Article: What to do when leader passes away- Reflecting on losses at Sahara Group, Bikanervala, Wagh Bakri


What to do when leader passes away- Reflecting on losses at Sahara Group, Bikanervala, Wagh Bakri

The founder of Sahara India Pariwar, Subrata Roy; Kedarnath Aggarwal, chairman of Bikanervala; and Parag Desai, the Executive Director of Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers Limited, recently passed away, leaving significant voids within their respective organisations.
What to do when leader passes away- Reflecting on losses at Sahara Group, Bikanervala, Wagh Bakri

In just a week, we bid farewell to three influential figures: Subrata Roy, the founder of Sahara India Pariwar; Kedarnath Aggarwal, chairman of Bikanervala; and Parag Desai, the Executive Director of Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers Limited. Their passing reminds us of life's fragility and the enduring legacy they've left behind in their businesses and beyond. Their absence is deeply felt, not only within their companies but also across entire industry. These leaders didn’t just build successful businesses; they won the hearts of their people. And as we honour their memory, let's take a moment to reflect on their journeys and the lasting impact they've made.

Subrata Roy, Sahara India Pariwar Founder (1948 –2023) 

Subrata Roy, the pioneering force behind Sahara India Pariwar, passed away on November 14 due to health complications stemming from an extended battle with illnesses. Born in Araria, Bihar, in 1948, Roy's legacy extends far beyond his origins. He kickstarted his business journey after pursuing mechanical engineering from the Government Technical Institute in Gorakhpur.

Taking over a struggling Sahara Finance in 1976, Roy transformed it into Sahara India Pariwar by 1978, marking the birth of a colossal conglomerate spanning finance, real estate, media, and hospitality. His leadership steered Sahara into groundbreaking ventures, including the establishment of Rashtriya Sahara, an influential Hindi newspaper in 1992, and the iconic Aamby Valley City project near Pune in the late 1990s.

Internationally, Sahara made headlines with acquisitions like London's Grosvenor House Hotel and New York City's Plaza Hotel. Despite legal battles with SEBI over refund issues to investors, Roy's contributions earned him numerous accolades, honorary doctorates, and recognition in India's powerful circles. His recent endeavours in electric vehicles with Sahara Evols and plans in online education through Edunguru signalled his constant quest for innovation and societal impact.

Kedarnath Aggarwal, Bikanervala Chairman (1937-2023)

Kedarnath Aggarwal, the visionary behind Bikanervala's success story, passed away after a journey that epitomised determination and taste. Originating from Bikaner, Aggarwal's family-owned sweet shop, Bikaner Namkeen Bhandar, since 1905, offering traditional sweets and snacks. His move to Delhi in the early 1950s, along with his brother Satyanarayan Aggarwal, marked the dawn of their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Starting with humble beginnings, the Aggarwal brothers sold their signature bhujia and rasgullas in the streets of old Delhi, facing initial struggles. Their perseverance paid off as the unique flavours of Bikaner soon gained traction among Delhiites. Establishing a shop in Chandini Chowk, they continued the legacy with revered delicacies like Moong Dal Halwa, Bikaneri Bhujia, and Kaju Katli, etching Bikanervala into the hearts of patrons.

Parag Desai, Gujarat Tea Processors’ Executive Director (1974- 2023) 

Parag Desai, the Executive Director of Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers Limited, met an untimely demise at 49, following an accident and subsequent health complications. Graduating with an MBA from Long Island University, Desai's impact on the iconic Wagh Bakri Tea brand was profound.

His leadership extended across sales, marketing, and the brand's evolution into pioneering initiatives like Tea Lounges and e-commerce. Under Desai's guidance, Wagh Bakri Tea transformed into one of India's leading packaged tea companies, boasting a robust presence across multiple states. His recent ventures expanded the brand's horizons, venturing into new markets like Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand, further cementing its influence in the tea industry.

Leadership transitions strategies 

Having explored the world of these remarkable leaders, a question that arises is what transpires within companies when their leaders or visionaries are no longer in the picture? To unveil this enigma, we spoke to industry experts, delving into the ethical and legal aspects of such situations.

Sumit Sabharwal, the Head of HR Shared Services at Fujitsu International Regions, underscored the significance of a robust succession plan as an organisational compass, particularly during the tumult of unexpected leadership transitions. 

But what is a succession plan?

Succession planning is not only about filling leadership gaps in times of crisis but also about proactively developing a pipeline of talent to drive the company's long-term success. It ensures that the organisation is prepared for the future by cultivating a pool of leaders who are familiar with the company's values, goals, and operations.

Reflecting on recent events involving Subrata Roy and others, Sabharwal emphasised the vulnerability of companies lacking a well-thought-out plan. Using Reliance as an example, he commended the meticulous succession plan that ensured a seamless transition from Dhirubhai Ambani to his sons. According to the Head of HR Shared Services at Fujitsu International Regions, key elements of a leadership succession plan include: 

  • Meticulous talent identification, 
  • Continuous leadership training, and 
  • A steadfast focus on cultivating a robust leadership pipeline. 

The emphasis is on nurturing potential leaders, instilling adaptability, and ensuring the organisation's longevity beyond individual leaders.

While strategic considerations are pivotal, equal attention must be paid to employees and their morale. Leadership changes can be akin to navigating through a storm, causing uncertainty and unsettling the ship. Sandesha Jaitapkar, CHRO of Artha Group, emphasised the importance of fostering a culture of openness to weather such storms. “Encouraging teams to share concerns and ideas freely, leading with empathy, and involving the team in decision-making can make a significant difference, turning mistakes into stepping stones for growth,” said Jaitapkar. 

Strengthening the organisational backbone

On a different note, the need to build leadership and the board in a way that isn't entirely dependent on any individual is a strategic imperative for organisational resilience. Companies that diversify their leadership structures, strategically allocate responsibilities, create redundancies, and embrace succession planning are better equipped to weather the storms of change and ensure sustained success. By strengthening the organisational backbone, businesses can navigate uncertainties with agility and fortitude, setting the stage for enduring prosperity.

Debarya Dutta, the present Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Upraised, underscored the idea that every company surpasses any individual linked to it. While unforeseen events can significantly affect business operations, he highlighted the importance of constructing leadership in a manner that avoids complete dependency on any one person. "By distributing duties, responsibilities, and ownership across different verticals," he suggested, "negative impacts on the business can be alleviated."

When COGOS lost its COO

In our effort to provide practical advice on mitigating the chaos following a leader's departure, we also spoke with Prasad Sreeram, CEO and Co-Founder of COGOS, who faced the sudden loss of a key leader - Dr. Rama Mohan Katta, the Chief Operating Officer (COO). Sreeram acknowledged the shock but highlighted the company's resilience, attributing it to a robust plan already in place.

"Dr. Rama Mohan Katta's departure as COO did impact our day-to-day operations, but our robust plan, which included established leaders and junior management across various functions, helped mitigate the challenges," explained Sreeram. He further emphasised the strategic foresight behind bringing in Katta Prasad as a consultant, a move designed to alleviate founders' workloads and shift focus to essential aspects of the business.

Sreeram revealed, "We recognised the need for professional leadership within the company, leading us to Katta Prasad. Despite being a startup, we've diligently nurtured leaders, ensuring that every function is led with professionalism. This strategy allowed us to navigate through the challenges, and now, the company has stabilised, witnessing renewed growth."

The CEO underscored the importance of leadership alignment with the company's foundational principles, extending from ground-level managers to senior management. "Values and ideologies should consistently resonate with the ultimate mission, whether in a startup or a corporation. This alignment is paramount for coherence and unity towards a shared mission," he emphasised.

Sreeram also shared insights into the advantages of having multiple founders, noting that COGOS' co-founder structure played a pivotal role in overcoming the unforeseen leadership transition. "Being co-founders enabled Dr Rama and me to firmly uphold the mission and navigate through this situation, carrying the company's vision forward with strength," he concluded.

Role of HR in making the backup plan 

In a notable case study, the departure of a key leader from Kingfisher Airlines resulted in turmoil, raising concerns about stakeholder trust erosion. This incident underscored the critical importance of a well-thought-out succession plan, shedding light on the strategic role of Human Resources (HR) in navigating the turbulent waters of leadership transitions.

The Head of HR Shared Services at Fujitsu International Regions emphasised the need for organisations to proactively address succession planning by identifying potential leaders early on, establishing clear career paths, and implementing mentorship initiatives. These elements, he argued, are essential components in building a resilient business structure capable of weathering leadership changes.

"The strategic backup and role of HR in leadership transitions are paramount. Early identification of potential leaders, coupled with clear career paths and mentorship initiatives, forms the bedrock of successful business continuity," stated the HR expert. He emphasised the importance of a proactive approach, suggesting that organisations prioritise HR and its talent development capabilities in creating a succession plan seamlessly aligned with their overarching goals.

According to the HR professional, such proactive planning not only mitigates the risks associated with leadership gaps but also ensures organisational stability during times of change. By fostering a culture of talent development and aligning succession planning with business objectives, companies can navigate leadership transitions with resilience and maintain stakeholder trust.

Legal complexities in leadership transitions

In the wake of sudden leadership transitions, companies often find themselves grappling with legal complexities that can have far-reaching implications. Shreya Sharma, the Founder of Rest The Case, a legal aggregator platform, shed light on the legal challenges that may arise and the crucial role a well-drafted succession plan plays in mitigating these risks.

A sudden shift in leadership introduces several legal intricacies, including concerns related to shareholding rights, power dynamics among potential successors, and difficulties in enforcing contracts or agreements.

What can you do?

Legal counsel: Seeking legal advice is paramount during such transitions. Lawyers can provide insights into potential legal risks and ensure the company's compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

Clear documentation: Sharma emphasised the importance of clear and up-to-date documentation, covering aspects such as company ownership, succession procedures, and contractual obligations. This documentation serves as a critical reference point during periods of uncertainty.

Transparency and communication: Open and transparent communication with stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, and business partners, is vital. This approach helps address concerns proactively, minimising the risk of disputes.

“A proactive and well-communicated succession plan is integral to navigating the legal complexities surrounding leadership changes. In an ever-evolving business landscape, companies that prioritise legal foresight through comprehensive succession planning are better equipped to weather unforeseen transitions and safeguard their legal standing,” said Shreya Sharma. 

A blueprint for smooth leadership transitions

In the ever-changing world of work, sudden shifts in leadership can be like storms at sea—unsettling and challenging to navigate. So, what can companies do to ensure a smooth sail through the unpredictable waters of leadership changes? 

1. Fostering a culture of continuous talent development

The Head of HR Shared Services at Fujitsu International Regions advocated for a proactive and adaptable approach. "It's about fostering a culture of continuous talent development," he explained. This involves identifying potential leaders within the workforce and giving them diverse experiences and exposure to different aspects of the business.

"Implementing mentorship programs and leadership training initiatives equips individuals with the skills needed for elevated roles," added Sabharwal. He also stressed the importance of regularly reviewing and updating the succession plan, ensuring it stays agile and aligns with evolving business needs and industry trends.

2. Planting seeds today for a forest tomorrow

Sandesha Jaitapkar, CHRO of Artha Group, likened preparing for unforeseen changes to "planting seeds today for a forest tomorrow." Her advice is to train people not just for their current roles but for the roles they aspire to. "Leaders should be mentors, not gatekeepers," she said. Creating an environment where people feel empowered to step up turns unforeseen changes into opportunities for growth.

3. Proactively preparing for unforeseen changes

Corporate lawyer Shreya Sharma, CEO and Founder of Rest The Case, outlined actionable steps for proactive preparation. "Regularly assessing leadership needs is crucial for understanding how leaders contribute to company growth and employee satisfaction," she advised. Sharma also emphasised fostering a culture of continuous learning and development, encouraging employees to enhance their skills and leadership potential. Periodically conducting succession planning exercises helps identify and assess potential successors.

In the wake of the recent loss of Subrata Roy, Kedarnath Aggarwal, and Parag Desai, we extend our heartfelt condolences. Their legacy will be remembered, and we express our gratitude for their impactful work and the lessons they've imparted! 

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Topics: Leadership, Business, #HRCommunity, #HRTech

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