Vasantrao Dempo

Many persons rolled into one. Entrepreneur. Statesman. Father. Son. Believer. Empire builder. Son of the soil. A philanthropist who gave more than he made. An overview of the Founder of the Dempo Group of Companies.

Why are we humans so obsessed with Success? Simple. A man’s deeds are each done with the hope of success. Success is a boost to the ego, making heads turn, bringing returns, commanding respect and breeding envy. It wins admiration, confers greatness.

But what is greatness? Is a man great when he achieves? Aren’t some born great? What of those who spurn greatness, despite filling the bill?

The remarkable thing about Venctexa Srinivassa Sinai Dempo (1910 — 2000), also known as Vasantrao, was that he defies categorisation. He was successful, born into a great family, achieved great things. But it was true that by sheer force of personality he attracted an aura of greatness that adhered to him despite himself. He made little effort to court greatness. As a handsome youth riding a bicycle to Miramar Beach to chat with friends over what course life should take, he found it taking a course that turned him into a business leader, qualifying for the word, ‘greatness’. But greatness was simply a rusty old nail. Vasantrao was the unconscious magnet.

Summing up a person is never easy. It gets harder doing it with Vasantrao, the man we know best in his role as the Founder of the Dempo Corporate Group. Thus, while this Special Edition of the Dempo In-House Magazine looks at aspects of the Dempo patriarch — the family man, the pilgrim, the philanthropist, the educationist, the celebrity and the awardee — it has to focus, with difficulty in the case of this multi-faceted genius, on his role as the Dempo business empire builder.

What was so special about Vasantrao’s endeavours? After all, have there not been business leaders from Goa itself, that too from the very industry that Vasantrao made his mark upon — the mining and export of mineral ore (including a couple of rags —to— riches stories)?

Vasantrao did not have to create wealth for himself or his family. Wealth he already had, and distributing it had been an unbroken tradition in the family, continued and strengthened by him. Vasantrao’s genius lay in re-creating resources and harnessing these to the way business was being conducted at the time, after having anticipated the winds of change way ahead of any one else.

By doing so, he achieved a re- birth, not just of the traditional Dempo way of wealth creation, but a socio-economic one of the territory he belonged to. He embraced change as the only constant. All this, in the face of cultural and commercial constraints of the day which set store by continuity and consolidation.

Born into a highly regarded family, Vasantrao must have felt keenly the responsibility of being a Dempo. Generations of land owning, shipping, trading in agricultural produce and miscellany had resulted in the Dempos being esteemed highly for their integrity and charity. But change must have seemed inevitable to Vasantrao. He re-commenced trading in commodities sourced from overseas, affording thereby a wealth of choice for the Goan consumer. It was he who recognized the future that lay in the red earth of Goa, and acquired mining concessions. It was he, assessing the vulnerability of the Suez Canal to political and military upheaval, who saw the potential of exporting ore to the Far East rather than Europe and the West. He it was who weathered reversals of fortune such as the naval blockade of Goa, sailing boldly into the post—Liberation scheme of things. Vasantrao started the first English newspaper, the first colleges in Arts, Science and Commerce in Goa, and was among the earliest to start a travel agency, patronize a football club, and move into uncharted areas of manufacturing (petroleum coke, processed foods). In doing so, Vasantrao adopted business practices and choices that were up to the minute at the time (mechanical ore processing, acquiring loading and transhipper vessels, to name two randomly).

At ease in a Savile Row suit or silk dhoti- kurta, Vasantrao did not hesitate to leave the shores of India despite injunctions of defilement. But such forward looking thought is balanced by deeply religious thinking, with Vasantrao wholly devoted to his family deity, the Mutt he belonged to, and the Samaj. A man for all seasons, but like the iron that results from ore, inflexible. In his courage, his integrity, his resolve to be different.

The empire that Vasantrao built continues to provide livelihood to thousands. The mystique of the man is such that the word “Dempo” is a synonym for the aristocracy. The lore that sprang up about his industrial and socio-economic exploits turned him into a legend in his lifetime. In the years approaching his centenary, the legend endures. Of the man of change. The Renaissance Man.