Family spats: Bug in the bro code? Too early to say

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MUMBAI: The falling out between the Singh brothers of the Fortis group joins a long list of spats that have roiled family businesses. The Ambani, Bajaj, Thapar, Goenka, Shroff and Lodha families are among those that have had disputes, some of which have been settled amicably.

But these disputes seem to have a common theme — they all involve brothers. Sisters seem to be doing better, in the case of the very few businesses that are owned and run jointly by daughters. A prominent example is that of the Reddy sisters of Apollo Hospitals — Preetha manages the hospitals, Suneeta the finances, Shobana the pharmacies and insurance business and Sangita oversees IT.

Chairman Prathap C Reddy has devised a succession plan that allows each of his daughters to take turns at the helm. Family business experts say women may have more empathy when it comes to handling succession issues but they caution that generalisations can’t be made, as sisters are by and large still early inheritors in India. Another instance is that of the Chauhan sisters — Schauna, Alisha and Nadia — of the Parle Agro group. Schauna is CEO, Nadia is joint managing director and CMO and Alisha is director, handling corporate social responsibility.

The publishing business of Ashok Malhotra has been expanded into hospitality, real estate and paper manufacturing jointly by his daughters Monica and Sonica Malhotra.

‘WOMEN MORE COMPASSIONATE’

Kishore Biyani’s daughters Ashni and Avni have also joined the family business in different roles. Brother-sister teams also jointly manage businesses. For instance, Vinita and Nilesh Gupta at Lupin; the Paul siblings at the helm of the Apeejay Surendra Group; and the Godrej siblings in different companies of the Godrej group.

So, does gender play a role when to comes to such disputes? Schauna Chauhan does not believe so. “It is the upbringing, relationship, open communication and most importantly trust and respect that actually keeps any company or family together,” she told ET. “We are all best friends and share a great relationship. We are goal oriented and passionate about what we do and have the right work ethic to be able to take collaborative large decisions together.” According to the Credit Suisse Family 1000 in 2018 study, India ranks third globally in terms of number of familyowned businesses with 111 companies having a market capitalisation of $839 billion.

India closely follows China with 159 firms and the US with 121 firms. Indian familyowned companies have generated nearly 14% annual average share price return since 2006, compared with 6% by non-family-owned peers, according to the report. Succession in most Indian business families in India follows the patriarchal system, so change has been slow in coming. “Women have compassion and empathy that men can only admire, and I am sure their combined spirit of love, affection and care has strengthened our family ties,” said Prathap Reddy, founder of Apollo Hospitals.

“My daughters have brought a sense of attention to detail, and an ability to seamlessly transition between roles and businesses. Above all, they have the most important quality of any leader — the ability to listen and to give their teams every chance to be heard. They back their teams to the hilt and have been able to bring out the best from them. And, they never pass blame along.”

WOMEN DISAGREE TOO

To be sure, it’s not as if women business owners don’t have disagreements. However, these seldom escalate to a split in the business. According to Reddy, any large business cannot succeed without some discord at the top. Organisational behaviour studies recognise creative conflict as an important aspect of a vibrant organisation. Sure, his daughters have their disagreements too.

“But they work through their differences by having detailed conversations that are backed by data and conducted with respect. The ultimate decision is that of the daughter who has been given operational accountability for the role,” he said. Chauhan echoed this. “We each have our own opinions at times but are able to listen and communicate with one another very well.” While women show more empathy to their parents, there’s sibling rivalry among daughters too, said Sunil Shah, director of Evergreen family business advisors.

This happens especially when their children come of age and mothers want to safeguard their rights in the business, he said. “But we may have to wait for a few years more to see a clear trend there as they have only recently started assuming coownership roles,” he said. Business historian Gita Piramal also thinks it is too early to make a definitive statement about daughters or sons. “Women in business are early inheritors yet and we will have to watch the trend for another five years,” she told ET.

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