An amusing article in today’s Wall Street Journal about what happens when close-knit Indian families who run a business together have serious falling outs:
B. Vivekanandhan, the 51-year-old owner of a popular restaurant called Moonrakers, competes fiercely for customers in this southern Indian holiday town. So fiercely, in fact, that fists have flown.
His chief foes are his own flesh-and-blood. His older brother operates a seafood joint called Moonwalkers right across the street. Just down the same lane, his younger brother runs Moonrocks. The menus are nearly identical.
“Sometimes it’s like a street fight,” Mr. Vivekanandhan said. “People say, ‘This is a complicated family. We just came down to eat.’ ”
India prides itself on close-knit families who often live together and run companies side-by-side. All that togetherness can spawn epic business breakups.
Ninety-one percent of companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange are family controlled, and nearly all small-to-medium-size companies are owned by families, said Kavil Ramachandran, a professor at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. By comparison, about 35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled.
In the southern Indian city of Chennai, rival branches of a family run competing versions of a snack chain, both called The Grand Sweets & Snacks. The founder had two daughters, who split the business about a decade ago after their families clashed. They sliced the original shop in half by hanging plastic sheeting down the middle.
Priyanga Madhan, the founder’s 38-year-old granddaughter, said the breakup was inevitable because she and her cousins kept fighting over the company’s future. She now runs half of the business on behalf of her mother.
One of her cousins, Saravana Mahesh, 50, said his branch of the family no longer speaks to Mrs. Madhan’s side, even when they run into each other at the flagship shop, now split by a concrete wall. “It is still awkward, even after 12 years,” he said.
Families can be so complicated. And, as I’ve gotten older, I know definitively that most of them are dysfunctional in their own ways.
I remember when I was young and watching the Brady Bunch from the perspective of living with an extremely dysfunctional family, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a family like that? Where nobody gets drunks and fights in the front yard so the cops are called, but instead works together to figure out how we’re going band together to help our sister who breaks her nose right before the big prom when Billy the football team captain had just asked her out?”
I’ve known families who approached that level of love and commitment to one another, and they always seemed like aliens. I was always half-expecting the perfect mom and perfect dad and perfect kids to suddenly split in half as aliens shed their human disguises and reveal that it was all an other-wordly field experiment in earth family dynamics.