Different sections of the former DCM group have instituted unique means of staying united.
Once every year, brothers Ajay, Vikram and Ajit Shriram of DCM Shriram Consolidated go for an offsite with their wives and Sushanta Banerjee who runs an organisation development consultancy called Samuday Psycon. Before the offsite, Banerjee sits with each of the three brothers separately and talks to them about what happened in their lives in the last one year.
Then, at the offsite, they are all encouraged to talk about any issue they may have faced and tell untold stories from their lives. There is deep introspection and sharing between the brothers. Banerjee also puts them through psychometric tests. At the end, a lot of issues get cleared. The family comes back, more cohesive than before.
“There have been tangible benefits, disasters have been averted,” said Banerjee, who has studied at the Indian Institute of Technology at Delhi and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and worked for the Indian Space Research Organisation. “I consult with several families but none of them is as serious as the Shrirams.”
Bitter spats have become an inseparable part of Indian business families. Over the years, the Modis, Birlas, the Singhs of Ranbaxy, the Ambani brothers and recently the Bajajs have fought and split their businesses. Brothers have been at each other’s throats, father and son have traded charges and fought in full public view. The three Shriram brothers clearly want none of that to happen to them.
For the last seven years now, they have held the annual retreat — in Agra, Dubai and other places away from the office — to smooth matters between them. The brothers even attended the “Leading the family business” programme at IMD Lausanne in 2006.
The three are the sons of Lala Shri Dhar who died in Kolkata last year. Shri Dhar, in turn, was the son of Lala Murali Dhar, the elder brother of Bharat Ram and Charat Ram. He died in an air crash in 1949 along with his wife when they were returning from Lyallpur in Pakistan. The family used to own Lyallapur Cloth Mills and he had gone to supervise its affairs. Murali Dhar's other son was Lala Bansi Dhar.
Some observers said the brothers were the underdogs when DCM split in 1990, and that’s why they stick together. But there is sound business logic too. A promoter family, they feel, takes a longer view of business than professional managers or fund houses. And for that it is important to stick together. Two, by brushing their personal ambitions and differences aside, they are able to focus on what is in the best interests of the company. Three, by sending the message that there are no differences between them, they ensure that the company’s managers don’t take sides and play one against the other.
To send the message down, the three brothers lunch together everyday in office. All large capital expenditure is signed by the two older brothers, Ajay and Vikram.
Interestingly, the brothers acknowledge that they are not the most intelligent or experienced people in the company. “We are not the only brains and not necessarily the best,” says Ajay Shriram, who is the chairman of DCM Shriram Consolidated. “There are people more intelligent, experienced and capable than us. Our job is to ensure we get the best people for each job.”
Meanwhile, another faction of the erstwhile DCM Group has taken steps to ensure harmony within the family. Arun Bharat Ram of SRF has written a “family constitution” that regulates the family’s affairs. It offers equal opportunities for sons and daughters in the family. Bharat Ram’s daughter Deeksha, who married into the Kalyani family of Bharat Forge, though, has opted out of it. Thus, it applies to Bharat Ram’s two sons, Ashish and Kartik.
The constitution says the two will receive the same money from the company. This is to ensure that the brothers and their wives don’t bicker over money. It specifies who can join the family business or how to opt out of it, what happens if somebody dies and so on.
On their part, the two brothers have taken over functions at SRF rather than businesses so that there is no conflict. Thus, while Ashish looks after operations and finance, Kartik takes care of human resources, total quality management and corporate communications.
R M Rajgopal, a former CEO of SRF, works as a counselor to the family. All members meet once in two months to take stock of the situation.
Perhaps both the families don’t want to repeat what happened to DCM. It was one of the country’s largest conglomerates till the mid-1980s. Though the 1990 split was amicable, it reduced the various constituents to small businessmen. Several businesses were sold. New entrepreneurs overshadowed the DCM family, whose ancestor was once the kotwal of Delhi.
The realisation had perhaps set in early. As long as Bharat Ram, the family patriarch, was alive he had lunch everyday with his three sons: Vinay, Arun and Vivek. These days, the entire DCM family gets together five or six times a year at important festivals like Dusshera and Rakhi. They may have fallen apart almost two decades ago, but at least two factions don’t want to split once again.