At 68, Nusli Wadia says he is still in the “driver’s seat” in the Rs 10,000-crore Wadia Group, as age is irrelevant as long as a person can add value. The man, who has been called a corporate samurai, thinks it’s an unfair label as he has “never entered into any dispute unless he felt wronged”. In this interview — his first in over three years — Wadia also talks about the road ahead for his group. Excerpts from the interview with Shyamal Majumdar & Dev Chatterjee:
Does the Wadia Group have any retirement age for its board?
Age is irrelevant as long as a person can add value. Keshub Mahindra, for example, is in his eighties, and has been on my board longer than I have and continues to bring valuable insight and counsel. Ratan Tata and I have been friends and colleagues throughout our working lives and I would be delighted if he continues on our board as long as he wants.
Do you have a succession plan?
No succession plan has been firmed up as I have not applied my mind to this issue as of now. It will be put in place at the appropriate time. What is currently happening is that both my sons, Ness and Jeh, are rotating across companies to have a more robust understanding of the respective businesses. Jeh in the past was in Bombay Burmah as the Joint MD while Ness was the Joint MD of Bombay Dyeing. They have now swapped roles. Earlier, Jeh used to work with me in the chairman’s office and now Ness does that. He also works on what is very important and dear to us — our charities, hospitals, baugs and colleges. They are also on the boards of all the Wadia Group companies. My biggest blessing in life is that my sons are together and work very well to grow the future of the group.
Every father thinks his sons will remain together, though there have been quite a few examples to the contrary.
You are only looking at instances that did not work. There are many examples in corporate India of brothers working together. Take the Ruias or the Lalbhais and several others.
The Wadia Group has clearly missed the bus. Many smaller companies came after you and moved on to become bigger entities. You have only one company (Britannia) which is in the billion-dollar club. What went wrong?
To some extent, yes (I did miss the bus), but that’s because I chose not to manipulate the system. God has given me more than I deserve. I want to sleep peacefully at night. I don’t want a private jet and I don’t have the driving ambition to be the richest man. I want to live by a set of values that is integral to anything that we do.
Are things really so bad that you can grow only by manipulation?
All the policies related to polyester and the polyester chain during the eighties were manipulated. You had to manage the system for all licences. If you remember, when I imported my plant, it was lying in the docks and my import licence was not given to me. The entire duty structure those days was manipulated. I was not able to do what my competitor did, but I was not willing to change my values for anything.
But your close friend, Mr Tata, managed spectacular growth in the past two decades.
Please remember Mr Tata was not in the sectors I was in during the eighties. The sectors I was in were unfortunate for me. But later, the manipulation of the system has hit almost every business house in other sectors as well.