Raymond Group chairman Gautam Hari Singhania said he is open to seat across the table and settle issues with his estranged father, Vijaypat. In an interview with ET, Gautam Singhania, 53, said he is also on a mission to transform Raymond into a model company in India where professional managers will run day-to-day operations and the promoter will seek to enhance shareholder value. Edited excerpts.
A Mumbai court has dismissed your plea seeking an injunction on your father’s proposed autobiography. What is your view?
There was a judgement. He is writing a book which we are aware. Unfortunately, one of things the honourable judge said that the fact I have kept quiet for three-and-a-half years has gone against me. I had done it out of respect. There are courts of appeal.
What I don’t understand if you have a problem in life, why write a book on it to wash dirty linen in public. It’s unfortunate that he wants to put his vendetta against me in a book. I know what it is in the book. It’s going to be against me. I can guarantee 95 per cent of the biography will be his figment of imagination since he is not able to differentiate between the truth and fact. It’s a process of ageing.
He is 81 years old. I have offered him, contrary to what the press believes, several times to come and live with me. Anybody who can get him to come and live with me, I will be indebted to him for the rest of my life. Anybody who thinks I have kicked him out is wrong. I am clarifying it.
There is a lot of things in media but in last three years I have not responded to anything. There is no statement from me. He is my father. He is 81 years old. If I am not going to take care of him, then who is going to take care?
I have no fight with anyone. But don’t ask me to do things which are not possible for me to do. Don’t ask me to do things against the law. If you have any issues, my doors are open. Seat across the table and let’s resolve issues. I don’t have a problem. He is still my father. Many people have tried to intervene but to no avail.
Your daughters are very young, right now they are in school. Have you started your thought process on succession planning?
Very much. You all know me as a party person, racing driver, but today I am at that stage of my life that I have the opportunity and the desire that I want to create a model company the way I believe companies should be run in this country. I strongly believe and a lot of international models like BMW show that there should be a very strong line between ownership and management.
Being the single largest shareholder, my first priority is enhancing shareholder value. That’s where my wealth is. So, I should structure my companies in such a way that they should be able to run professionally. What we have done at Raymond is to create structures across companies which will enable them to run irrespective of who the shareholder is. So, it disconnects ownership with management.
In the FMCG business, it was the first company where I stepped out as chairman and Rajeev Bakshi the chairman. Subsequently to that we have three independent directors who have joined the board. How many family managed companies you know where the promoter steps out at a young age as the chairman of the company? They never give up chairmanship which is the last thing.
We have reached the level today where earlier this week the chairman of the company mailed me that he has appointed someone as a director of the company after discussion with other directors. Someone I have never met in my life and whose name I don’t know. This is the level of governance we are reaching. Most people would get upset but I am excited that somebody is taking the lead.
Even in Raymond Apparel, I made Nirvik Singh the chairman who I believe will add tremendous value. Most people don’t give up doing thing since they have nothing else to do. I am busier now that I have ever been in my life.
God forbid, if something happens to me, my children are very young. I have a responsibility to my wife and children, to my employees and shareholders, my banks, institutions and customers. The mindset at Raymond has changed. It is a national asset and we are custodians of the same. When you start thinking like that, in spirit you give people to work, the quality of people you get is far better.
Today, we have one of the best advisory boards in India which runs autonomously. My executives actually complain I don’t give them enough time. I have built a system. If there is a problem, I am available to the organisation 60 hours a day. But I am not here to do your job. You are paid to do a job, do that. It’s a mindset.
So, all your companies have professional chairmen?
Except Raymond Ltd and the engineering business which includes JK Files and Ring Plus Aqua, all major companies of the group already have professional chairman. For the engineering business, we are looking for somebody. The boards are already professional, but I am the chairman.
Even at Raymond Ltd, I don’t know how long I will remain there as chairman. I have something in my mind which I don’t want to speak right now. Whether I have to remain executive chairman or non-executive chairman, I have to decide. Discussion is going on. All the other companies which are significant, I am not the chairman.
So, you will not run day-to-day operations? What will be your role?
We are moving forward to a highly transparent governance structure. Yes, promoters will not run day to day operations. The promoters’ job will be to build strategy, budgets, targets, compensation, manning people and one thing I am very passionate is product development where I spend a lot of time. I will devote time on public relations, develop overall vision of the group, problem solving. I still have a lot to do. I am an idea person.
The other day, I was driving past in Mumbai and there is this showroom which was lying empty next to 7-8 ethnic wear shops. I was taking my daughter out for dinner. I said this is a damn good shop for our ethnic wear business. I picked up my phone, called up the CEO and said will you consider this location? 48 hours later we took it. I gave a vision of what that shop would do for me. They agreed with it and they took it.
For me it is to dream and find people to execute that dream. There are issues of father. But every family has some issues be it with father, brother or sister. So long as I do the right thing, I don’t care. I will do what is right for my family, my business, and I have to be clean in my heart. That’s why when you are asking me questions I don’t have anything to shy away, defend or run away. Ask me what you want. The clarity of thought is there in what I am doing.
There are several companies. Each company today has a governance in place, a chairman in place and the way it is been run, the family is on the other side. Tomorrow morning if I die, god forbid, there are identified people who will take charge of everything. I hope I live long. Most people don’t do this. Significant work is done.
Since you have two daughters, the problem which is happening now between you and your father or like you said every family has a problem, how will ensure it doesn’t get repeated with your daughters?
I will 100 per cent ensure it doesn’t happen. It is the role of the leader since he is the only person in a position to do something. In my case, my daughters and wife don’t have any role to drive the future. My wife does, but my kids don’t. And if it goes wrong, then I am to blame and not them. Since I have the power to do what is right for the business and for them.
It is my job to protect my family on one side and my business on the other, and the two paths don’t have to cross. My role to my family is to make them financially secure. My role in my businesses – they must run most competently and independently. Two separate objectives. If this runs well, other does well. But then it need not be interlinked. Lot of people put their people into the company. Raymond will be a model company in two years.
You said the promoter role is to dream. What is your vision for the group?
Right now we are embarked on creating one of the most professionally hybrid type of companies. Each business has its own vision and dream. The lifestyle business has come a long way. In last 2-3 years, we have launched khadi, ethnic wear, made to measure, linen, leather accessories, 3D printing, sweaters, party wear, club wear. FMCG has its own dream. My thing is to challenge everybody how do we go further. The product range we make is incredible and this is only the beginning.
What are the new categories you are entering?
This is a continuous process. We have launched small pocket perfume 3-4 months away.. The condom business had a massive revival in last six months after we took over the stake from Ansell in the joint venture. In deodorants, we are the largest sellers in India between Park Avenue and Kamasutra brands. In suits, we make the best suits in the world.