June 18, 2024



A Curious Phrase To Remember A Lesson Never To Be Forgotten

3 min read

Tarachand Ghanshyam Das was a Marwari Business that operated from 1791 to 1957.It enjoyed such prestige and credibility that its Hundi was negotiable through multiple offices and accepted by moneylenders and traders across the country.The Birla family got its start in Calcutta as sub-agents to this firm.

Bugotee Ram,the ancestor of the Poddars of Tarachand Ghanshyam Das was the treasurer or the Fotedar of the nawab of Fatehpur, Rajasthan. Their family name is a corruption of this title of Fotedar. Bugotee Ram was also a banker to the royal families of Jaipur, Bikaner, and Hyderabad. The Poddar family originally belonged to Churu in Rajasthan. When the local thakur imposed heavy tax on the wool trade, in 1791, the Poddars moved to a village in the domain of Raja of Sikar and named it Ramgarh.

So why did this business die?

As time passed and new generations took over,none of the inheritors did an honest day’s work. They felt that it would diminish their status if they were seen sitting on the gaddi in Calcutta’s Burra Bazaar. A gaddi is literally a large mattress covered with chandni ie white cloth, where the Seth, or merchant sat in the morning after his daily puja. Beside him sat his Munim, bookkeeper and trusted adviser. Gaddi in time came to mean a firm’s office and even the firm itself.

When you have money for more than a hundred years in the family, the appetite to make more diminishes. When experienced and trustworthy Munims carry on the business independently and successfully, the sensible thing is to delegate and leave them alone. The Poddar Seths thus left the running of the business to Munims, who had over generations also accumulated shares in the firm and had become junior partners. When the Munims tell you that the esteem of the firm will be diminished if the Seth sits daily on the gaddi at Mullick Street, you believe them and you go away on a perpetual holiday to Mussoorie.

Sensible, one would think. This is how corporate capitalism has evolved around the world, as owners in the countries where capitalism has matured have gradually left the running of day-to-day business to professional CEOs, who like the Munims of old have become millionaires in their own right. The catch, however, is corporate governance. Even the best-managed companies have vigilant boards on which owners often sit, and to which the CEO and the professional managers are accountable. It was different in the case of the Poddar Seths, however. As they bought grand bungalows and began to behave like Bengali Zamindars, they forgot that the ‘footprint of the owner is the best fertilizer’. They ignored their function of governance and not surprisingly the business died slowly.

The above might be the tale of a storied Marwari business,but the story closer home has plenty of parallels.PP Sons was inherited by 3 brothers whose interest in their business was slighter than their interest in politics,community affairs,hockey,football,cigars,gardening in arid small towns,various charities etc.,never mind that the former was a necessity for the latter.In place of the Poddar Munims were Choundrapandi, Chandra Shekhar, Mariappan etc and walk down the roads of these small towns today and plenty of business owners ranging from hoteliers,restaurateurs, jewellers ,fruit merchants,onion traders,private bus operators and hospital chains will come forward to tell you that their business owes its start to the generosity of these Annachis. Even as PP Sons didn’t nurture business talent of the calibre of the Birlas, its record in identifying,nurturing and backing political talent is not too bad.Ditto for education.But the fact remains,that one’s own business,like one’s own family require your time and personal attention to continue to retain the ability to influence the world.Looking down on and disassociating from the culture,traditions and less glamorous aspects of your business has ruinous costs.

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