N Ram has stepped down as editor-in-chief and publisher of The Hindu newspaper and other group publications, in another move of a long and public battle for succession played out at media group Kasturi & Sons. The controversial succession has involved issues such as separation of family from editorial positions, and dragged in most of the inheritors of four cousins who hold the equity of Kasturi & Sons.
N Ram, a member of the owner family, was editor-in-chief for eight years, and will hand over the baton to Siddharth Varadarajan, a non-family member, on Thursday next week. Ram will continue as wholetime director. Kasturi & Sons is learnt to have appointed Arun Anant as its new chief executive. Anant has worked for UTV News and Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd.
In one of the twists and turns of the succession battle last year, Ram’s appointment of Varadarajan as the new editor and his successor in The Hindu was challenged by N Ravi, Ram’s brother and a board member. Ravi said as part of an original succession plan, he was supposed to takeover from Ram.
In a recent letter to the board, available with Business Standard, N Ram said “in keeping with the relevant resolutions adopted by the Board of Directors and the Shareholders of KSL on editorial succession, I have decided to step down from my position as Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar with effect from January 19”.
N Ram confirmed his stepping-down. "I am happy that we are able to do this as part of an orderly and well prepared process of editorial succession and induction of young and fresh professional blood at the top,” he said in an e-mail to Business Standard on Monday.
Kasturi & Sons has 12 board members, and roughly 50 shareholders – all of them members of the Kasturi Ranga Iyengar family. Each of the four cousins, who together control the entire equity, has three members on the board. The owner cousins are G Narasimhan (father of N Ram, N Ravi, N Murali), S Parthasarathy (father of Malini Parthasarathy, Nirmala Lakshman and Nalini Krishnan), S Rangarajan (father of Ramesh Rangarajan, Vijaya Arun and Akila Iyengar), and G Kasturi (father of K Balaji, K Venugopal and Lakshmi Srinath).
Families of the four cousins, who are themselves sons of Kasturi Srinivasan and Kasturi Gopalan (the second-generation owners), own 25 per cent equity each.
In March 2009, a dispute surfaced among the Kasturi Ranga Iyengar family around the appointment of K Balaji as managing director of Kasturi & Sons. Some of the family members had at the time opposed the re-designation of N Murali as senior managing director, who though assigned an apparent higher position, was asked to limit his responsibilities to circulation and work on accounts and industrial relations with Balaji.
K Balaji proposed last year that all family shareholders should step away from the operational side and appoint a professional team to run the paper. The measure meant the removal of N Ravi, Nirmala Lakshman, K Venugopal and Malini Parthasarathy from their editorial roles.
“The entire process involves major structural change and article change. We have said a family business consultant should be appointed before the rule is imposed. But they have imposed it and the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan will be taken up in the Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), which is scheduled on May 20”, said N Ravi to Business Standard last year.
N Ram had hit back with a letter to all employees saying the board had decided to separate ownership from management on the editorial as well as business side.
N Ram was responding to Ravi’s earlier letter: “In a sudden change of rules and under the specious plea of separating ownership from management, along with my removal as editor, Nirmala Lakshman is to be forced to “step down” as joint editor and Malini Parthasarathy as executive editor.”
Ravi has also alleged that there have been distortions creeping into the “editorial framework” of the paper. “Among the issues that I have raised with the other directors during the discussions in the Board and outside are: the unmerited coverage of certain political favourites on specific directions; excessive coverage of the activities of the Left and some of its leaders; for reasons that are bound to emerge sooner rather than later, turning the newspaper into an apologist for A Raja through the 2G scam coverage, remaining deafeningly silent on his resignation in the face of mounting evidence even when demanding the resignation of Suresh Kalmadi, Ashok Chavan and Yeddyurappa...”
N Ravi, Malini Parthasarathy, and Nirmala Lakshman, resigned from editorial positions in July, 2011. Senior Managing Director N Murali retired in August 11, 2011. With these resignations and N Ram’s stepping down, none of the family members hold editorial position in the company. They remain as directors of Kasturi & Sons.