Kumar Mangalam Birla works "normal Bombay hours", except that he is also in office on Saturdays and half of Sundays. "My work-life balance is completely messed up," he says.
On each of those days, he would like to know how much cash came into his group and how much went out. Not turnover, not profit. Cash.
Of course, it will be a bit of a stretch for the chairman of a $35 billion group to actually count the cash, but that is the broad philosophy of the Parta
system. A financial performance monitoring mechanism, it has been refined over generations of Marwari businessmen. Among the Birlas, Ghanshyam Das Birla embraced it wholeheartedly. And his great grandson Kumar Mangalam swears by it. "It is a timeless concept and can be applied even 20 years from now," says Birla.
Many variations of Parta
have evolved over the centuries. But, at the heart of all the different variations, the underlying principle remains the same: at the end of the day, there should be a net inflow of cash into the system. If there isn't, something somewhere needs fixing.
This overriding concern with net gain on a daily basis may have saved the Chairman of the Aditya Birla Group
from the quicksand of controversy in which many of his peers are trapped. As the revered Tata Group, the two Reliances, and sundry other businessmen find themselves facing one probe or the other, many of the charges relate to attempts to manage the policy environment. Birla did not see much net benefit in it. As a result, he and his network of 35 companies remain unscathed.
"[Managing the environment] is not an area of strength for us. It may mean sacrificing growth, but we are quite happy to do that. It is important that you sleep well at night," he says.
As far back as 1998, just two years after taking charge upon his father Aditya Vikram's death due to prostate cancer, the young scion formulated a code of conduct for his group. It is an attitude he attributes to his "Gandhian family".
To be sure, the Gandhian family did bestow many privileges upon Birla while growing up. It is difficult not to be special in school and college if you come from one of the country's largest business houses. But the chartered accountancy was a different cup of tea. Birla describes those four years as excruciating and terrible. "Being a Birla did not help," he says with a wry smile. "I had to slog my butt off." With a 4 per cent pass rate, the course gave him so much "anxiety" and "trauma" that it is the one thing he wouldn't allow his children - he has two daughters and a son - to take up. "That is the only condition to my children... They can do whatever else they want."
Do his children listen to him? "Not at all," Birla sighs with the familiar despair of a modern-day parent, adding that only the younger daughter, who is eight, does. "It is quite a big change from our generation. I could not imagine not listening to my father... This generation questions you and then does its own thing."
If the children did listen to him, he would love to have them join the family business so that it can continue to be led by a Birla.