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'Marwari' school of business keeps 3 generations of Ruia family under one roof

Indian family-run business houses have in recent years seen ugly public spats between owners over control. But metals-to-ports conglomerate Essar's Ruia family seems to be an exception. Three generations of the Ruia family continue to live under one roof and jointly run the business empire.
Last Updated : 17 June 2024, 09:47 IST

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New Delhi: Indian family-run business houses have in recent years seen ugly public spats between owners over control.

But metals-to-ports conglomerate Essar's Ruia family seems to be an exception. Three generations of the Ruia family—founder brother Shashi and Ravi Ruia, their children and grandchildren—continue to live under one roof and jointly run the business empire.

They share the family homes in Mumbai, Delhi and London as well as business that now spans energy, metals and mining, infrastructure and logistics and technology and retail.

Prashant Ruia, son of Shashi Ruia and director of Essar Capital, which manages the group's portfolio of investments, considers himself fortunate to be surrounded by support system of his family, where members cherish the strong bonds transcending generations.

In an interview to PTI, Ruia said he is of firm belief that maintaining strong family relations require careful alignment of goals and ensuring each family member has space to express themselves and thrive.

"If the goals are aligned and people are given space to express themselves, it is possible (for families to stick together). I am surprised that the tradition is coming down so fast. We have maintained it, and it has been a tremendous experience...having that support system at home, while travelling, at work, of course... is quite good and we are very happy," he said.

First generation entrepreneurs Shashi and Ravi Ruia founded Essar group in 1969 when it bagged a Rs 2.5 crore order from the Madras Port Trust for the construction of an outer breakwater in the port.

In the early years, Essar focused on the construction and engineering sector. It built a number of major infrastructure projects, including bridges, dams, and power plants. In the 1980s, Essar diversified into the energy sector, with the acquisition of a number of oil and gas assets.

In the 1990s, Essar expanded its operations into the steel and telecommunications sectors. It built steel plants, an oil refinery and India's second largest telecom operator with Hutchison. It exited the telecom business, sold oil refinery to a consortium led by Russia's Rosneft and had to let go the steel plants to ArcelorMittal when insolvency proceedings were initiated to recover unpaid loans.

After repaying loans of close to Rs 2 lakh crore, Essar is now reinventing itself.

"Revenues of the group are about USD 15 billion. In terms of Group EBITDA, we have a run rate of about a billion dollars, that is about Rs 8,000 crore and the group is currently valued...the assets under management...is valued at about USD 8 billion. So that's sort of where we are as a group today," Ruia said.

The group has about 14 portfolio companies where investments are being channelised. "Some of these companies are in India, some international. We operate globally. And we are building out," he said.

The conglomerate now holds assets that span a 10 million tonne a year oil refinery in the UK, 15 trillion cubic feet reserves of hydrocarbons in India and Vietnam and a 1,200 MW power plant in India.

Its infra sector assets include a storage terminal in the UK of 3 million cubic meters capacity and a 20 MTPA port in India, metal and mining sector assets include a major iron ore mine and pellet project in India and the US, technology & services sector assets include global EPC business and IT solutions provider with centres across 35+ countries. The group has also made foray into renewables recently.

In a country where young children born into wealthy business families are forgiven for living it up as a teenager, Ruia showed up at Essar office fairly early.

"As far as my journey is concerned, yes, I did start early. But at that time, our group was fairly small in the sense papa (my father) and chacha (uncle)... they got started in 1969. But we were still a very small group in 80-85 and I started working with my father in all my holidays at the age of 12....well, not working but actually being there," Ruia said.

He recalls how "he was inclined towards work" from the beginning, and even as he started college, clocking office hours daily became part of his regular schedule.

Ruia said he even passed an opportunity to study abroad, opting instead to continue working within the Group and contribute to growing business. His stint started with participating in meetings, listening and understanding, moving from one department to another to observe the dynamics of business, and by 17, Ruia was given responsibility at the Group.

"...we were in early stage...things were just getting going and it was very exciting time for us. And I was enjoying myself. So `Marwari School of Management' was the one I went to," he said in lighter vein.

Prashant has a sibling Anshuman and cousins Rewant and Smiti (children of Ravi Ruia). The family has stayed together for over 50 years, Ruia said with pride.

"We have always stayed together... my father and uncle actually, this is a tradition...it was set up by my father, my uncle and my grandmother. So she made sure that we all stay together and it's been like that ever since," Ruia said.

Some of the most famous family feuds in India include the public battle between Mukesh and Anil Ambani to control the Reliance empire after their father Dhirubhai Ambani died without a will.

A couple of years back, Hinduja brothers battled over control of the USD 18 billion 107-year-old British-Indian group that has six publicly traded entities including Ashok Leyland.

In 2000, Rajan and Anil Nanda sparred over Escorts empire built by their father Har Prasad. The 'Complete Man' company Raymond saw a fallout between former chairman Vijaypat Singhani and his son, Gautam in 2023. Apollo Tyres chairman Onkar S Kanwar too had a spat with his father, Raunaq Singh over the control of the company in the 1990s.

The most recent is Samir Modi accusing his mother of orchestrating an attack on him, worsening the feud among the late KK Modi's family members over their inheritance.

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Published 17 June 2024, 09:47 IST

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