Inheritors in public limited companies

In a recent interview to Business Standard, Kishore Biyani, the Founder and CEO of Future Group made a very controversial quote

“I don’t believe in the hypocrisy of asking family members to join at a junior level. The CEOs would run the business and be accountable; family members would set broad guidelines and manage relationships.”

There is no denying that several business families in India induct the sons and daughters at a junior level initially in their family owned company. Then they make accelerated progress through the ranks of the organisation, before being appointed on the board and then eventually becoming the successor . The Bajaj sons, Ranbaxy inheritors, Birla inheritors, all have gone through this route.

The hypocrisy of this route can well be seen in the recent example of Rishad Premji, son of Wipro Chairman , Azim Premji. In a 2007 article in Rediff,

The elder of Wipro  Chairman Azim Premji’s  two sons, Rishad studied at the Harvard Busines School and graduated from Wesleyan University, Connecticut. With a penchant for software and music, Rishad sure has learnt one thing from his father, and that is to maintain a low profile.

Rishad, who is currently with Bain and Co, had a brief stint with GE before doing his MBA. His move now to join his father’s empire is interesting considering the fact that Azim Premji once said he did not want Wipro to become a family business.

Sources in Wipro maintain that Rishad will have to work his way through to the top. It is said that Rishad was keen on joining Wipro. Like everyone else, he too had to send in his resume and as luck would have it, he managed to find a placement.

Rishad will join the 70,000-employee-strong software-led conglomerate, which also makes soaps and bulbs, as a business finance solutions manager. It is also learnt that he will report to its president, Girish Paranjpe.

In September 2o10, The Hindu Business Line reports :

Mr Rishad Premji, son of Wipro Chairman Mr Azim Premji, has been appointed Chief Strategy Officer of IT Business, Wipro Technologies. In a statement, Mr Saurabh Govil, Senior Vice-President – Human Resources, Wipro Technologies, said Mr Rishad Premji was till recently General Manager – Treasury & Investor Relations and brings with him a diversified experience of Consulting, Finance, Treasury and Operations. In this role, Mr Rishad will report to the joint CEO’s, IT Business.

Within three years, Rishad has moved from an entry level position to become a direct report to the CEO of the IT business. This blogger believes at this rate Rishad will be the CEO in another three years. No prizes for guessing why this movement has been so rapid.

 Azim Premji owns 85 % of Wipro and if he feels his son Rishad is his rightful successor nobody can question him. His dilemma, perhaps, is the cloak of professionalism that he wishes Wipro to project. 

Kishore Biyani has no such dilemmas. His daughter Ashni Biyani has joined directly as Director of Future Ideas and his nephew Vivek Biyani has joined as the Director of Home solutions retail.

 The second part of Mr Biyani’s quote is also very interesting where he says “The CEOs would run the business and be accountable; family members would set broad guidelines and manage relationships.” A textbook role of CEO of any company would include setting broad guidelines  and managing relationships, yet Biyani feels CEOs just stop at running the business. In other words, what he really means is Chief Operations Officers ( COO) will be professionals but CEOs and Board members will be family members. Just that, in these title fluffing times, COOs will be called CEOs, without having the role and responsibility.

Now let us look closely at what a rich businessperson running a public limited company can bequeath to his sons and daughters. He has wealth which he has by virtue of the shareholding in his companies. He can sell his holdings in the companies and bequeath the wealth to his inheritors. He can bequeath the shareholding directly to his inheritors, thereby they becoming claimants to  board positions as owners. He can not only bequeath the shareholding, he can also appoint them as successors to the top job, thereby becoming owner-managers. 

A vast majority of Indian family owned public limited companies choose to bequeath their holding as well as appointing them as successor. Contrast this with what Bill Gates is doing.

Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, has said that he is not interested in using his billions to launch a dynasty and would not leave his fortune to his children. Gates and his wife Melinda , 44, have three children –Jennifer , 14, Rory, 11, and eight-year-old Phoebe. 

“I knew I didn’t think it was a good idea to give the money to my kids. That wouldn’t be good either for my kids or society. So the question was, ‘Can I find something that had incredible impact?’ I knew I wanted to do that,” Gates was quoted by The Sun as saying.

So far, Gates and his wife, through their foundation, have given away £18 billion which has helped deliver vaccines to more than 250 million children in poor countries. 

If Indian businessmen cannot do what Bill Gates has done, they should go by what Kishore Biyani says and spare us the hypocrisy.



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