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 !