Pass­ing the ba­ton

Go­drej tells Viveat Su­san Pinto and Ni­raj Bhatt that the group keeps own­er­ship and man­age­ment sep­a­rate, and at the same en­trusts qual­i­fied fam­ily mem­bers with re­spon­si­bil­ity

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ADI GO­DREJ tells Viveat Su­san Pinto and Ni­raj Bhatt the group keeps own­er­ship and man­age­ment sep­a­rate, and at the same time en­trusts qual­i­fied fam­ily mem­bers with re­spon­si­bil­ity

As we en­ter the sprawl­ing Go­drej fa­cil­i­ties in the Mum­bai sub­urb of Vikhroli to meet group chair­man Adi Go­drej for our lunch meet­ing, the first thing we no­tice are the changes tak­ing place. A land­scaped gar­den, the un­der-con­struc­tion build­ings and the new head­quar­ters all sug­gest that it is no longer a con­ser­va­tive, 121year-old group. Tall struc­tures have re­placed the un­der­stated three­storeyed build­ings, an­nounc­ing the group’s real es­tate am­bi­tions. Go­drej One, the new 11-storeyed head­quar­ters is the first build­ing un­der The Trees, a mixed-use devel­op­ment mas­ter plan, which will have com­mer­cial, re­tail, res­i­den­tial, a five-star ho­tel and cul­tural spa­ces.

The other change is Adi Go­drej hand­ing over the reins at key op­er­at­ing com­pa­nies last year to his chil­dren, while he con­tin­ues as chair­man at the group level and at Go­drej In­dus­tries. Known for his dis­ci­plined life­style, Go­drej, an early riser, walks to stay fit and makes it to of­fice at quar­ter past eight ev­ery morn­ing. He’s also on time for our lunch, slated at 1 pm at the di­rec­tors’ din­ing hall on the fifth floor of Go­drej One.

The Go­drej fam­ily, whose net worth, ac­cord­ing to the Forbes 2018 rank­ing, is $14 bil­lion, de­rives a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of its wealth from own­ing land in Vikhroli. Go­drej Prop­er­ties, the group’s real es­tate arm, says Go­drej, holds enor­mous prom­ise as the de­mand for qual­ity hous­ing grows in Mum­bai and other ci­ties. The Go­drej group is the largest real es­tate owner of Mum­bai with 4,000 acres, and The Trees project is part of the group’s mon­eti­sa­tion ex­er­cise. Other listed group com­pa­nies in­clude Go­drej Con­sumer, Go­drej In­dus­tries and Go­drej Agrovet.

The di­rec­tors’ din­ing hall over­looks the Eastern Ex­press High­way and the ver­dant man­groves be­yond, which the fam­ily trusts pro­tects. An im­pos­ing An­jolie Ela Menon adds colour to the oth­er­wise white room. As we are served Mex­i­can bean soup and corn cheese toast, the 76-year-old Go­drej is quick to point out that he is not an art con­nois­seur and the paint­ing was bought by his wife Parmesh­war, a so­cialite and phi­lan­thropist, who passed away two years ago.

In a sense, she was the per­fect foil to Go­drej, say in­dus­try peers, out­go­ing to his largely re­served na­ture, a fash­ion­ista to his more for­mal dress­ing style, a woman who led her life to the fullest. Un­like his bil­lion­aire peers, Go­drej doesn’t find it nec­es­sary to own a cor­po­rate jet, pre­fer­ring to fly com­mer­cial or oc­ca­sion­ally char­ter­ing air­craft.

He says about his wife: “She added her own di­men­sion. She had a lot of friends; was so­cial. She also helped in the busi­ness, with ad­ver­tis­ing (for brands such as Cinthol) as well as in new prod­uct for­mu­la­tions.”

Parmesh­war’s work on im­prov­ing AIDS aware­ness in the coun­try along with ac­tor Richard Gere as part of the “Heroes Project” a decade and a half ago is well-known. Go­drej him­self re­mains pas­sion­ate about health­care, ed­u­ca­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. He re­cently stepped down as chair­man of the board of In­dian School of Busi­ness, but con­tin­ues to be on the board. He has cham­pi­oned the cause of ef­fec­tive skilling and train­ing of peo­ple at var­i­ous fora. “I don’t think there is a dearth of jobs in In­dia. What ex­ists in­stead is a clear gap be­tween skilled peo­ple and the work at hand. Em­ploy­ers on most oc­ca­sions find it dif­fi­cult to find a match be­tween the two, which is why it is im­por­tant to fo­cus on skill-train­ing,” he says.

Go­drej’s trusted but­ler Robert gets the next course — a Cur­rimb­hoy salad, which in­cludes greens and boiled eggs, fol­lowed by soft-shell crab, potato gnoc­chi with basil pis­tou, baked as­para­gus with cherry toma­toes, zuc­chini and mush­room.

Joint ven­tures stitched up by the Go­drej Group across cat­e­gories from ap­pli­ances to per­sonal care, wheat flour to pack­aged food, fol­low­ing the 1991 lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the In­dian econ­omy, were rolled out quickly, but didn't last long. Go­drej has no re­grets about them say­ing, “They were not use­ful be­yond a point.”

In the last 10 years, the group has opted to take the in­or­ganic route to growth, buy­ing com­pa­nies across Asia, Africa and South Amer­ica. Go­drej says that the group’s fo­cus re­mains mainly on th­ese mar­kets and that it is open to dis­in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where, such as the one it un­der­took re­cently in the UK, where the group ex­ited Key­line Brands, its first over­seas ac­qui­si­tion, done in 2005. Go­drej does not have any di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion plans on the ta­ble, but will “en­ter ad­ja­cen­cies”.

The macro head­winds that In­dia is fac­ing at present do not bother him. In­dia, he says, will be the fastest grow­ing ma­jor econ­omy in the world de­spite all the chal­lenges. His ad­vice to the next gen­er­a­tion is to “look for­ward to Mon­days”.

Go­drej, who holds a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in en­gi­neer­ing and an MBA both from the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, is pas­sion­ate about man­age­ment. “My fa­ther was into tech­nol­ogy, while I was more into man­age­ment,” he says. Go­drej, say cor­po­rate gov­er­nance ex­perts, has al­ways re­lied on a healthy board com­pris­ing qual­i­fied prac­ti­tion­ers and was amongst the first to in­tro­duce in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tors on the boards of group com­pa­nies in In­dia. “The way to avoid a con­flict is to take a thought or idea to the board early on the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process,” he says over the main course of rata­touille lasagna.

The Go­drej model of own­er­ship has also been keenly tracked by ob­servers that in­volves in­duct­ing qual­i­fied fam­ily mem­bers into the busi­ness, en­cour­ag­ing them to con­trib­ute mean­ing­fully to the or­gan­i­sa­tion in their cho­sen do­main and work­ing closely with pro­fes­sional man­agers in the group. Go­drej’s three chil­dren — Tanya, Nis­aba and Piro­jsha — have all been through this process, he says, who are now head­ing group com­pa­nies af­ter work­ing their way up. While Tanya is the chair­per­son of Go­drej Na­ture’s Bas­ket, Nis­aba heads the Go­drej Con­sumer board, while Piro­jsha is chair­man, Go­drej Prop­er­ties.

Though Go­drej has given his chil­dren the free­dom to run their com­pa­nies, he still over­sees op­er­a­tions as group chair­man. “They are qual­i­fied and ca­pa­ble of run­ning their busi­nesses well. While we keep own­er­ship and man­age­ment sep­a­rate, if any­body from the fam­ily wants to join the busi­ness, our point is that you have to be wellqual­i­fied to do so,” he says as the ta­ble is cleared for dessert, which in­cludes cut fruits.

The Go­drej Group has also been at the fore­front when hir­ing women, giv­ing them flexi-hours and day­care fa­cil­i­ties, and has been one of the early em­ploy­ers of the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and queer com­mu­nity in its of­fices across the globe.

“We were early be­liev­ers in di­ver­sity and felt that we should have a strong rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in our or­gan­i­sa­tion. Glob­ally, 40 per cent of our em­ploy­ees are women. In cer­tain ge­ogra­phies such as Africa, In­done­sia and the north-east of In­dia, the per­cent­age of women em­ploy­ees is even higher,” Go­drej says. It had also set up a com­mit­tee for sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaints years ago. “We gave women the op­tion to com­plain if they faced a prob­lem,” he says.

His love for travel has taken Go­drej to 95 coun­tries across the seven con­ti­nents. A sup­porter of World Wildlife Fund in In­dia, Go­drej prefers na­ture and likes to get away to the moun­tains. He loves read­ing au­to­bi­ogra­phies and bi­ogra­phies and has been greatly in­flu­enced by lead­ers such as Ma­hatma Gandhi, Nel­son Man­dela and Mar­garet Thatcher.

“Right now I am read­ing Ram­chan­dra Guha’s Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World. This is pos­si­bly the thick­est book I’ve ever read,” he says on his favourite pas­time. “I am fas­ci­nated by the fact that Socrates was Plato’s tu­tor, Plato was Aris­to­tle’s tu­tor and Aris­to­tle was Alexan­der’s tu­tor. I have read about them all and the im­pact they’ve had,” he says as we fin­ish our cof­fee.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: BI­NAY SINHA

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