Bilt Will Go To Gautam: LM Thapar

New Delhi, October 15: | Updated: Oct 16 2002, 05:30am hrs
In his first formal statement on succession planning of Ballarpur Industries Limited, its chairman LM Thapar has said that Indias largest paper company will go to his nephew and vice-chairman and managing director Gautam Thapar.

As I see it right now, Bilt will go to Gautam, the elder Thapar, who is a bachelor and got Bilt as his share in the family division among the four brothers, told FE in an interview.

In the early 1990s, it was his other nephew Vikram Thapar (son of eldest brother IM Thapar) who was seen as the chosen one to take charge of Bilt from his uncle and was even appointed managing director of the company.

However, as Bilt slipped into losses, largely due to diversifications into many unrelated businesses, Mr Vikram Thapar was replaced by Mr Gautam Thapar as managing director over four years ago with a mandate to turnaround the company.

He was subsequently elevated to the post of vice-chairman and managing director, considered by family watchers his reward for turning around the company within three years of taking charge.

When asked how many marks would he give to Bilts transformation into a profitable company in the new competitive business environment, Mr Thapar said, Six or seven. I think the psychology of the company has not changed at all levels. Maybe at the top they understand what the challenges of the new business environment are. Maybe at the bottom, the new boys coming in also understand. But it is the large, middle segment who dont. They want to run the same way. It is the challenge to the top people to see how fast the change comes and how rapidly you move up the young element up to positions of challenge. And what you do with the stagnating middle level element.

And what made him choose Mr Gautam Thapar (he has four other nephews), Mr LM Thapar said, It does not mean that Gautam was the most capable, as far as I was concerned, so he was made managing director. But having done that, it was for Gautam and he is doing it to build a team around him. By himself he could not have done it. Yes, he was the right man to build a team, to have the competencies, to take company into the right direction.

Looking back at Bilts doomed diversifications into business like leather and garments and investment into plant and machinery for paper which did not find takers in the domestic market, Mr Thapar said, In the 1990s, we made some mistakes. It was madness. It was ridiculous. We didnt understand the changes that were taking place. We thought we must make the paper which the West makes. We didnt understand that India is its own market. We paid a price for it. We bought equipment which we are still trying to use somehow.

But then why did Bilt diversify into unrelated markets Because those were the only openings available at that time. The government permitted large companies to enter into new sectors which had export potential. Every large industrial house was doing it, getting into areas in which they had no core competence, said Mr Thapar.

Mr LM Thapar is the third of the four sons of the Thapar group founder, late Karam Chand Thapar. In the family division, while Mr LM Thapar got Bilt as his share, his eldest brother IM Thapars son Vikram Thapar got Coal Sales and Industrial Properties while his other elder brother BM Thapar got Crompton Greaves, Greaves Ltd, Solaris Chemtech (formerly Bilt Chemicals) and Bharat Starch while the youngest brother MM Thapar got JCT Ltd and JCT Electronics.

In the third generation, there are five Thapars: Vikram Thapar (son of Mr IM Thapar), Gautam and Karan Thapar (sons of Mr BM Thapar) and Samir and Arjun Thapar (sons of Mr MM Thapar).