Inside the Mind of a 23 Year Old Indian NextGen

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Kanishka Arumugam

Kanishka Arumugam is the perfect example of the kind of NextGen this blog is all about. Young entrepreneurial people with a can do aptitude; an authentic leader that knows what he wants from life and goes for it. In this interview, this young NextGen surprised me with his maturity and wisdom. Kanishka Arumugam shares his family story and hopes for the future. Please, enjoy it!

1. Kanishka Arumugam tell me about you and your family business, Deccan Pumps Group, in India

I am from Coimbatore, an industrial and entrepreneurial city in south India, dubbed as pump city of Asia, known for its world class Pump Manufacturers, Textile Industries, International Educational Institutions, and also an emerging IT hub.

I am fortunate to be a second generation member of the Deccan Pumps Group. I grew up around the business and decided to be an entrepreneur from a very young age and this passion drove me to learn from organizations around the globe. Thanks to my prestigious alma maters of Sheffield, Leeds and Stanford Universities, that groomed me in many ways.

My father P. Arumugam and his uncle K.K. Veluchamy founded Deccan Pumps 32 years ago with a mission to make the life of farmers better by manufacturing superior reliability pumps. Today Deccan is a closely held conservative group with an annual turnover of around Rs 100 core focused on pumps also with its presence on Fluid Handling Distribution, Real Estate and Education. The brand is one among the Top 5 manufacturers of submersible pumps in the country and it remains Asia’s largest producer of vertical open well submersible pumps.

My father is a keen philanthropist. He runs a home for elders, has a desire to turn his ancestry farm into a model agricultural unit, and spends time in upgrading the basic infrastructure of his home village.

He believes not in chasing numbers but in giving back to society in as many ways as possible. Recently, he undertook a not-for-profit initiative and incepted the Info Institute of Engineering, along with his friends, mainly for the first generation learners of the country.

One can have simple living and be content but when it comes to business I believe one should never think twice about making it bigger. And this is what my dad and I often argue about. However such arguments help me evolve and I get to know the perceptions of the previous generation and absorb whatever is suitable in the current scenario.

Last year, after my graduation, I spent time with a few European family owned manufacturers and also had a short stint at Xylem, a non-family owned American company, the world’s largest producer of pumps and systems. Its major competitor was a Danish family owned company.

I was awestruck to learn how a family tradition could bloom into an industry that gives its competitors a tough time.

2. What’s your thoughts on building a Socially Responsible Company?

As mentioned earlier, a few years ago I often wondered why my father started a not- for- profit engineering college, a home for the elderly, rural development programs and similar activities instead of just growing the business. But now I realize that companies which are long lasting have a broader outlook and contribute to society in crucial fields such as education, healthcare, women empowerment and for a lot of other important social causes. The Forbes, Godrej, TATAs, Thermax and Wadias, are all living examples of this in India.

Last month when I was in Germany I visited my friend’s family owned company VIEGA, a fifth generation company which is into pipes and systems. It was interesting to learn how the family and business have involved the small town of Anttendorn in a larger way and how the feeling of goodness has been spread across from the taxi drivers of the company. Also the spirit of entrepreneurship and drive for growth is clearly seen in the fifth generation more than in the previous generations.

It is very essential for all the next generation family members to involve the society and community at large, in which they operate, and also to help the underprivileged and make the world a better place. A company’s purpose is just not to acquire wealth and markets but also to contribute to the society in which they live. This is an important value in creating long lasting organizations.

What do you think about Value system in a family operated company?

Care for the members (employees), humility, simple living with high thinking, involving the society, respect and care for the underprivileged, professional management with family members on board and taking part in participative management are important to the company.

The role of family business leadership can no longer be authoritative; only an all inclusive leadership model with the best value system works in today’s business organization. To put it in a nutshell, the secret behind a successful business is long term thinking, highly ethical practices strong values of family spirit, integrity, value delivery to customers and developing an entrepreneurship attitude in every employee. Keeping the company financially stable and risk-proof, safeguarding and adding value to the business: these must be the goal of a Next Gen member who wishes to grow his company in leaps and bounds.

Kanishka brief me about your opinion on Ownership, Management and Family.

Ownership, Management and Family should be viewed differently among the next generation members.

Your father might have been a great product designer who helped the company grow, but that doesn’t mean the next generation could follow or repeat the same. There is no point in just holding positions, adding value to the business is more important.  Perform else take a back seat.

Family involvement in a company definitely helps it grow at a much faster pace since the outputs are going to benefit their whole generation. More than money, emotions and attachments drive individuals towards better growth.

I believe family owned companies and the next generation should clearly differentiate between ownership, management and families. When these collide it gets complicated outside of the office too. It is simple when said, but I’m sure it is difficult to practice. My father and I might have a disagreement inside the office room, but that should not hinder the father-son relationship. My style of working is different from my dad’s. It doesn’t mean one is right and the other is wrong; we have to find our own strengths and contribute.

Is there any family structure in Deccan Pumps Group? Your group recently announced a Spin off.

Its sad we had to do this, we tried our best but was too late. Also the chief emotional officer my grandfather was no longer there . There was no issues for money or business.

In India sometimes families grow faster than businesses and so we are forced to draw agreements for securing the future of the business and the brand value of what our previous generations have created. We, at the Deccan Pumps Group, are currently working on ownership and brand sharing methods with the next generation members. The ultimate goal is to secure the business, brand value and at the same time allow every member of the family to pursue their interests.

Every next generation family member should be on a stewardship / trustee role. I find myself not as a maverick, but as a star in my own way. Gen-next entrepreneurs are fortunate to be born in privileged families and should be thankful for their education and resources that not many are fortunate to have in a country like India. So we should add value to what the previous generations have created, protect it and pass it on to the next generation.

Brilliant. What’s your future Goals?

I’m just 23 years old and have a long way to go and I am sure my thought process and learning will evolve as I observe, learn and grow. I strongly believe that every next generation member should spend time in at least two companies briefly before joining their family business. It gives one a great learning curve of how business families work across the globe, which elevates the thought processes and enhances entrepreneurial skills.

I’m looking forward to creating a great family owned company with strong values and best practices that I have seen and learnt in the last few years across the globe and act as a trustee to the future generations. One thing I have learnt from the west is that family companies are held by Foundations and work on the model of investing all profits back into the company where the family is allowed only a small percentage of profit. I shall try working out a similar model.

The next ten years is very crucial for the country. I’m sure there can be a lot of globally competitive family owned companies from India across all sectors, if family companies practice the best processes and systems. I hope to put myself to work and add value to what my father has created. I’m sure every next gen member is talented, unique and can contribute in their own way – be it CSR, Marketing or Research.

The internships I went through, systems I worked in, diverse cultures I experienced and talented individuals I met, have left an indelible mark in my life.

I’m currently working on a project setting up a state-of-the-art new plant with the experiences and processes I have seen across the globe. Though not a mega plant, I aim to make it a very efficient one. I found the brand Deccan Pumps strong only in certain segments. So my new Brand extension line would help create a new perception among customers and drive towards growth.

The products are being designed and upgraded to world-class standards with a great emphasis on manufacturing systems and process technology. The new plant is a small test that I’m putting myself to. It will also increase our productivity in one product line up to five times.

My Professors in Stanford and Sheffield have always been good mentors and when I shared this idea they felt that this startup would help me learn quickly all aspects of business and if I perform well I will be ready for a bigger role.

Perform and Preserve, else Perish. Also, if one fails to safeguard the business and grow, it’s a crime. With a strong support of the previous generations and the wide global exposure that we have access to, it’s time we next gens create history!

Kanishka Arumugam

Deccan Pumps Private Limited

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How Strong Family Values Can Keep your Family Company Successful Over Generations

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It is a windy Friday afternoon at the lovely Marina del Rey. I’m meeting Gilbert Devlyn to learn about the keys behind the success of his family business, Devlyn Optical, which is now in the 3rd generation.

The Devlyn family is from Mexico, and they are the owners of  a 77-year-old company that first started as the only optical service in the town of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. When it first opened, it had just two employees: Mr. Frank Devlyn and his wife Nelva Mortensen. Today, it has more than four thousand employees, 829 branches in Mexico, which makes it the largest optical chain in the country, and the brand has even expanded to Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and the USA. The company has also expanded its services into ophthalmology clinics.

What I find really interesting about this company is that, unlike most third-generation companies, which tend to keep the family out of management and focused on ownership, the Devlyns have managed to retain 11 family members working in the company and they are the 3rd generation in charge of operations.

There is definitely no sense of entitlement here, as Gilbert explains. When he was a little boy he asked his father to buy him a toy car. His father offered him the opportunity to work in the family company and earn the money he needed to buy the toy for himself instead. Gilbert was very disappointed when, after a week, he got paid just 140 pesos (the standard salary for the work he did at the time). He learned a lesson about how hard it is to earn enough money to buy what you want and that his family was not just going to hand him everything on a plate.

Gilbert is down to earth, kind, polite and oozes love and admiration for his family. He is also well educated, intelligent, ambitious and driven. After working for a few years outside the family company and completed an International MBA, he has recently joined Devlyn Optical. His desire to contribute, make a difference and find his place in the organization for himself is evident. With people like him in the family, there is definitely no need to look for talent elsewhere.

This is what Gilbert has to say about values, emotions, family business and making a difference.

Written by Carmen Lence, Executive Coach at NextGen Consulting & Coaching LLC. Contact Carmen  at carmen@nextgenfamilybusiness.com

How to Make It Cool to Work for a Family Business

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Let’s face it, working for a family business isn’t considered by most professional managers to be a great career move. Many managers believe the career prospects will be limited, as the top jobs will most likely go to family members. Also, many picture themselves in the middle of a medieval court full of intrigues and fights between rival heirs, struggling to keep themselves impartial. So, no wonder family businesses have a tough time attracting talent!

So, how to make it cool to work for a family business?

Outstanding company values, great leaders, a challenging job, attractive performance-based compensation and a culture of empowering and developing people, these are the keys to attracting and retaining talent for any company including a family business.

Take, for example, Roche. The Swiss Pharmaceutical giant employees more than 60,000 people; yet it is still controlled by the founding family. “There is a culture at Roche that nurtures talent,” says Alexander Zehnder, at the moment seconded to Genentech in the US, a member of the Roche Group. “This culture gives employees the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills, on- and off-the-job, and to gain international experience.”

Another example is the Bonnier Group, a Scandinavian media conglomerate of over 200 privately owned companies and currently in the sixth and seventh generation. Here, to make it more attractive for non-family managers, the governance structure is shared with non-family executives, with a non-family member either holding the chairmanship or the presidency.

Some of you may be thinking- these are huge companies you are talking about, they can afford to have all these systems in place and they will attract good people anyway. Well, this is a bit like the question “What comes first, the chicken or the egg? I believe that these are big, successful companies because they have put these systems to work in the first place.

So, let me sum up the must dos for making your company attractive to talented executives independent of its size:

– Great Values
People want to work for a company that cares about its people and that has a mission that motivates them.

– Great Leadership
People choose companies for their leaders. Great leaders do treat people with trust and respect. They build the capacity to achieve results, knowing that they do this by unleashing the talents of their people

– Performance-based culture
The combination of a strong performance ethic and an open and trusting environment achieves great job satisfaction.

– Attractive Compensation and promotion policies
Your company will get the best from your family and non-family executives if key management positions are open to non-family members, assigned based on competence, and utilize performance-based compensation.

I suggest making the promotions criteria a bit harder for family members, the reason being that as family members they will be in the spotlight. If they are clearly better no one will object.

– Family employment policy

While having members of the family working in the company is in the company’s interest, because they have stronger commitment and loyalty to the company (after all they own it), having family members that are not up to the job is dangerous and irresponsible.

A transparent family employment policy, which establishes the criteria for family members to join the company, will help you to avoid a tough time with your sister desperately wanting to get his dropout son into the business. Also, it will show non-family executives that jobs are not awarded on family merits, but on actual capabilities and performance.

If you link the points above with the flair of working for an innovative entrepreneurial company, able to adapt and respond quickly, with long-term vision and strong commitment to their customers and employees, all characteristics of family business, Wooow! It really sounds cool to work for a family business!

Written by Carmen Lence coach and Consultant at NextGen LLC

How to Survive and Thrive Despite the Lack of Succession Planning

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After her father suffered a stroke, Kathleen Thurmond had to jump into managing her family business, without previous experience in the business. In this interview, Kathleen share tips on how to survive and thrive – successfully selling the family business 12 years later, despite having no succession planning, experience, or guidance with running the business. 

If you are in a sink-or-swim situation with your family business, relax it can be done… here is how.

How did you become involved in your family business?

My father had a stroke and it prevented him from being able to do anything with the business. We had an outside person running it day to day. My father was overseeing it and then he had a stroke that created a much bigger problem. At this point, my mother asked me to step in along with one of my brothers.

How was it for you to jump into the family business without warning and running it without guidance from your father?

It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I had just come from being a director of an AIDS hospice program and I had 35 employees. But it was very different from stepping into a uniform supply industrial organization. There were two unions and 50 employees. I had to deal with people who had been there a long time and knew a whole lot more than I did about the business. The fortunate part is when you don’t know very much, you are not as afraid as you might be if you really knew more.

What was your background before joining the company?

I had about 18 years in the fields of non-profit and social work. I have a Master Degree in Social Work, which I got after three years in journalism and I was writing and in to photography prior to that.

With my social work career, I often ended up in management. I was an assistant director in a hospital for 8 years and then went on to run an AIDS program. I was also always politically active in whatever I did because I am an activist at heart. I was on the AIDS commission for LA (Los Angeles) and president of a Long Beach AIDS consortium.

When you joined the family business with your brother, what was your position?

For six months, we shared a Vice President role. Each of us having the same title but he was living in San Francisco at the time. The business was in Long Beach and he never intended to stay. He worked in the business when he was younger in the production area and routing – delivering clothes. He knew the business from that perspective but he was a masseuse and had no desire to either leave San Francisco or to be a part of the business.

When did you start running the business by yourself?

In six months, I was in charge.

What would be your advice for other next gen that do not have a succession plan and all the sudden find themselves in the same situation-?

My first piece of advice would be to do the planning so that the family knows what to do in the event of death or illness of the founder. If you don’t do that then, learn everything you can about the business. Take every industry specific and leadership classes. Immerse yourself in education.

I joined a group of 12 men who were owners of companies like mine. We met every other month and talked about the business. We met at each other’s business so that we could and critique each other. We would give advice and talk about the latest innovations in the industry. That was a big help.

I always attended the trade shows, national conferences, and equipment shows. You learn so much when you talk to other people and see the equipment that someone talks to you about over the phone. In industrial laundry, there are washers, dryers, sort systems, and boilers so it was just like a whole other world for me.

Did you create a team of people to help you?

There were managers when I came in. The difficulty was they were hired primarily by my father. He was more of an authoritative figure, which is usually the case with founders. My management style was more collaborate and inclusive. I think it was important to be that way because in order for them to accept me as a leader, I had to also accept them, their expertise, and knowledge about the industry. I think that made for a much easier transition then if I were to go in and pretend I knew everything and I really didn’t.

Over time some people, I let go of or they let go of me because the style was different. It didn’t sit well with some people who had been there for years. There was also new energy, new people that was coming in who were from the industry and others who were experienced managers from other industries.

After 12 years of running the company, the decision was made to sell it. How did it feel to sell the family business? Why was the decision made to sell it?

When I was about two-thirds of the way through that 12-year process, I got my MBA while running the company. One of things that a professor said to me was what is your exit strategy. Although I didn’t want to hear that at the time, it really planted the seed that I needed to be thinking about it.

I was also very active in my industry and the only woman on my national trade board. I met the big guys Aramark, G & K, Cintas and UniFirst. They began to know me and also began a 5-year project with EPA on environmental management and wastewater treatment. We developed best management practices for the industry. All those things exposed my relatively small company to the larger guys.

They began to call me and at first I didn’t want to talk to them at all. It scared me. I thought I am never going to sell and will be with this company forever. Then, I remembered what my professor said and I began to talk with them. It was then a gradual process and it began to make sense. I sat down one day and really contemplate – did I want to stay here forever? The answer was no.

Selling is all about timing. Of course I am not clairvoyant. I didn’t know the economy was going to crash in a few years but the reality was I sold at the perfect time. It was when the bigger guys were paying a lot for companies my size. More than they paid a couple of years later. Thank goodness I did that because my mother, who is still alive at 93, is comfortable.

Emotionally, what is easy for you to sell it?

I knew deep down that it was the right thing. At the same time, I was letting go of a profession that I thought I would be in for the rest of my life. I was letting go of my dad’s dream. He died shortly after I began to run the company. My mom was helpful and said that if you feel like it is the right time to sell, then let’s do it. It was nice to have her support.

You are the President of the National Association of Women Business Owners-San Francisco. What is the most rewarding aspect of this position?

I wrote an introductory message for our monthly newsletter and a woman called me and said that what you wrote in the newsletter made me feel like you were speaking directly to me. That is what I love. I love mentoring women. I feel like I am here in the world and we as women are to lift each other up. Support each other in our businesses. Champion each other in what we hope to do and really to encourage each other to prosper in the world of business. It is not easy but it is much better for women now. With only 15% of women on corporate boards and 4% of women are Fortune 500 CEO’s, we still have a lot of work to do. It is inspiring to me when I see other women collaborating and working together to boost each other.

Kathleen is a natural leader with a strong “make it happened“ attitude. That is her greatest asset in dealing with having to take charge of the business with no experience or guidance.  What about you? Have you ever dealt with a situation like that? How did you manage it?