Ever since Seniors Today launched in July 2019, we have been a lot more than just self-help content and nostalgia. We’re are an e-magazine, a buzzy website with many other digitally-led properties. We have painstakingly achieved the status of being India’s #1 Destination for Senior Citizens.
A few months back, we decided to make this list of the 50 Most Influential Seniors. Doing a list is fun. Though often thankless. But once he had the filters ready, it was simple.
So we were only looking at people above 60 years of age, as on January 1, 2021. We were looking at people who we believe had a significant influence on not just their own industry in general but the world at large. And, yes, we didn’t consider politicians and those in government.
Written and Edited by Team Seniors Today
As Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries, inheriting his father’s legacy, titles like India’s richest man and the second richest personality in Asia have lost their novelty with him. What doesn’t lose its sparkle is – what next?
“Our fundamental belief is that for us growth is a way of life and we have to grow at all times”- is Ambani’s mantra. Listing his achievements will run into volumes, perhaps describing him as human being is simpler. He’s a visionary, accessible and down-to-earth. His father would be proud of the manner in which he has carried forward his mantle, and revolutionised business in India and globally.
The Times of India’s success is owed largely due to the unorthodox philosophy of Samir Jain. An out-of-the-box thinker, he has handled the paper more like an advertising mogul and slipped in a few sweet deals to ensure further success and stability at a time when print is walking a tightrope.
Though print publications are perched at the edge of a cliff, the group has managed to hold on to their prestige, whilst embracing digital space full on. From digital and streaming OTT platforms – like CricBuzz, MX Player, Gaana.com, to TV – Times Now, ETNow, Romedy Now, Zoom, Mirror Now, Movies Now and the FM network – Mirchi, Jain is indeed the force behind the huge influence the group and its various platforms wield over state affairs whilst catering to a loyal audience.
That he is the greatest and most-loved Bollywood actor precedes everything he does. Professionally though, he has proven he excels at far more than acting.
A man who has seen and done it all, he still commands top spots in movies. Personally, he has evolved through his experiences, unafraid to show himself in a vulnerable light.
It’s challenging to write a 10-line profile on a megastar with a mega-life to match. Bachchan is a legend, but what defines him is his dignified manner, his inimitable baritone and the respect he commands from anybody who’s anybody! One tweet from him can get millions of Indians on his side. He is hands down the most influential Indian today.
Few know that in 1966, 21-year-old Azim Premji had to abort engineering studies in Stanford University when he was forced to return to India following his father’s death. The rest is history, as they say. He has morphed into one of India’s most revered business tycoons and is pretty much the czar of the IT industry with Wipro.
As the first Indian who signed up for The Giving Pledge, he believes in creating a better world for millions of people. He walks his talk. Premji is perhaps the most giving philanthropist of the Indian industry, standing tall, but equally humbly besides great philanthropists like Gates and Buffet. The Azim Premji Foundation has helped create a better world for millions of people.
Leader of the Tata Group, a global conglomerate with family roots extending to the 19th century till 2012 when he stepped down, to become chairman of Tata Trusts, Ratan Tata has never taken his heritage for granted. The Tata founders bequeathed most of their personal wealth to the many trusts they created for the greater good of India and its people. At his core, he is a philanthropist, always concerned about the plight of others. Equally, he has personally seen that no stone is unturned to ensure that the Tata code of conduct and standard of service is nothing short of exemplary.
He says: “I think you really want to be doing things that make a difference. If you cannot make a difference, it’s just water trickling through a tap or leaking through a drainage system; it’s wasteful.”
As a businessman, he took the baton from his ancestry and created a company where two-wheelers and Baja are used symbiotically. No small feat. That said, he is humble and grateful to the legacy left to him by his grandfather and dismisses accolades that patronise him.
An outspoken industrialist, and now MP, Rahul Bajaj throws power-packed punches to counter policies and situations he deems unfit for the country’s progress and growth.
His take is that by his birth he was born ‘anti-establishment’. That he created a tidal wave by questioning the freedom of speech of citizens in recent times is an understatement. But that quintessentially is Bajaj. He isn’t afraid of speaking the truth and he stands by forgotten values of integrity, honesty, dedication and goodwill. And he doesn’t mind asking some tough questions either.
While he led the IT revolution in India he is and will always remain a simple man, and one of the most respected voices in Indian business and industry.
“Honesty, meritocracy, national pride, speed, competitive spirit are all characteristics of nations that have made progress. But those that have a culture of apathy, dishonesty, plagiarism, cut-and-paste, indifference, are characteristics of a society that has not made progress. And this country will take thousands of years to change,.” he remarked with sadness, in a 2020 interview with The Times of India.
A philanthropist who focuses on solutions for the betterment of society, he is in no small way aided by his wife, Sudha Murthy who is equally responsible, not just for the success of Infosys but for single-handedly evangelising the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility.
Most often described as the investor with the Midas touch and often compared with Warren Buffet, Jhunjhunwala has a rare gift. Maybe that’s why he named his company Rare Enterprises!
He has an admirable spirit and that, combined with all the planets in his house of money, have seen him amass a substantial net worth to the tune of $3.2 billion.
Needless to say, the stockmarket transmits Jhunjhunwala’s energies.
Shivajirao Gaekwad was born in humble environs and evolved from a bus conductor to one of biggest megastars in Indian cinema. Recently, he had to step back from making his debut in the political arena due to poor health much to the disappointment of his fans. From people worshiping with milk before his film release to politicians quaking when he speaks his mind, his words have a tremendous impact on people.
The face of the Kisan Ekta Morcha has been, not big names or well-known faces, but one senior citizen after another – weather-beaten faces that have seen season upon season of crops, weather patterns, government vagaries, and are now refusing to tolerate the final straw of farming laws that they fear will corporatise India’s agriculture and reduce them to stooges – poor ones, at that. First in the anti-CAA/NRC protests and now in the opposition to the farm laws, seniors have been at the forefront of the movements and their say has been influential like never before. The edge of Delhi is an amazing (and unfortunate) sight: a sea of determined farmers, from strong young Punjab da puttars to their equally tough grandparents. We bow to you.
After a rather serendipitous start in print journalism with India Today, Purie has been the rock behind the success of the group. A constant source of encouragement to his staff, he makes sure that no stone is left unturned and every detail accounted for whilst reporting. Although he says his exacting standards were sometimes begrudged by his staff, the staff recognised that “the end-result was good product” and even came up with a friendly nickname for the editing process— “Purification”—after him. In an interview with Harvard Business School he said, “I always looked at the magazine from the reader’s point of view, always asking, “Can I understand what this article is saying?” A lot of journalists write for other journalists, or they write for politicians. But the common man needs context, needs explanation, needs history, and background. I brought that into it.”
The Nightingale of India; she’s sung for thousands of Bollywood film songs to date. She winces at the current lyrics and music in Indian cinema in its current avatar and asks budding artists to aspire towards originality. Today, she lends her immortal voice to the battle against the construction of a proposed flyover which threatened to rob her voice, she said.
Gupta is the Editorial Director of Dainik Jagran, a daily newspaper read by over 5.5 cr people, and has also been voted as the most credible source of news in a BBC-Reuters survey.
Jagran Prakashan has 12 print publications over five languages spanning 15 states. It also has a significant presence in FM radio own Mid-Day in English and Gujrati. A strong digital presence and a newspaper in Urdu are some of the relatively recent highs.
As Chairman of HDFC (Housing Development Finance Corporation), Parekh has combined grit and determination with an intellect that is sharp and visionary. Membership of some key committees with the Indian government endows him with unofficial consultancy power. His expertise in finance, business, rise and fall of real estate prices, and value of land, make him the go-to banker for policy makers and the government.
For Parekh, being approachable is important and he has an open-door policy – anyone, irrespective of their hierarchy, can meet him.
Parekh’s key management advice? Guard against greed, excess leverage, and short-cuts. Honesty, integrity and humility are time-tested traits and there is no softer pillow to lay your head upon at night than a clear conscience.
“Being a good person is very difficult – it’s like being a goalkeeper. No matter how many goals you saved, you will be remembered for the goals you missed,” says one of Goenka’s well-articulated Twitter posts. Another one shares tips towards happiness, focused on cheering up people during the lockdown.
He is much more than the Chairman of RPG Group, and beyond just being among the 100 richest Indians. Though RPG spans across infrastructure, IT for business process outsourcing, pharma, agricultural business, tyres and venture capital – that invests in innovative start-ups in health, wellness, infrastructure, automotive, infrastructure, and project management, he has what it takes to stay on top of his game.
Goenka aspires to inspire through social media and his growing following indicates people absorb his good vibe, for instance, “What will matter is not what you bought but what you built, not what you got but what you gave, not what you learnt but what you taught, not your success but your significance, not your talent but your character. Choose to live a life that matters.” Perhaps, that’s exactly what he does!
Upholding values and knowing that reputation is as important as profits for success Anand Mahindra’s mantra. Part of the group of influential voices in India who have taken up microblogging (Twitter essentially) as their compelling tool to communicate, he too has a large number of fans whom he inspires.
It’s not so much that he is the Chairman of Mahindra Group that spans aerospace, agribusiness, automotive, IT, finance and insurance, infrastructure, industrial equipment, retail, and hospitality or helping set up the Epic Television Network. It is because despite enormous wealth and legacy, which combine to make him what he is today, he stays grounded, vulnerable and open to his emotions. People love stories where they can relate to someone, despite generational, financial, educational, and other differences. It’s the emotional quotient that ultimately bring people closer to Mahindra.
Marico Limited is a leading consumer goods company that focuses on health, beauty and wellness spaces spanning over 25 countries. Mariwala also founded a Marico Innovation Foundation that focuses on supporting sustainable businesses, and Kaya Clinic, that operates across Asia and Middle East.
But it hasn’t been a bed of roses. Mariwala didn’t get into a big business school. Nor did he have a desk at work when he started. He hovered around every department to understand things. He travelled across the country to know the customer. He read every management book possible. “Your degree is not your education.” he says, and continues, “Entrepreneurs lay so much emphasis on having this one grand vision for their ventures. I’ve always believed otherwise. With time, I’ve evolved my vision. This has always enabled us to explore newer opportunities.”
Mariwala-isms are best consumed off his much-followed Twitter handle.
Godrej was literally born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The Godrej family is the pioneer of the largest Indian conglomerate, which deals in a wide range of sectors including FMCG, real estate, industrial engineering and appliances and furniture. His ancestry is worth gold to the western part of India in particular. Under the guidance of Adi Godrej, the company is a member of the prestigious ‘100 billion’ club and has plans to expand into regions beyond the Asia Pacific. But despite it all, he wears his power softly and discreetly.
Heading the Godrej empire and expanding it, are just small feathers in his cap. Godrej is a man of discipline and duty above all. It is a mistake to get misled by his soft manner. He uses his intellect and discernment to analyse and cut through policies, maintaining that politicians and bureaucrats should not interfere in day-to-day functioning of business. And when he speaks (or disagrees), people listen.
Known popularly as the power couple, Kiran is a philanthropist and an art collector, while Shiv Nadar has handed over the reins of Chairman of HCL Technologies, after four decades to his daughter Roshini Nadar Malhotra.
He’s described his ability as an entrepreneur as flexible, alert, aggressive, inspiring and positive and using every low as a learning opportunity to bounce back. Today he inspires millions of young adults to follow their dream.
The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art has emerged as India’s first private philanthropic museum, promoting contemporary and modern art from India and the subcontinent. Shiv Nadar University is a philanthropic multi-disciplinary research institution with a vision to nurture the leaders of tomorrow.
The Nadars believe in the philosophy of ‘Creative Philanthropy’ that will yield long-term, high impact, socio-economic transformation.
The Founder and Chairman of Vedanta Resources Limited, Agrawal has grown his company into the largest metal mining company in India.
The Vedanta Foundation that supports philanthropic programmes and activities is his personal initiative to give back to the community. From building hospitals, schools, women’s empowerment and more, Agrawal has used his powerful influence to serve the greater good of the country.
Telecom tycoon Mittal owns Bharti Enterprises which spans over telecom, insurance, real estate, hospitality and more. Airtel is a pioneer of telecom service provider that has expanded into multimedia such as satellite television, broadband services, high speed internet, digital television, banking and more.
Mittal too, speaks of an up-and-down journey, of life being a great leveller, of working hard and sacrificing harder to build when the chips were down. During the Covid crisis, Bharti Enterprises stepped in to give Rs 100 cr to the PM fund, buy masks, etc. Mittal has proved yet again, that he stands by his fellow men when they’ve needed him most.
Piramal Group is a multinational industry that covers pharmaceuticals, healthcare, cosmetics, glass packaging, financial services and real estate.
The Piramal Foundation works in tandem with the state government across 21 states in India to support health and welfare, education and provide safe drinking water for the poor amongst other social responsibilities.
Talking about his learnings derived from the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Piramal Group chairman and philanthropist Piramal has said: “Courage, fearless attitude and focus on the actions are some of the key points that the holy book outlines.” He’s proved himself a devoted bhakt.
Ela Bhatt’s work has single-handedly revolutionised the lives of women who work in the informal sector and provided them the opportunity for decent work. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, she founded Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) – a trade union representing the self-employed textile workers in India. SEWA-initiated cooperative banks for women that provide small loans to start their business.
She is also the co-founder of Women’s World Banking, a non-profit organisation that provides support in form of microfinance institutions and banking services to low-income women entrepreneurs.
Bhatt also founded The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights. Says she: “When The Elders meet with leaders and other powerful people, it is our job to try to persuade them to lead with their conscience and remind them of their duties to the people they serve – even if that message is not what they want to hear.”
Essel Group, headed by Chandra, spans over Zee Entertainment Enterprise, Zee Media Corporation, Dish TV and Siti Networks – a multi-system operator. The company revolutionised television broadcasting in India with Zee Entertainment. Chandra is the quintessential maverick personality with his successful entertainment and news channels.
Interestingly, Chandra began as a rice trader, but a lot of what he touched worked wonders: Essel Packaging, amusement park Esselworld, etc.
She is the Chairperson and editorial director of HT Media. Rebranding the publication into HT – bright, young media – was Bhartia’s brainchild. HT is the second most influential English newspaper in India. HT online digital media spans Hindustan Times, Livemint, Desimartini, HT Campus and Shine. HT media also has radio stations – Fever FM, Radio Nasha, and Radio One. It also has a podcast – HT Smart, India’s first podcast with AI voices.
An actor, filmmaker, philanthropist and politician, he has done a fair bit of work in Hindi cinema but works extensively in Tamil cinema. He turned his fan club into a welfare association – Kamal Narpani Iyakkam, that runs donation drives for health and education. His welfare association also publishes a magazine that sheds light on child abuse, drug abuse and his views on politics.
India’s richest self-made woman, she founded the country’s largest listed biopharmaceutical firm, Biocon. Amongst her innumerable accolades, most recently, EY named her World Entrepreneur of The Year 2020 and Forbes has listed her as the 65th most powerful woman in the world. A frontrunner in scientific breakthroughs and developments; she believes that a nation’s culture is not just embedded in its visual and performing arts but also in its sciences.
Director General of the India-based research institute – The Centre For Science and Environment. A powerful voice in her domain, with reports to match, she is both a respected and feared environmentalist and political activist, as well as a major proponent of the green way of sustainable development. In matters of sustainability and the environment you don’t mess with Narain. Her indepth investigations on consumer goods – from colas to honey are much respected. And feared.
A pioneer in Indian TV and digital journalism, Roy founded NDTV (along with his wife Radhika Roy), one of the most credible sources of news in India. His origins as lead anchor for election analysis and budget specials, on India’s national television network Doordarshan, led him to host the most viewed budget and election specials on NDTV.
Narasimhan Ram is Chairman of Kasturi & Sons Limited and Publisher of The Hindu. He hails from the Kasturi family who control The Hindu Group of Publications. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief, he is well respected nationwide for fair and credible journalism. He stands firmly behind truth, backing his organisation to pursue independent journalism and to refrain from toeing the establishment’s line.
31. Yusuf Hamied, 84, Industrialist
Polish-born Indian scientist and businessperson Dr Yusuf Khwaja Hamied is Non-Executive Chairman of Cipla, a pharma major founded by his father. A world-renowned scientist, Dr Hamied obtained his PhD in organic chemistry in 1960 from the University of Cambridge. Widely hailed for producing generic AIDS medicine and other drugs meant for people in poor nations, Hamied has led efforts to eradicate AIDS in the developing world and give patients life-saving medicines regardless of their ability to pay, and has been billed as a modern-day Robin Hood. Indeed.
The ‘little master’ is a big influencer of the game till today, both in India and worldwide. Widely regarded as one of the greatest batsmen and one of the best opening batsmen in Test cricket history, Gavaskar is one of the most loved cricketers in the country. Today, he lends his expertise in the game via commentary on TV and special columns in print.
The chairman of the Poonawalla Group, which includes Serum Institute of India, is also known as the “Vaccine King of India”. Forthright and outspoken, Poonawalla has been carving his niche in the pharma industry as a force unbeatable. In the news in recent months because of his company’s Covid-19 vaccine. He proudly claims his vaccines reach more children in India than either Coco-Cola or Pepsi can!
His Twitter account reads: Public Interest Lawyer and Activist; Do and say what is just fair and in public interest, regardless of immediate fallout.
A perfect narrative to describe this prominent civil rights lawyer, and one of the founding members of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). When he opines, people sit up and listen.
And he doesn’t shy from taking on anyone. Including the gods in government and judiciary.
In his childhood, Sharma spent many days without proper food and slept on railway stations. Today he’s come a long way indeed and is a well-known and respected journalist nationwide. After winning several awards and hosting the famous and longest running show on Indian television “Aap Ki Adalat”. A real and warming story of a man, who has made himself stand strong and proud.
Kotak declined his prosperous family trading business and started a finance firm in 1985. He then went on to convert it into Kotak Mahindra Bank – now among India’s top banks in the private sector. Few know that he dreamt of becoming a professional cricketer till an unfortunate accident forced him never to play at that level again. Today, he is the world’s richest banker and warns of soaring inflation ahead, along with soaring temperature levels due to climate change!
37. Nandan Nilekani, 65, Entrepreneur
He co-founded leading infotech major Infosys and is now Non-Executive Chairman of the company. But other than Infosys, he was Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which gave the country the now near-must-have Aadhar Card. He was the part of the government’s technology government and even joined the Congress, but is now inactive there. An author of two bestselling books, Nilekani’s voice is much respected not just in his hometown of Bengaluru but also across the nation on business and social issues.
An Indian social activist who for decades, Hazare has led movements to promote rural development, increase government transparency, and investigate and punish corruption in public life. He deploys tactics reminiscent of Gandhiji, from non- violent protests to hunger strikes. At 83, he has undertaken a hunger fast to support the ongoing farmer’s stir against the government. An indomitable spirit and unflappable will-power endow him to support the weakest and marginalised sections of society.
“Sri Sri”, Guru ji, or Gurudev founded the Art of Living Foundation in 1981, a volunteer-based NGO providing social support to people. He has proved that he is not a fly-by-night spiritual saviour, instead his programmes have aided people from a wide range of backgrounds – victims of natural disasters, survivors of terror attacks and war, children from marginalised populations and communities in conflict, social and environmental causes, among others. He has rekindled the traditions of yoga and meditation and offered them in a form that is relevant to the 21st century.
He hits a nerve amongst some and establishes a direct connect with others. But it is his ability to sync with the youth that has made his popularity grow. He creates ripples where he goes, and in a recent Twitter response to trolls, he said – “Some people expect a spiritual organisation to be spineless and without nerve. Indian spirituality is not wimpy. We stand up for what matters. If filth is all you can throw at us, we will make manure and throw it back hoping you will blossom. Wishing you well!”
An academic to the core, Sen has worked (teaching at the best universities in the world) away from India since 1971. But he visits his homeland frequently. As he sums it up: “This, combined with my remaining exclusively an Indian citizen, gives me, I think, some entitlement to speak on Indian public affairs, and this remains a constant involvement.”
In 1998 he received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory and for his interest in the problems of society’s poorest members. With the help of some of the prize money, Sen set up the The Pratichi Trust – which helps spread literacy, basic healthcare and gender equity in India and Bangladesh.
After a flourishing (cardiology) practice of his dreams in the US, Dr Reddy was asked by his father to return to India. He soon realised that the medical landscape in the country was plagued by several gaps, such as, poor infrastructure, abysmal delivery, and un-affordability. The cardiologist turned an entrepreneur at 50, despite a lot of opposition. He founded the first corporate chain of multi-speciality hospitals in India, the Apollo Hospitals. Over the last three decades, India’s medical landscape has seen a massive shift, and in no small measure, Apollo Hospitals and Dr Reddy have played a major role in bringing about this revolution.
Devi Prasad Shetty, MS, FRCS, is a popular Indian cardiac surgeon and entrepreneur. He is the chairman and founder of Narayana Health, a chain of 21 medical centres in India. He has performed more than 15,000 heart operations, and his quest has been to make cardiac surgeries as low cost as possible, so as to offer it to sections of society who need it most but find it unaffordable. Last year, he expanded his healthcare company, which is now listed on the stock exchange.
The darlings of the fashionista world, this duo has cult status amongst their large (global) celebrity fan following. They have wowed the fashion industry with their quintessential embroidery work, bringing alive the exquisite ancient craft of chikankari, but on delicate fabrics like chiffon. Abu Jani is a gifted artist who sketched every design. As Pioneers of India’s high fashion industry, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla’s 34-year partnership has created one of the most coveted design houses in the country.
A true-blue social activist known chiefly for her work with people displaced by the Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP), Patkar is known to fight the good fight, and is a loyal advocate of human and social rights. Patkar founded her campaigns on two basic tenets in the Indian Constitution: the rights to life and to livelihood.
To describe Vir Sanghvi as an Indian print and television journalist, author, columnist and talk show host, is like revealing the outer wrapper of a decadent handcrafted dark chocolate. When he holds forth on food and drink, you can take him for every word he writes or speaks. His column Rude Food and his TV series on exploring cuisines take you on an elegant journey of culinary discovery.
He was declared the 26th Richest Indian and the Richest Malayalee in India by Forbes Asia Magazine, 2020. Presently, he is the National Executive Committee Member of FICCI as well as Chairman of FICCI’s Kerala State Council. He has been honoured with many prestigious awards along the years and has revolutionised the country’s financial sector. He set new benchmarks in financial lending – with his gold loans.
Badruddin Ajmal is a Member of Parliament from Dhubri Lok Sabha constituency, born in the Indian state of Assam. He has been regularly listed among the 500 Most Influential Muslims of the world. Industrialist and social worker, he fearlessly fights for the rights of his fellowmen.
Words can’t describe Shashi Tharoor as finely as he can describe them! One thing is for sure – #tharoorisms have reignited our fascination with the English language.
He is also an Indian politician, writer, and former international diplomat, now serving as Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. But we have him on this list as a wordsmith.
From one of his Twitter posts: “To all the well-meaning folks who send me parodies of my supposed speaking/writing style: The purpose of speaking or writing is to communicate with precision. I choose my words because they are the best ones for the idea I want to convey, not the most obscure or rodomontade ones!”
Tip: You really should have your dictionary handy when you plan on reading, speaking with or listening to Tharoor.
You know who you are. The patient who discovers he is Covid-positive with co-morbidities. The parent who worries and wonders if her children and grandchildren will get to see her next vacation. The pensioner whose funds are running low. The social activist who would love to change the world if only he could overcome his tiredness. The retired nurse who can’t afford a hip replacement.
We know who you are. The visa-seeker old couple who can’t understand why he can visit the US but she can’t. The fragile grandma for whom there is no place except in an anodyne nursing home. The morning walker who gets twitchy seeing the trash strewn around but fears to confront young litterers.
You are The Unknown Indian, yet you are someone we know and respect. You may not be famous in the conventional sense of the word, but thanks to social media, what you say can be heard around the globe. You want a better world for everyone – your family, the plants and animals you care about, for the planet. We hope your dreams come true – you’re never too old to give up your dreams!