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BW Businessworld

An Empire Strikes Back

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Historians tracking business families famously nurture a legend — that by the third generation, family-run businesses either split or lose the fire in their bellies that made them successful in the first place.
The seventh-generation Wadia business family has certainly proved the first half of the legend wrong. The second half is another matter altogether. 
To begin with, this generation of the Wadias had all the trappings. There was legacy: 276 years ago, the group started out with shipbuilding. There was aristocracy: current chairman Nusli Wadia’s mother Dina Jinnah was the estranged daughter of All India Muslim League chairman and Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. There was flamboyance: Ness’s partnership with Bollywood actor Preity Zinta and their co-ownership of the Kings XI Punjab franchise of the IPL.
And, of course, there was business: with historically successful companies such as Bombay Dyeing and Britannia Industries.
But business is, perhaps, what the family is least known for. If there are any business families that have come close to proving the latter half of business historians’ legend right, they are the Modis, at least some of the Birlas, and, of course, the Wadias, among others. The nearly three-centuries-old group is barely $2 billion in terms of revenues. In comparison, even the 2006-born oil and gas company Cairn India is larger, with revenues of about Rs 12,798 crore. Others such as Reliance Industries and Bharti Airtel are several times bigger.
Observers believe that the embattled group had opened up — and continues to have — so many legal fronts that it diverted the top management’s attention from growth. So, what’s the next generation of Ness and Jehangir ‘Jeh’ Wadia doing about it? Remember, 67-year-old group chairman Nusli Wadia continues to be one of the sharpest and wiliest businessmen at the helm of affairs today.
Read about their game plan in this week’s cover story co-authored by senior associate editor Gurbir Singh and senior editor Nevin John. Among other stories in the package, don’t miss the ones on Tirupur’s growing troubles and an unfolding battle in the heavy commercial vehicles space between the old guard and the new.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 05-11-2012)