Yogesh Deveshwar, chairperson ITC (Photographer: Sumit Dayal/Bloomberg)

Chairman of Asia’s Biggest Cigarette Maker Dies at 72

(Bloomberg) -- Yogesh C. Deveshwar, the long-serving chairman of ITC Ltd. who steered the cigarette maker’s pivot into consumer goods and built it into Asia’s most valuable tobacco company, has died at 72.

Deveshwar passed away on Saturday, ITC said in a statement, without giving more details. He died after a brief illness at a private hospital in the northern Indian city of Gurugram near New Delhi, local news wire Press Trust of India reported, citing unidentified company sources.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences, praising Deveshwar’s leadership. “We recall with respect and pride the legendary stewardship he provided to ITC over two decades as its Chairman,” Sanjiv Puri, company’s managing director said in a statement.

Noodles-to-Soaps

An ITC lifer, Deveshwar joined the tobacco maker in 1968 and rose to be its chairman in 1996. On his watch, the cigarette maker expanded rapidly, its stock soared and revenues grew 16-fold. He also reduced ITC’s reliance on cigarettes over the past decade by diversifying into consumer products ranging from instant noodles to soaps and incense sticks.

Chairman of Asia’s Biggest Cigarette Maker Dies at 72

ITC’s revenue share from cigarettes fell to 52.5% in the year ended March 2018 from nearly three-quarters in 2003, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. He stepped down as CEO in 2017, but stayed on as the chairman and oversaw ITC surpassing Japan Tobacco Inc. to become the biggest Asian tobacco company by market value. British American Tobacco Plc holds nearly 30% stake in ITC.

Deveshwar, who was targeting one trillion rupees in revenue from consumer products by 2030, was chosen as one of “The World’s Best-Value CEOs” in 2016 by Bloomberg. The ranking looked at the pay-for-performance ratio of 100 CEOs at some of the largest companies around the world.

A graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, he became a director at ITC in 1984. He is survived by his wife Bharti, a son and a daughter, the company said in a statement.

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