Business Today

A break from the past

A clutch of enterprising NextGen scions is spreading its wings outside the traditional businesses of the family.

twitter-logo Anand Adhikari        Print Edition: March 7, 2010

The fourth generation of a business family with interests in cotton trading and textiles manufacturing and with a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore leaves it all behind and moves on to set up a knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) offering research, analytics and online marketing solutions. An enterprising lad in his mid-20s bids adieu to the family's traditional businesses like textiles, banking and insurance to start up an airline with a unique business model. Another son with an illustrious family name steps out to pursue his passion for football by buying a domestic football club.

Ashwin Kapur, 24, MD, Atlas TMT Bars, MD, Atlas Entertainment, and Director, Salsons Impex

  • Generation: Fourth
  • Son of: Salil Kapur, President, Atlas Cycles
  • Family's comfort zone: Cycles
  • NextGen's business of choice: TMT bars, exports and entertainment
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "It was not mandatory for me to stick to the family business. There are excellent opportunities in other sectors"
Why? Why would such NextGen scions, presumably cosseted in financial security, want to break out and start something afresh that in most cases is totally removed from the strengths and competencies that the family has built over generations? "We would have been disasters in the family business," grins Sunil Mirani.

Sunil, along with cousin Madhav, started a KPO firm focussed on market research called Ugam Solutions, with a handful of employees operating near Mumbai's Victoria Terminus. The fourth-gen entrepreneurs from the 140-yearold KVS Group had a rough ride initially— "There was no money to splurge," recounts Sunil—as they searched for clients. Today, Ugam is a leading player in market research solutions, and advanced analytics with a workforce of 1,000 based out of India, the US and UK. "There are parts in the market research value chain that can be easily outsourced from India," explains the CEO of Ugam, who consciously decided to stay clear of the lower-value call centre business way back at the turn of the century.

Ambika Hinduja, 31, Chairperson, Owner and Producer, Serendipity Films

  • Generation: Third
  • Daughter of: Ashok P. Hinduja, Chairman, Hinduja Group, India
  • Family's comfort zone: Automotive, energy and lubricants, power, banking and finance, realty, media and entertainment, healthcare, trading, project development
  • NextGen's business of choice: Film production house
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "I didn't want to take part in any of the businesses for which I don't have the interest and knowledge to better it"
Clearly, as more exciting, highergrowth sunrise opportunities appear on the economic landscape, the younger generation of steeped-intradition family-run conglomerates is more willing to take the risk of breaking out of the mould. Consider, for instance, M. Thiagarajan, son of Lakshmi Murugesan, CMD of Paramount Textiles, who in turn is the daughter of Kurumuttu Thiagarajan Chettiar (who owned Bank of Madura). The 31-yearold, in 2005, decided to pursue his passion for flying by translating it into a business. He launched Paramount Airways, India's first fully businessclass airliner, which today owns half a dozen aircraft that fly to 16 destinations.

"Aviation had always fascinated me," says Thiagarajan, himself a trained pilot. "I would never have liked to rest on past laurels and the glory of my family. I like to define my own life and accomplish my own goals." The Miranis and Thiagarajan are two of a kind—not just for moving out of a long-established set-up but also for consciously avoiding becoming a me-too in a sunrise business. Just as Ugam decided to stay clear of the lower-value call centre business, Thiagarajan saw a clearly-defined space for a premium airline, thereby avoiding the low-cost service clutter.

Nandan Piramal, 29, Executive Vice Chairman, Jammin Entertainment and Pune Football Club

  • Generation: Third
  • Son of: Urvi Piramal, Chairperson, Peninsula Land and Ashok Piramal Group
  • Family's comfort zone: Real estate, textiles and auto components
  • NextGen's business of choice: Entertainment and sports
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "We want to make the club the benchmark for the game of football, and make it a commercially viable business"

Why the Next-Gen Looks Outside the Family

  • Don't want to rest on past glory.
  • Family's traditional businesses in low-growth areas.
  • A number of sunrise opportunities have emerged.
  • Capital is rarely a constraint.
  • Too many in line for the family jewels.
To be sure, it takes something to admit that the family business is not one's cup of tea—as the 24-year old Ashwin Kapur, who comes from a family in the business of cycles and pharmaceuticals, candidly does. "I immediately decided to move on," says the fourth-generation scion of the Gwaliorbased Atlas Group. He raised money (Rs 30 lakh) from family and friends to launch companies in the areas of TMT bars (which are used in construction), exports and entertainment.

Often, family dynamics play a part in the scions opting out of the flagship business. When A.H. Dalmia, one of the three brothers of the Dalmia Group, moved out of the family's cement operations, Orissa Cement, his son Abhishek had few regrets. "Cement never appealed to me because of the overcapacity conditions, high capital requirement and low margins," says Abhishek, who was just 31 when he started his investment advisory under the banner of the Renaissance Group.

Abhishek Dalmia, 40, CEO, Renaissance Group

  • Generation: Third
  • Son of: A.H. Dalmia, Chairman, Renaissance Group
  • Family's comfort zone: Cement
  • NextGen's business of choice: Investment Advisory
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "Cement inherently never appealed to me because of over capacity conditions, high capital requirement and lowmargins"
Armed with a CA degree and a fiveyear stint at Orissa Cement, Abhishek was on his way to launch his own business in 1999, influenced in a big way by his hero, investing icon Warren Buffett. His first big success came immediately when he mounted a hostile bid for real estate firm Gesco. He didn't win the bid as Mahindra Group entered the open offer fray but that didn't matter as he walked away with a cool profit of Rs 10 crore a few months later by withdrawing from offer and selling his stake. Today, the junior Dalmia owns chunky stakes in a clutch of mid-cap companies.

New Blood, New Start-ups
When Urvi Piramal, wife of the late Ashok Piramal, separated from the Ajay Piramal group in 2004, the traditional textiles, real estate and auto components businesses came her way. Whilst her two sons Rajeev and Harsh manage those operations, the youngest son Nandan decided to pursue his passion—football. After doing stints at his aunt Zia Mody's law firm AZB Partners and at broadcasting major UTV, Nandan joined the family's Piramyd Retail, which was sold to Indiabulls in 2007. That's when he saw an opportunity in football. In the same year he promoted the Pune Football Club, which in the 2009-10 season was elevated to the first division of the Indian Football League. Nandan, who developed an interest in the game during his under-grad days in London—home to legendary English clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea—hopes to nurture local talent, bring in sponsorships and promote the game at the district and national level.

M. Thiagarajan, 31, MD, Paramount Airways

  • Generation: Third
  • Son of: Lakshmi Murugesan, CMD, Paramount Textiles
  • Family's comfort zone: Banking, insurance, and textiles
  • NextGen's business of choice: Aviation
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "I would never like to rest on past glory of my family. I would like to accomplish my own goals"
What does the NextGen do when the father sells a business he's co-founded? Thirty one-year-old Bhairavi Jani's father Tushar Jani co-founded Blue Dart, a logistics firm that was bought out by DHL in late-2004. Four years before that, Bhairavi, under the guidance of her father, had started a company i3pl offering end-to-end supply chain solutions—a business not totally unrelated to what Blue Dart was doing. "Even though most of our businesses were in logistics operations, i3pl was more about end-to-end supply chain planning and giving customised solutions to clients," says Bhairavi.

It was a good opportunity for Bhairavi to learn the hard way, as she recollects how her father locked up the office when she failed to pay a month's rent. "I couldn't afford a printer at one stage," she recalls. Bhairavi, today, is at the forefront of a warehousing and inventory management company, TranSmart, where she is Executive Director and CEO. Here again, she was involved from day one in the operations of TranSmart. Her father is the Chairman and his expertise in the logistics space stands Bhairavi in good stead.

The family's experience in this area dates back to 1896 when her great grandfather set up a clearing and forwarding venture. Some want to return to the knitting even after the family has exited a business.

Devita Saraf, 27, CEO, Vu Technologies

  • Generation: Second
  • Daughter of: Raj Saraf, Chairman, Zenith Computers
  • Family's comfort zone: Personal computers
  • NextGen's business of choice: Luxury electronics and gadgets
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "I wanted to experiment in the market and didn't want to jeopardise the brand value of Zenith. Eventually, the passion to build a brand made me set up Vu Technologies"
Case in point: Bangalore's Sudarshan Maiya, 26, the son of Sadanand Maiya, who expanded the MTR restaurant business he inherited into an eponymous processed foods business. Maiya, who wanted Sudarshan to do something in technology, since the son held a degree in computer science, sold the business in 2007—disappointing the junior hugely.

Two years later, Sudarshan opened a restaurant ‘Maiyas' with a clear intent of where he's headed: "I am running this business to popularise the Maiyas brand so that customers wi instantly recognise it when I launch m business in packaged food." Like Bhairavi, 28-year-old Devita Saraf has taken a cue from her father's business. Zenith Computers, started by her father, was at one time a name to reckon with in personal computers.

Devita hasn't totally abdicated that legacy; she's spearheading Vu Technologies, which markets luxury electronic gizmos that range from high-end display gadgets to touch-screen TV. Vu has four stores in the metros, and plans to add another three soon.

Madhav Mirani, 37 and Sunil Mirani, 43, CMO and CEO respectively, Ugam Solutions

  • Generation: Fourth
  • Sons of: (late) N.R Mirani and P.H. Mirani, Partners, KVS Group
  • Family's comfort zone: Cotton trading and textiles
  • NextGen's business of choice: Knowledge Process Outsourcing
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "The entrepreneurial culture in any family business is by default"
In Bangalore, Akshata Murty, daughter of Infosys Technologies' Founder-Chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy, is going a step further—she's setting a clothing line rooted in Indian designs. Refreshingly, more and more daughters are being encouraged to earn their own spurs. Thirty-one year-old Ambika Hinduja, daughter of Ashok P. Hinduja, Chairman of Hinduja Group, India, has never worked in the family business. The Executive Chairperson of Serendipity Films is fanatical about cinema, which prompted her to flag off her venture in 2003. It has since produced offbeat films like Being Cyrus. Coming soon is Teen Pati with Amitabh Bachchan. "Films are my abiding passion, yet I'm keen to diversify into the lifestyle and hospitality sectors," Ambika says.

The girls like to keep their options open, as Namrata Goyal, daughter of Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal, says. Her passion is for the entertainment industry, which explains why she is doing an undergrad course in Film Studies in London at Queen Mary College. A trained Kathak dancer, Namrata worked briefly as a trainee at Jet. "I want to spend the next few years exploring different avenues of film making before I actually pin down on what I really want to do," says she.

Bhairavi Jani, 31, CEO, Transmart

  • Generation: Fourth
  • Daughter of: Tushar Jani, Chairman, SCA Group of companies
  • Family's comfort zone: Cargo and logistics
  • NextGen's business of choice: Inventory management (after founding a logistics company and selling it)
  • Most likely to be heard saying: "Entrepreneurial experience is very necessary to understand what sustenance means for a business"
So, where will these NextGen scions be five years down the line? A few could well take refuge in the family business if things go awry. But if you go by the sky-high nature of their ambitions, that may not be the case. "I want to make TranSmart a truly Indian multinational," adds Bhairavi. "In the next 5-10 years, I see Paramount Airways as a global player," pipes in Thiagarajan. But it isn't as if failure is an unwelcome stranger. As Bhairavi alludes, it's a pit-stop on the entrepreneurial journey that will ultimately help build a business that sustains.

 

 

With reporting from Rachna M. Koppikar, Anamika Butalia, Manu Kaushik and K.R. Balasubramanyam

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