The Tata Sons – Cyrus Mistry affair is just another day in business….family business

Apologies for the late response, was terribly tied up with a lot of stuff, and lots to write about, so let’s get started!

I maintain that the Tata sons-Cyrus Mistry matter is a family issue and my opinions in the Economic Times. I have given my reasons why this matter is all about values in this article.

I have co-authored a case on this matter, which I have used jointly in the 2 year MBA program with fascinating results. The students were expected to understand the viewpoints and pressures of all the stakeholders! Very valuable learnings and a whole lot of fun…. especially when the Students representing the community decided to move away from the script, and staged a walkout from class…. We had to go running after them to continue the rest of the class!

Going further on this, my other article in Forbes Online (in the thought leadership Section) talks about the learnings from this, for family businesses. After all, if this can happen in the most reputed family firm in the country, amongst probably the most qualified and competent people around, what have you done to prevent this from happening in your family firm?

Oswal family imbroglio rakes up an old issue again…

The Business Standard in an article has covered the Oswal family story.  It states that after the untimely death of Abhey Oswal in Moscow, his wife Aruna Oswal took over the reins of the two family companies, Oswal Agro Mills and Oswal Greentech, as she was the nominee. This has been disputed by the eldest son, Pankaj who claims that he had been appointed as the family heir, in a family function where he was made to wear the traditional pagdi of the family. This has raised a difference of opinion between the mother and son.

While not going into the specifics of the case, let us examine one fact in this case, which brings forth an issue which is pretty common with business families. It is stated in another article on rediff.com where Pankaj states that his father did not leave behind a will.

This brings forth a subject which is very touchy but is also responsible for wrecking family relationships, that of not having a will. The article states that the “spin doctors, advisors and lawyers have been hired and consulted” and it appears that both sides are readying their respective sides for a battle.

Which brings us to the following facts, which family patriarchs have to consider, in the absence of wills.

Battles do not help families:  If these are long drawn, (and they usually are), they extract a great price from each one, in terms of mental bandwidth and financial losses.  The results may come out eventually, but this could be at a cost of wounded relationships. Any success if at all, could prove to be just a pyrrhic victory.

They don’t help businesses either: The businesses are also the victims of this fight as they are forced to hold and wait, until clarity is apparent. On the other hand, professionally run businesses may be forced into the battle, which may be purely a family matter, and this could soak up funds from the business. The management could be distracted from running the business and more involved in what is happening to the family dispute.

 

Relationships get affected: As most of the family and business is forced to take sides, sometimes with incomplete information thus affecting the social environment. Given the fact, that most families operate in very socially connected environments, this could become tricky.

We plan our lives but hold back, when it comes to planning our businesses and family relationships: Let us understand this, a family will actually gives clarity to the family members on the intentions of the patriarch (or matriarch) and helps resolve situations. Sure, there are disputes on the wills also, but this is in some cases, but most times, the wishes are taken and executed. This ensures that the family relationships are maintained.

 

Gaekwad vs Gaekwad – Lessons in Conflict Resolution – Value of Time.

ET has an article covering the Gaekwads of Baroda settling their long pending conflict. it is instructive to read about the foresight demonstrated by the cousins Samarjitsinh and Pratapsinh to settle a Rs. 20,000 crore battle.

Key learnings were: the family became at peace and looked forward to a brighter, more constructive future for all the family members. And that they first decided that the settlement had to be made at any cost, and then the compromises made, were easy to implement.

I think that this insight is key, for settling conflicts  in families. Often, I have seen cases originating from  issues which may not seem relevant over time, but are the root of conflict, (like ill treatment, unjust or depriving of rights, actions regarded as unfair, etc.)

While this may be held as precious by the family members who may have been subject to this, the subsequent generations may not see this with the same degree of emotion. This could be used as a stepping stone to resolve a family conflict. I remember working with two families at conflict, where the reason for the conflict was not clear but everyone vaguely remembered that it was something that their great grandfathers had been involved in !

But i think that the point that most families miss, in all this highly charged up emotional states, is the amount of time and energies that they spend in keeping the conflict alive. additionally, they seem to forget that this same energy and effort if channelled into something more productive, would yield results which would enhance the status of the family more than winning any brownie points in any conflict.

Furthermore, this also becomes a part of the family legacy which perpetuates down the generations, and this adds negativity to the family lore. Think about it.  Why add a negative thought to the family stories? ( eg. your granduncle deprived your grandfather from all the right wealth and hence we are not speaking to them since then…)

Thus, if we were to summarise the key points to think about….

  1. Is continuing the conflict worth the effort, time and resources ?
  2. What is the key issue? are we addressing that or is it something more personal to an individual?
  3. Is this something which would be relevant for the future generations?