Nusli Wadia’s Interview in Economic Times Today….Finding it difficult to let Go of the Past !

I have audited a Wadia Group Company and lived the 1980s and 1990s through the bitter rivalry between Nusli Wadia and Dhirubhai Ambani….so it was with some Interest that I read Nusli Wadia’s Article and Interview in today’s edition of the Economic Times…..Brought back some Memories

He has chosen to be interviewed and communicate now after so many years..and amusingly he has done so through the Times group despite being very close to the Express Group

I remember the 1980s when I had joined the prestigious CA Firm,S B Billimoria and Co ( Now part of one of the Big 4, Deloitte Group) to begin my articles….my first audit was BRT ( Bombay Ring Tools),a Wadia Group Company….What I remember was the condescending attitude of their Chief Accountant…he was a very emotional Parsi Gentleman ,who held a strong view that Statutory Auditors were merely like Employees of the Company and should therefore behave as such…they had no right to ask questions and Wadias were even their Boss !….This irked my seniors quite a bit…I was a total newcomer…so I just observed…..My Seniors used to take great pleasure in never missing an opportunity to argue and work up steam with this Accountant…he used to get red in the face and very angry and even complained to our Firm Partner that the Audit team was getting Personal !…while most Lunches during the Audit were at ‘Shere-e-Punjab’,a lane away from Wadia Group’s ‘Neville House’  at Ballard Estate ( near the Docks) in South Mumbai,we were treated to ‘Khyber’ when our Firm Partner too was present.It was my first audit and I learnt that Ethics in Business and Personal Ethics are two separate Issues 

Nusli Wadia’s wife Maureen Wadia (Gladrags fame) also used to get both their sons, Jeh and Ness, when they were kids, to play Badminton at the Willingdon Club…It was always in a Mercedes…..Never played with them,though spotted them very often as my friends and I alternated between Tennis and Badminton depending on court availability.  

Nusli Wadia talks in his Interview of many things…Upholding Value is one of them

  • How he respects those who have grown upholding Values…Tatas,Keshub Mahindra,Deepak Parekh…..how the Political System got ‘taken over’ by the strong nexus with Business….how the Mantra today is to scuttle Other’s Projects,preventing their approvals…fixing them,in simple terms….they never did this in their Generation,says Wadia…all business groups co-existed with each other and were happy to see each other Grow….What has grown since then is this business of ” I will Block you or I will Stop you” !…How Ratan Tata had a tough time breaking the strangleholds of Four or Five in the Tata Group….Nusli Wadia does not mention these men…but by implications they should be Russi Mody of Tata Steel,Darbari Seth and his Son of Tata Chemicals,Ajit Kelkar of Indian Hotels and Sumant Moolgaonkar of Telco…I remember,that Tata group had to prepare a criminal dossier on Ajit Kelkar to force him to resign     

My View of Nusli Wadia’s View on ‘Values’ is a bit mixed….Everybody Values those who upholds Values !But,in my view ,it was this very Monoply and Business Control of the Old Groups that new aggressive Businessmen attempted to break by aggressive means….other less aggressive means were easily thwarted…… Nusli Wadia knows that post Independence,Indian Business grew and was centered around Tatas,Wadias,Birlas and the Mafatlals….It was very difficult to break into the Business of this coterie….These Business groups controlled most Indian Business and thwarted anyone who wished to enter or scale up in their lines…Textiles,Steel,Cotton to name a few…..It is this barrier that newer and more aggressive businessman like Dhirubhai Ambani broke through and scaled up….It was a Catch 22 situation for these newcomers….They had to do what they had to do in order to do what they had to do ! ….So,in this context, to imply that many Newer Big Business has emerged without any Value base is not wholly correct…Old Houses also ‘managed’ the government and it’s bureacrats…but Newer Business ‘managed’ them bigger and therefore better !

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Pirated Edition of “The Polyester Prince”: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani

You’ll get the pirated edition of “The Polyester Prince “at the signals in South Mumbai…don’t pay more than Rs 100

Today’s Sunday Mid Day devotes a whole page to it…….The Book was written in 1998 by Hamish McDonald who in 1991 was appointed to run the India Country desk from New Delhi for “Far Eastern Econimc Review”. He now is the Asia-Pacific Editor of the “Sydney Morning Herald”

The idea of the book actually came in 1992 after the author had met the late Mr Dhirubhai Ambani a few times beginning in 1991 with the Invitation to the marriage of his son Anil Ambani with the Film Actress Tina Munim

The Pirated Print is not too good, but the book does give some insight into the enormous risk taking abilities of the late Dhirubhai Ambani and where the End often justified the Means adopted.

Born on December 28, 1932, Dhirubhai Ambani sowed the seeds for the Reliance Empire soon after he returned from Aden in 1958…. before he crossed 30 years of age… he went on to becoming an icon and also is considered as the father of the Modern Equity Cult.

This controversial book was never really released in India by the Original Publishers Harper Collins as it saw an endless round of litigation ahead with the Reliance Group who had applied for and obtained injunctions against publication on grounds of anticipated defamation as the relationship between the author and the Ambanis had soured after the author wrote a few articles against them

Dhirubhai Ambani passed away in July 2002 and his two sons, Mukesh and Anil soon came to loggerheads leading to an inevitable split of the Reliance Empire

The continuing feud, often vitrolic and bitter, has given strength to a sentiment that National Interests are far more important than Ambani Interests…. moreover it has brought this Book on Dhirubhai Ambani back into the limelight…… I’m sure McDonald must be tempted now to write a sequel to cover this feud…He needed 274 pages to cover the rise of the late Dhirubhai Ambani… he may need twice as much to cover the two sons 

I was junior to Mukesh and Anil in the Jewish run Hill Grange High School (Closed down years ago) on Peddar Road in Mumbai…. the late Dhirubhai Ambani sometimes delivered the lunch tiffin himself to his boys. In the late 1980’s I had an opportunity to interact very briefly with Anil who had approached me through the  DSJ Publication Group for scripting and making a small film on Reliance. This was in the backdrop of V P Singh’s zeal to bring down the Group and the Share price of Reliance being battered on the Bourses. I never got round to doing the film because I conveyed a stance that while I would highlight the Positives I would not be biased.

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