A primary function of PR agencies that are hired by companies is to feed journalists with stories / questions that will reflect poorly on the other side. Last week, I received one such set of gotcha questions from a senior journalist of one of India’s leading newspapers. For some reason, despite the tight deadline given to me for responses, the interview has yet to be published.
Below, the questions are in bold followed by my responses. I just corrected some minor grammatical changes which the journalist would probably also have done.
Q1. In your 2009 book – ‘India’s Global Powerhouses: How They are Taking on the World’ you have championed the Tata Group, eulogised the hands off leadership of Ratan Tata. Yet your recent interviews, comments on social media do reveal a virulent change of heart. What has led to this?
One is not sure how you understand the phrase “virulent change of heart” and “eulogy”. You are invited to actually read the book for yourself, particularly Pages 201 to 204 of the book. I will be happy to autograph your copy. The section is titled ‘The Cross-Border Acquisition Challenge: Matching Ambition and Capabilities’
There, I say: “Indian companies embark on ever more audacious international megadeals, inspired by aggressive empire-building ambitions rather than by the solid commercial logic and careful appraisal on investment returns that have characterized past Indian acquisitions abroad. The impetus for many of the acquisitions in 2006-2007 was not that the Indian companies were particularly globally dominant in their industry or rich. Rather, one of the primary facilitators was the easy liquidity prevailing in the markets. Big deals based on easy liquidity, however, tend to load a company with debt or dilute shareholder’s equity, through the needed issuance of new stock. Both Tata Steel and Hindalco were put on a credit ratings watch after they announced their foreign acquisitions.”
Not sure how you see this as “eulogy”. The term “eulogy” is explained in the Oxford Dictionary as: http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/eulogy
The section in the book goes on to say: “The academic research is pretty unambiguous on the success of mergers and acquisitions. Approximately half of all M&A deals fail, and the casualty rate increases with the size of the deal as well as for cross-border deals versus domestic deals. The foreign acquisitions experience of other Asian countries, like Japan and China, also indicates a high failure rate. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that India’s success rate will be significantly different.”
Further, “Indian managements, never very deep, are becoming seriously stretched as they integrate complex acquisitions in different time zones while managing their businesses in a domestic market under attack from foreign competition. Foreign acquisitions increase execution risk dramatically, especially since Indian companies lack experience in absorbing international businesses with different corporate cultures and employment rules. The hunger to become a global powerhouse may not always be matched by a company’s current capabilities.”
One would think that this particular newspaper would consider such foresight as being impeccable justifying the nomenclature of “guru”. If you still go on to write that this constitutes “eulogy” you would make yourself a laughing stock. If you still wish to publish an article alleging “eulogy” and a “virulent change” you will have to publish the entire response above as it is, failing which appropriate action would follow for defamatory work.
Q2. Did you describe the Tatas as a Lala Company that gives lectures to the world about its values. Why?
I did not call the House of Tatas as a Lala company. I commented on Ratan Tata’s now famously-reported quote that he (Tata) would take the reason for firing Cyrus Mistry to his grave.
As you are aware, after six painful weeks, no reason is forthcoming. And those who point this out are being targeted with queries like yours. In this process, Mr. Ratan Tata is behaving like a Lala. This is said to mean that Mr. Ratan Tata does not believe that he needs to explain his inexplicable conduct and may do whatever he feels like because he thinks Tata Group is his personal fiefdom.
The only difference I see in this behaviour between Tata and a Lala company is that a Lala company would have been more competent and managed to keep the whole story out of bad press, and efforts such as these questions and answers would have been redundant. Tata Sons is a respectable company and has to be saved from being handled by a Lala attitude.
Q3. You yourself wrote: “Noncompliance with ethical or moral standards constitutes grounds for breaking ties. Yet even after Tata Sons mentioned in its statement ..”However, the tenure of the former Chairman was marked by repeated departures from the culture and ethos of the group.. The strength of the Group is not just confined to its value system and ethics in the Board room but to a very large extent by the adherence to the values by its 600,000 plus employees whose spirit and cooperation has built the Group to where it is today. It is unforgivable that Mr. Mistry has attempted to besmirch the image of the Group in the eyes of the employees…” the response seemed unsatisfactory to you. Why?
Your question is unclear. If the Tatas who have published the full-page advertisement that you have quoted from, are able to come up with examples of what they mean, we would not need to have this conversation. Since you have seen my interviews and despite being a journalist, are questioning the interview itself, you must know that I have given many examples of departure from values in just the conduct of the Tatas under Mr. Ratan Tata since October 24, 2016.
Be scientific and empirical – a good policy for journalists to have. Look at the performance evaluation of Cyrus Mistry in glowing terms by Tata Sons directors including Vijay Singh and Ronen Sen in the board minutes. There is no point in running around now like headless chickens when caught with inexplicable conduct that they are struggling to explain.
Q4. Would you say Tata was no longer the hands off leader that you have mentioned in the book? Do you agree with Mistry’s assessment that constant interference made him a lame duck chairman?
Q5. Would you say that the ethos of Tata Group has changed significantly over the years. In 2009, you write, “The Tata Group is a source of Indian pride, a hugely successful global company run on ethical business principles.” But in recent TV interviews you talk of skeletons and buried bodies? What has led to such transformation?
I have a mind that I apply, and therefore, when the subject I study changes their conduct, I change my mind.
People change, their conduct changes, their clay feet get exposed and a professional mind that studies these changes, changes opinions accordingly. Both the original opinion and the changed opinion are well justified.
If despite the larger-than-real standing and stature does not help solve insecurities and one needs to be surrounded by sycophants and dubious hangers-on, one will get judged, no matter what past opinion one evoked.
My PR agency included the following preamble with my responses:
It’s interesting to see that one of India’s leading newspapers ask questions relating to literature of 2008-09 in the context of events of 2016. While those who may have suggested these questions and seeming contradictions to you may be in a time warp, it is vital that in your journalistic research, you must not follow suit.
As an academic and a professional, Prof. Kumar takes every word he says seriously. Therefore, mischaracterisation of his work, whether mischievously or otherwise can be severely defamatory and he will do everything in his capacity to protect his hard-earned reputation and standing.