After two years of setting a rare example by relinquishing all board responsibilities at the ripe 'young' age of 65 years, N R Narayana Murthy has done a U-turn by deciding to return to Infosys as its chairman. A not-very-small group of senior-citizen counterparts at other companies must be whispering to themselves: "If you were to come back, why leave in the first place?".
Plus-65 chairpersons are no aberration so far as India Inc is concerned. In fact, the age group of these senior citizens is a dominant one on Indian boards. According to data provided by Indianboards.com, the boards of nearly a fourth of top 500 Indian firms are headed by senior citizens - some even by octo- and nonagenarians.
Of the 112 listed companies that have elderly people as chairpersons or managing directors, one company has a head who is older than 90 years, 10 companies' chiefs are in their 80s, 58 leaders are in their 70s and 43 in the 66-69 age group.
At 92 years, Kumar Mangalam Birla's grandfather, Basant Kumar Birla, the chairman of Century Textiles & Industries, is the oldest chairperson of a listed Indian firm. Hero's Brijmohan Lall Munjal, who rode the Ludhiana-based bicycle maker into the fast lane, continues to run the group at 89. (ELDERLY AT HELM)
While the Birla patriarch occupies the chair in a non-executive role, Munjal continues in executive position. K P Singh, 82, is the rock of realty major DLF, while JB Chemicals & Pharma's J B Mody, Chettinad Cements' M A M Ramaswamy and Great Eastern Shipping's K M Sheth are some of the octogenerarians heading company boards.
As many as 58 companies have chairmen/managing directors in their 70s. Some of the prominent names in this category include Rahul Bajaj, the chairperson of Bajaj Auto, Bajaj Finserv, Bajaj Holding and Investment and Bajaj Finance. Among these companies, he continues to be executive director of Bajaj Auto, while he has a non-executive role at other companies. Bajaj, also a promoter shareholder in all companies, will turn 76 soon.
Similarly, 71-year-old Adi Godrej chairs the boards of Godrej Consumer Products, Godrej Industries and Godrej Properties. Nusli Wadia, who turns 70 soon, heads Bombay Dyeing, Britannia and Bombay Burmah Trading. Lalit Modi's 71-year-old father,
K K Modi, is Godfrey Phillips' managing director.
Though the next generation has been waiting in the wings, these family businesses continue to look up to their patriarchs for guidance and leadership. This also helps keep the flock together, some say.
However, such arguments do not explain why even truly public companies with no identifiable promoter group should continue with elderly chairpersons. Anil Kumar Manibhai Naik, 71, is the executive chairperson of Larsen & Toubro. MD & CEO of the company, K Venkatramanan, is only slightly younger at 68. Recently, Naik told a newspaper there was no successor in sight and that he was "slogging to find" one.
Naik's other protege Y M Deosthalee, 66, heads L&T Finance Holdings as its chairperson.
Another sixty-six-year old heads a company with ownership as diversified as its business empire. Y C Deveshwar has been at the helm of ITC for several years now. JM Financial's Nimesh Kampani, ICRA's P K Chowdhry, Emami's Radhey Shyam Agarwal and India Cements' N Srinivasan figure among the 65- to 69-year-old heads of 43 companies.
Indiaboards.com notes the "list was not complete and contained data for only those companies that have filed designations and age of directors with us, or for which we have been able to capture the same from public sources."