August 22, 2014 Leave a comment
“I spent 35 years building a 100 crore trucks business and you want to be a bungee jumper?”
“Dad, I don’t want to be a bungee jumper. I want to start an adventure tourism company”.
“That means what? A tour guide? You’ll take foreigners to some rock in Himachal and make them jump? You went to Harvard B School.”
“That’s exactly why I don’t want to spend my life negotiating with Jharkhand toll booth operators”.
This was conversation I was privy to last week between a successful 60-something Mumbai businessman and his 30something son. The father fought his whole life against an insanely bureaucratic system and built his business. A Herculean task in a time of 97% taxation, sporadic socialist agendas, petty cronyism, suspicion of businessmen.He dug in for the long war against safari-suited socialists, teethgritted, thrived and won. Today, the entrepreneur saw the Arabian Sea from his penthouse. On the verge of handing over his 50-city trucks empire to his only son. There was only one problem. His son didn’t want it.
I know what you’re thinking. That his son, the inheritor, was useless and someone who just blew up money. Instead of understanding the trucks logistics business, he was wearing a jester hat in a Goa EDM concert dancing with an out-of-work blonde German freelancer, while imbibing vodka shots, shouting, “David Guetta, I love you!” That party life was an 80s-early 90s problem. Wealth attained from real India (mines, mills, factories) by a hard-working man helped spoil a child who knew nothing of the mill or factory or his salaried lot, fought at hotel bars, often used the words, “Dude, do you know who I am?”, drove fast cars over people and into trees, only to reach his 40s to realise he lives off pocket money, and then fight with his father for the control of the business.
The current generation of inheritors isn’t like that. They saw all that. Knew that their fathers worked to build things and respected that. Encouraged professionalising things and growing employees.Understood the business. Were hyper-intelligent and ended up at Harvard, Stanford, Oxford. Worked at Goldman or McKinsey and came back to India bursting with ideas and dreams in the mid-2000s when the Indian economy was growing faster than a Nasa rocket.The new inheritors were clever, aware of their money but never show-offy. They’d climbed things in South America, camped in the Sierra Nevada and biked across Europe.They’d read books. Their interest was not to be out till 2 am shouting “Woohoo!” or some such. Theirs was to build something. They’d idolised Zuckerberg and Jobs. They were rich brilliant geeks.
Then Real India struck them.Their Harvard Business Review and Financial Times big ideas, creativity, clashed with the pettiness of family business India. Old inefficient employees who can’t be let go, sexism in the workplace, bribeseekers, delayed payments, contract breakers, slimy maneuverers, and, ultimately, parents, who might just be impossible work colleagues.
As this friend explained, “I was a university topper at Harvard, two Nobel laureates taught me. I’ve worked with Bill Gates. Spoken at the UN. Now I have to negotiate for the release of my truck with a former murderer in Ludhiana.” So rather than fight with family like the old inheritors, they said hell with it. And started yoga studios or cafes or food review websites or, like in this case, adventure tourism.Leaving a 100 crore trucks business based in Nagpur without a future.
That world of navigating Real India on which the father thrived and had the money to allow his child to access his Ivy League ideas are the very same ideas that now stop him from inheriting it.
“Thing is, see,” the father told me.“If he was an idiot just blowing up my money I could say something.But he’s clever and doesn’t need anything”. It’s like a really sad Hollywood rom-com where both are right and wrong.
“I already have 50 customers signed up for my first adventure tour. It’s Ladakh” said the son.
“How? You don’t have an office!” “Exactly” he added.