Grand old man of India Inc.

B.K. Birla, the grand old man of the Birla clan, prefers to maintain a low profile.

Name: Basant Kumar Birla
Age: 86
Chairman Company: B.K. Birla Group

B.K. Birla, the grand old man of the Birla clan, prefers to maintain a low profile. Over the last couple of years, he has been in the news more often for his education- and art-related philanthropic activities than for corporate developments. In fact, he has publicly declared on several occasions that he's keen to hang up his boots and that the only reason he is carrying on is because grandson Kumar Mangalam Birla's hands are too full to take on the additional responsibility of managing Rs 8,000-crore B.K. Birla Group's flagship Century Textiles and Industries.

The two other blue chips in his group, Kesoram and Jay Shree Tea & Industries, he had indicated in 2001, would go to his daughters Manjushree Khaitan and Jayshree Mohta, respectively. So, it came as a major surprise when he announced in June that he had decided to bequeath Kesoram to his grandson. "I would like to pass on the mantle of this business empire to the safest hand," he told bt. Manjushree, he said, would be "given something else". This has turned the media focus back on the sprawling group once more.

But what is Birla's management style like? Within the Birla family and outside, B.K. Babu, as associates, colleagues and friends reverentially address him, is regarded for his sagacity and wisdom. A stickler for punctuality, discipline and thrift, he is known to be a big picture person, who delegates authority to a trusted band of senior executives and his daughters. He also swears by the parta system of accounting and management that is very popular with some Indian business houses.

Now, Birla says, he has few business ambitions left, but will still carry on as the head of the empire that bears his name "as long as I remain fit". But his first love these days is his rich collection of artworks comprising Kalighat pots, original paintings of Rabindra Nath Tagore, Abanindra Nath Tagore, almost all the contemporary Indian masters and framed photographs of six generations of Birlas (starting with his grand father Raja Baldeo Das Birla to Kumar Mangalam Birla's son and daughters).