Monday, December 05, 2005

Confluence 2005 and "Ambani vs. Ambani"

Well, Confluence 2005 at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) was awesome. I missed out on some of the speakers that I really wanted to hear, like Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Chairman, Indian Planning Commission) and Mr. Mukesh Ambani (Managing Director, Reliance Industries Ltd.). However, the high points for me were the speeches of Mr. Arun Shourie (former Disinvestment Minister) and Mr. Vijay Mallya (CEO, United Breweries).

The speech by Mr. Mallya was particularly interesting. There are plenty of reasons for this. First, he is one of the most exciting entrpreneurs India has seen. Second, he is known as the Richard Branson of India for his high-flying lifestyle. Third, not only is he originally from Calcutta (like me) but also did his schooling in my alma-mater, La Martiniere for Boys. He spoke about the challenges he has faced during his career, and about the number of times people told him that he was done for. On a number of occassions he was told that he'd hammered the final nail in his own coffin, but every time, he proved his detractors wrong. One key learning from the speech was that we should not expect a father-like figure or a 'guru' to come and teach us the tricks of the trade in today's world. "The buck stops with you" was his mantra. You must take decisions on your own in the world of business, try everything to make it succeed, and if it doesn't, learn from your mistakes and move on. Food for thought for the entrepreneur which is rising within me.

"Storms in the Sea Wind: Ambani vs. Ambani" is the name of the book that I have just finished reading. It is authored by Alam Srinivas, the business editor of the Outlook magazine, an extremely popular magazine here in India. In it, the author describes the battle-scene that was fought behind the media curtain in the most powerful business house in the country, that of the Ambanis. "Sea Wind" is the name of the building that the Ambanis occupy in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country. The Ambanis control Reliance Industries Ltd., India's biggest privately owned company. Of course, the founder of RIL is Shri Dhirubhai Ambani, of whom I am an ardent fan (see my previous post "Am I a maverick or plain silly?"). Love him or hate him, he is responsible for building India's biggest business house, from scratch , under three decades.

The book discusses the fight for the control of Reliance by Mukesh and Anil, the two sons of Dhirubhai. The book is interesting as it not only provides a look at how the war was fought in front of media-persons but also in the boardrooms. The book also highlights how most family-owned business globally break-down during the second or the third generation. The house of Tatas in India is the only example one can see where they've managed to keep the house intact, and yet a huge power in the business community.

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