Sunrise, Sunset


Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, Feb. 15, 2013

Sunrise, Sunset

I have inherited a company from my father recently. The board is full of people who are either my father’s friends or cronies for whom the board meetings are a time to chat and have chai. If I have to take the company to the next level, I will have to rebuild the board. Most of these board members have watched me grow up so I don’t want to be rude and kick them out. Yet they have to go for the company to evolve. How do I solve the dharamsankat?

As is belief, so is behavior, so is business. Your father believed that these directors added value to the company and so kept them in the board. You do not think so. So your belief is clearly very different from your father’s belief.

Before you kick them out, have you had a chat with your father as to the value he feels they bring to the table? The answer may surprise you.

In the Bhagavat Puran, Krishna spends his childhood in Vrindavan and then when it is time to go to Mathura, he breaks all bonds with his milkmaids and cowherds of Vrindavan. He bids Radha and Yashoda farewell and never comes back. It marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Clearly, you are in this phase: time to grow up, move from Vrindavan to Mathura. It is time to break old relationships and forge new ones.

But is that breaking up necessary? Or is it just that you cannot appreciate or stand the old ways of doing business? That does not make the old ways of doing business wrong. It is just different. Your father’s approach to the market and customer may be very different from yours, but it is that view that got him where he is.

It is increasingly been seen in family businesses that the older generation finds itself at odds with the younger generation. The father is often not trained in the ways of B-school modern management and has used his homegrown approach to create an enterprise. He may not wear suits and use jargon but he is an astute business man. Sons, and daughters, educated in Europe and America come back not just with a new gaze, but also a disdain for the old ways. Are you a victim of this clichéd inter-generational war?

You have assumed that these chai-drinking cronies are obstacles to organizational evolution. Are you sure? Maybe they just do not think like you. But their thoughts may still be valuable. There may be a wise Bhisma amongst them, or a skilled Drona. You need them as much as you need a Karna, a Bhim or an Arjun. Old war horses may not have the stamina but they do have the old cunning, which is critical in enterprise. Use them.

Eventually everyone has to go. You are in the sunrise of your career; they are in the sunset. Treat them well even as you bid them goodbye. Let them see that your new ways are very different from theirs: not better or worse, just different. Make them feel that by letting them go you do not disrespect them or their views. Do not take away their dignity. The rest will be easy.