Remembering A Corporate Legend

Published 6 years ago

It has been a year since FORBES AFRICA lost one of its staunchest supporters and readers, Colonel Satya Pal Wahi. He was an ardent admirer of our magazine and the great stories of African entrepreneurship in it.

In India’s industrial and business world, Col. Wahi was a legend himself, having had a highly-decorated career in the armed forces and then, as a corporate titan.

Through him, stories of Africa reached the pristine parks and walking trails of Gurugram (formerly Gurgaon), about 32kms from India’s capital New Delhi, home to some of the biggest Fortune 500 companies.


In his later years, on his morning walks in the park, he carried copies of FORBES AFRICA. There was always an erudite audience looking forward to impromptu conversations with the genteel, illustrious Col. Wahi.

Thus, the doyens of business in Africa, 8,000kms away, invariably became a part of Gurugram’s misty mornings.

Col. Wahi visited South Africa many times, and also the offices of FORBES AFRICA, when he regaled staff with rapturous stories of his own leadership journey. His lessons and legacy are being carried forward by his son, Rakesh, who was also in the Indian Army and is co-founder of FORBES AFRICA. His grandson, Sid, is the Executive Director of the magazine.

Col. Wahi, born in Khushab, a small village near Lahore in what is now Pakistan, went on to do his engineering at the prestigious Banaras Hindu University in India and thereafter attended the Indian Military Academy. He worked with some of India’s greatest political leaders such as Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.


He says in his book, Leading From The Front: From Army To Corporate World: “I have never bowed down to anyone and have learned to stand on my own legs and fight my own battles.”

The book vividly illustrates him as a man with an insatiable hunger for knowledge and information; his attitude to rebel against injustice remained with him throughout his working life.

The Indian Army gave him a strong foundation for leadership. On retiring from the army, he served many corporate enterprises, including Bokaro Steel Plant, Bharat Heavy Electricals and Cement Corporation of India.

A leading light in India’s energy sector, he was inducted into the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) in June 1981 as chairman of the public sector behemoth. He was a firm believer that an organization or individual, which does not grow, stagnates and finally decays.


His decade-long stint at ONGC coincided with the development of Bombay High offshore oilfields and he is credited with contributions in raising India’s oil output from 9 million tons to 32 million tons per annum. He brought about several paradigm shifts, modernizing office facilities and setting up training centers for ONGC.

His contribution in India’s various public sector undertakings is unparalleled. Of the array of awards he has won is one of India’s most shining medals: the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian honor, which he received in 1988. He is the recipient of the Giants International Award and Indian Geophysical Union’s Silver Jubilee Award. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award Petrotech in 2007. To recognize his contribution to the energy sector, he was conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. He was also a recipient of the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa) from three Indian universities.

Col Wahi passed away on 13 February last year, at the age of 88, leaving an aching void and an empty park bench southwest of Delhi.