Families change over time. And so do businesses. But when it comes to a family-run business, professional and personal lines tend to get blurred.
For Adi Godrej of the Godrej Group, the distinction is clear: in a family business, business takes precedence. “If you give priority to business, then the business does well and then so does the family. But it’s very important to prioritize business interest,” said Godrej recently, sharing his insights and experiences of helming an over 120-year-old family business.
Another doyen of the Indian family business ecosystem is Murugappa Group’s MV Subbiah, who believes in the importance of family unity and having the right values.
When working with family members, it’s difficult to balance star performers with average ones. Subbiah said that if a family member’s performance was not good enough, especially in a public listed company, the family moved him to one of the private ones. “This is discussed thoroughly and the person understands,” he said.
“On the other hand, if he does very well, he’s moved on to the board of some of the public listed companies and, we hope, one day he will move to the chairmanship.”
The strategy, however, is different when it comes to the Godrejs. The focus is on nurturing and mentoring early on. “It’s very important that in the early days of the career of a family member, his/her abilities are properly judged. They must be mentored by some successful senior family member,” said Godrej. Once people have risen to a senior position, replacing them becomes difficult. So, it’s important that when a family member is rising, that person is mentored and tutored to ensure success. Ensuring that they get the right opportunities and advice, to my mind, is a better way of approaching it,” he said.
Women, the Rising Stars
Speaking of women joining the family business, Godrej had a liberal view, where he said the young women in the family were encouraged if they were as qualified as other professionals.
Last year, the family patriarch handed over the baton of the Godrej Group flagship firm, Godrej Consumer Products, to his daughter Nisaba. But she wasn’t elevated because of her family name. Nisaba, Godrej pointed out, was a Wharton undergraduate and a Harvard Business School graduate, which qualified her to enter the business.
His eldest daughter Tanya Dubash is the executive director of the Godrej Group, while son Pirojsha is the executive chairman of Godrej Properties.
This strategy has helped the group overall as well. “We are paying a lot of attention now to female talent not only from the family but generally. We have a couple of listed companies where there are four to five women on the board and I think it’s benefitting us tremendously especially when we are in the consumer business,” he said.