CEO loyalty problems? Try the Golden Temple in Amritsar

The author of The Inheritors with the Dhingra brothers (Kuldip left and  Gurbachan right) and her book      Photos: supplied by the author
The author of The Inheritors with the Dhingra brothers (Kuldip left and  Gurbachan right) and her book      Photos: supplied by the author

The power of religion as a guiding light is a common theme among family businesses across the world. But perhaps in India, it is particularly poignant – just ask the Dhingra family who control one of the country’s biggest paint companies, Berger Paints.

Several years ago, the mother of Kuldip and Gurbachan Singh Dhingra (pictured above) who  own Berger Paints, and are considered among India’s greatest entrepreneurs, wanted to ensure loyalty among the managers of their then business. The Dhingra family were based in Delhi, but the business was in Amritsar.

Feeling that she didn’t have the experience to run the business herself after the death of her husband, Sardarni Surjit Kaur Dhingra decided to take the managers of the Amritsar business to the Golden Temple in the same city. The Dhingra family are Sikhs and the Golden Temple in Amritsar is the religion’s holiest temple. So the temple carries considerable weight among Sikhs.

Once there, Sardarni made the two managers take an oath to serve the family honestly. The two managers bowed deep before the Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, and promised to run the business honestly and diligently. This appeared to do the trick and the two managers went on to work for the family for more than 20 years – and the Amritsar business flourished under their guidance.

This rather wonderful story was described by Sonu Bhasin in a book she’s written about family businesses in India, entitled: The Inheritors – Stories of Entrepreneurship and Success. The book details the successes – and the difficulties – of a number of prominent entrepreneurial family businesses in India.

Bhasin, who runs an Indian based consultancy called Families in Business, decided to write the book after a conversation with an editor from a publishing house at an event a few years ago. “I was in discussion with someone from Penguin, the publishers, and he felt there was a really interesting book to be written on the subject.”  

She says the book is not only designed to showcase the entrepreneurship within many family businesses in India, but also to show how they have dealt with adversity and come out stronger by doing so. Besides the family behind Berger Paints, the book also looks at other great family owners in India, including the Burman family, who control the huge Ayurvedic medicines and natural consumer products company, Dabur. How Harsh Mariwala turned his family business into Marico, one of India’s biggest consumer goods companies, is also featured in the book.

For family business aficionados, the book offers a great insight into the workings of entrepreneurial family enterprises in India. And given India’s important place in the pantheon of the global family business world, The Inheritors should be required reading for students of the topic.

For the more general reader, The Inheritors details some of the entrepreneurship that has created one of the most dynamic and go-ahead economies in the world. That’s a good enough reason to pick up a copy and at least savour some of that dynamism from reading the book.