Vikram Kirloskar, Vice Chairperson of Toyota Kirloskar Motor, died of a heart attack on November 29. He was 64. A fourth generation member of the Kirloskar business family, Vikram Kirloskar is remembered as a pioneer of India’s automotive industry. The credit for bringing Toyota’s business to India goes largely to him.
Early life and education
Vikram Kirloskar was born in November 1958. His father Shreekant Kirloskar was the son of SL Kirloskar – the businessman instrumental in the rapid expansion of the Kirloskar Group. Established as the manufacturer of India’s first iron plough in 1888, the Kirloskar Group has been a major contributor to India’s growth and industrialisation for decades.
Vikram Kirloskar attended the Lawrence School in Ooty where, in his own words, he “did well” academically. In school, he played badminton and did aero modelling and sculpting to build model airplanes – perhaps an early indication of the career in production engineering and manufacturing he would go on to have.
After school, Kirloskar went on to study at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also the alma mater of his grandfather. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. In a 2017 interview with Bindu Gopal Rao, Kirloskar said his background in engineering helped him when he joined the family business after graduating.
“Kirloskar’s business revolves around engineering and my engineering education at MIT helped me immensely,” said Kirloskar.
Vikram Kirloskar joined the family business after graduating from MIT. He started with Production Engineering and developed many tools and processes in his early years with the company.
Coming from a formidable business lineage, he felt the pressure to perform early on. “Of course there was a burden to perform,” Kirloskar told Rao in his 2017 interview. “I was a trainee in manufacturing at Kirloskar Cummins in Pune when I started working…I put a lot of effort in introducing new innovations and technology.”
Kirloskar is widely credited as the man who brought Toyota’s business to India in the late 1990s. Today, the Toyota businesses in India include several companies where Kirloskar Systems is the partner. Kirloskar Systems Ltd. is a holding and investment company owned by Vikram Kirloskar which, together with Toyota, has a presence in sectors like textile machinery, manufacturing cars, auto components, aluminium die-casting and more.
“First we started with textiles with Toyota and then I thought we must get into the car business as well… If you look at my whole career, there is not much diversification really. It has always been about engineering and manufacturing,” Kirloskar told freelance writer Bindu Gopal Rao.
In the public eye, Vikram Kirloskar was defined as a businessman and industrialist. Not many got a glimpse of Vikram, the family man, who lived in Bengaluru with his wife Geetanjali Kirloskar.
Vikram and Geetanjali started dating when she was 18 and he was 24. “A mutual friend had thrown a party. He had invited both of us…Vikram was from MIT; sober, intelligent and six years older. I was impressed by his charming style,” Geetanjali told Hello Magazine in an interview while reminiscing about their first meeting.
The couple got married after months of dating. Despite different tastes and temperaments, they had what they described as a rock solid marriage. “We enjoy travelling, eating out and drinking wine together,” Vikram Kirloskar told Hello Magazine.
The Kirlokskars have a daughter named Manasi and recently welcomed their first grandchild. Manasi, who has followed her father’s footsteps into the family business, is an Executive Director with Kirloskar Systems and a member of the board of Toyota Motors. She married Neville Tata, son of Noel Tata, in 2019. They recently welcomed their firstborn, Jeh.
Vikram Kirloskar was famously a wine connoisseur with a remarkable collection of wines. He also loved to dabble in cooking. “Dishing up a meal is like making a painting or sculpture and I am always competing against my last meal,” he once said. “Now-a-days, I spend a lot of time cooking, but I do not really cook the same thing twice.”