Indian father and son battle for billion-dollar empire

Published January 3, 2019
In this photograph taken on November 28, 2018, Indian business tycoon and chairman emeritus of the Raymond Group Vijaypath Singhania poses for a photo on Marine Drive promenade in Mumbai. — AFP
In this photograph taken on November 28, 2018, Indian business tycoon and chairman emeritus of the Raymond Group Vijaypath Singhania poses for a photo on Marine Drive promenade in Mumbai. — AFP

NEW DELHI: Vijaypat Singhania thought he was keeping his billion-dollar Indian textile empire in the family when he gifted control of the Raymond Group to his son Gautam three years ago.

But their relationship has disintegrated spectacularly since, with the father accusing his son of cheating him out of an exclusive apartment and of unceremoniously kicking him out of the company offices.

Vijaypat now bitterly regrets his decision, which he claims was made because of “emotional blackmail”, marking the latest in a long line of high-profile family feuds to scar corporate India. The 80-year-old transformed a small textile business into a household name in India, and the Raymond Group today claims to be the world’s biggest producer of high-quality worsted wool suits.

It is yet another success story for one of South Asia’s great entrepreneurial families – different branches of the Singhania family have interests in cement, dairy and tech. India ranks third in the world for the number of family owned conglomerates, behind China and the US, according to a recent Credit Suisse report.

Vijaypat Singhania’s troubles started after he handed over his 37 per cent controlling stake in 2015. Under a 2007 agreement to settle a separate family tussle, Vijaypat says he was supposed to receive an apartment in the Singhania family’s 36-storey JK House in the upmarket Malabar Hill area of Mumbai, India’s financial capital. However, he was later cheated out of it.

As the feud escalated, the board also took away Vijaypat’s “chairman emeritus” title, accusing him of using abusive language in letters to the company. And he claims he was physically removed from his office and his possessions – including a Padma Bhushan, one of India’s top civilian honours – were stolen.

Vijaypat now plans to test a recent Indian court ruling that allows parents to take back gifted property from their children under a 2007 law if they do not have their basic needs met.

He describes handing Raymond over to Gautam as “the height of stupidity”, and the start of a campaign to oust him from the 93-year-old business he once helmed.

“I would advise parents everywhere not to make the mistake of giving away all your savings to your children during your lifetime,” said the elder Singhania, an accomplished aviator who in 2005 set the world record for the highest flight in a hot air balloon.

But Gautam has said he was simply doing his job.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2019

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