In Bajaj family, business sense over-rules ties

Written by Baiju Kalesh | Mumbai | Updated: Apr 6 2012, 21:04pm hrs
The younger members of the Bajaj family are slowly taking the reins of the group companies with top leadership posts, a move that signals their being given freedom to run independent companies they manage, from financial services to consumer goods makers, with elders members taking a back seat.

But the handing over of control to the next generation is not a given in the family. Bajaj family members will have to prove themselves to get into top positions, a tradition followed since the inception of the group in 1926 by late founder Jamnalal Bajaj.

For instance, two scions of the Bajaj family Sanjiv, son of Bajaj Group patriarch Rahul Bajaj, and Anant, son of Rahuls cousin Shekhar Bajaj were elevated to leadership posts, in March 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Sanjiv, 43, a mechanical engineer, was appointed as the MD of Bajaj Holdings and Investment, a company that owns a controlling stake in the groups financial services business Bajaj Finserve that spans from insurance to non-banking financial services. Sanjiv Bajaj, a postgraduate from the University of Warwick, resigned as executive director of motorbikes maker Bajaj Auto, a company his elder brother Rajiv Bajaj runs independently.

Sanjiv will now be non-executive director at Bajaj Auto, the flagship of group, Niraj Bajaj, the youngest of Rahul Bajajs cousins, said in an interview with FE.

In keeping with the family tradition, Rajiv Bajaj, after he took over the reins of Bajaj Auto, of which his father Rahul Bajaj is chairman, transformed the company by competing with global rivals with newer, world-class motorcycles with R&D capabilities developed within the company. Today Bajaj Auto, which stopped making scooters, earns 30% of its revenue from overseas and will launch a four-wheeler, an extension of its three-wheeler business.

We never believe that just because of the surname, our family members can sit as bosses, as board directors or in ivory towers, Niraj Bajaj, who manages the family finances as chairman of two significant holding companies, Jamnalal Sons and Bachhraj & Co. A surname doesnt mean that you are born with wisdom of the world.

In a related development within the group companies, Anant Bajaj, son of Shekhar Bajaj, the second of the four brothers in the earlier generation, was elevated as the joint MD of Bajaj Electricals, which makes water heaters to electrical switches.

Anant was the executive director of Bajaj Electricals, managing the exports division of the company which contributed less than 5% to the group's annual sales. He was elevated after R Ramakrishan resigned as executive director of the company. Anant's father Shekhar Bajaj is the chairman and managing director of Bajaj Electricals, the second largest company in the group.

Anant has taken more responsibility, but he has to prove himself to rise to the next level, said Niraj Bajaj.

Like his uncles, Anant has spent 16 years in Bajaj Electricals to rise through the ranks. I have grown from the junior level at the rock bottom, said Anant Bajaj in a telephonic interaction with FE on Thursday. My aim is to make products which give value for money for customers, build research and development capabilities to make products rather than depending on China and attract talent.

E-commerce will be one of our focus areas, he added. Roughly 80% of the key men in Bajaj Electricals are home-grown.

The best way to equip junior family members is to allow them to learn on the job, says Sankaran Manikutty, who taught family business at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. But the challenge is to respect senior employees while learning rather than act as owner.

The Bajaj family's training for younger members starts on the shop floor. Niraj Bajaj, a former table tennis champion, too started his career on the shop floor of Bajaj Auto's Akrudi plant in Pune, and stayed in the company's colony.

At 23, I worked six months on the shop floor and had grease and paint over me, said Niraj Bajaj. I was like any other worker in the factory.

In fact, his elder cousin and family patriarch Rahul Bajaj wrote to all floor supervisors asking them not to treat him as a family member and only just a worker, Niraj reminisced.

The ideal way to groom younger generation is to get them entrenched in the system to understand the ground reality, understand the tricks of the trade and then go for higher studies, said Santosh Nair, chairman and chief mentor at Smart Training and Consultancy Services, which teaches second-generation entrepreneurs.

That holds good for Niraj Bajaj's son Nirav, who after working a stint at Bajaj Auto, is now completing his higher education abroad.