion.
As chairman, Jindal has led the JSW Group through some of its most exciting phases, including the public offering of JSW Steel and JSW Energy in 1995 and 2009-10, respectively. Nicknamed the “Man of Steel,” Jindal is known for measured risk-taking and composure under pressure. But that doesn’t mean others haven’t doubted him along the way.
Taking technological risks
In 1995, Jindal decided to construct a modern steel plant in Karnataka, India. The most recent steel manufacturing plants in the United States and Europe were built back in the 1960s, so he set his sights on creating a state-of-the-art steel facility in India. He integrated what, at the time, was emerging technology in steel production. As the technology was very new, they ended up investing a lot of money into a brand-new factory they couldn’t operate fully. It took Jindal and his team nine months of intense work to course correct and make this steel factory fully operational.
“That was a very trying time. It was a difficult period where everybody thought that we were going to go bankrupt or that it was the end of JSW Steel,” says Jindal. “But we made it through because of our perseverance, hard work and the confidence we had in ourselves. The team believed in me, and I believed in them.”
Investing in people
Along with believing in his people, Jindal has always possessed a strong belief in giving back to society. He established the JSW Foundation in 1982, the same year that he started his career. The Foundation, through the efforts and leadership of his wife, Sangita Jindal, works to bridge the socio-economic divide and create more equitable and sustainable communities.
“I think it’s important to be very sensitive and supportive to my employees and the communities in which we operate,” he says.
The Foundation supports farmers in improving crop yield, funds education initiatives and backs Indian athletes. They own the world-class high-performance Olympic training facilities, Inspire Institute of Sport, and various teams including the Bengaluru Football Club, the Pro Kabbadi team, Haryana Steelers, and the Delhi Capitals, an Indian Premier League cricket team, through a joint venture with GMR Group. “All these social initiatives provide us numerous ways to galvanize both the organization and the community,” he says.
In addition, after visiting his son, Parth Jindal, studying at Harvard Kennedy School, Sajjan Jindal recognized the need for something similar in his own country. The Foundation, in partnership with the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), has established the JSW Public Policy Institute. Here, politicians and bureaucrats can learn how to make Indian society at large better.
“My father gave us this simple philosophy: You have to work with passion, honesty, and take care of your people, the people you employ, your stakeholders and your community — treat them like family. It’s basic, but it’s stuck with us all and served us well.”
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