Ness Wadia likely to play a major role at Britannia

Wadia group is likely to witness some major changes in top level management, as insiders reveal that Ness Wadia is likely to take-up an important role....
Ness Wadia likely to play a major role at Britannia
Nusli Wadia is personally mentoring his elder son for a more visible role in the ops of foods co; but insiders say Wadia senior is yet to work out a formal succession plan.
Employees at foods company Britannia Industries have been watching with interest the regular attendance of Ness Wadia, elder son of promoter Nusli Wadia, at various board and committee meetings in recent months. The older Wadia, 71, is understood to be personally mentoring his elder son for a more visible role in the operations of the Rs 7,100-crore foods company.
Wadia group watchers said that while younger brother Jeh, 42, seems a more likely candidate to steer the group's operations in the future, both he and Ness are likely to have an equal stake across businesses. Jeh is more focused on running textile company Bombay Dyeing and low-fare carrier GoAir. Ness, 45, hasn't been perceived as playing an assertive role in the Wadia businesses thus far. But executives said that as the elder son, he would have to pick up the business ropes faster and the mentoring by his father may have something to do with succession planning.
Ness attends innovation and strategy discussions at Britannia and has begun offering suggestions at various meetings, said executives. He's also managing director of Bombay Burmah Trading Corp, which has interests in tea and other products, and is the holding company of Britannia.
Wadia senior is understood to be keen that Ness gains corporate stature and gets a hang of managing group businesses under his wing. He's been keeping a low profile after a row with former girlfriend and actress Preity Zinta, a co-owner of the Kings XI Punjab Indian Premier League franchise with him, went public. She filed a molestation case against him in 2014.
Ness has since been trying to get more involved with the overall strategic initiatives of the group businesses under his father's tutelage. He was unavailable for comment. An email sent to him went unanswered.
On the board of Britannia since April 2010, he was nominated in 2013 to the company's investment, innovation and audit committees, when his father took active control until Varun Berry was handpicked to succeed Vinita Bali as managing director. Jeh is also on the company's board and part of the ethics and compliance committee.
Group insiders said the father is yet to work out a formal succession plan and is very much in the driver's seat at the group.
"He is keen that the sons have a sound understanding of group businesses and work in harmony together," said a person with direct knowledge of the plans. "So his style of business rotation among the sons across group businesses and ensuring them on boards wherever each of them are respectively active is towards that."
So while Jeh is also on the board of Britannia and Bombay Burmah, Ness is on the board of Bombay Dyeing, where his brother is managing director.
Nusli Wadia, chairman of theRs 12,300-crore group, has given operational freedom to his sons. But like most family owned businesses, including the Godrej group, the later generations have been directed to be more engaged in strategy and vision, leaving day-to-day management to professionals.
"The new generation across many groups do not display the same rigour like their fathers in handling businesses, taking business reviews in a competitive environment and are happy to let professionals run the show," said R Suresh, managing director of RGF executive search firm, which has hired top professionals across several family owned business. "They are wired differently and need to build capabilities to be in charge."
Wadia senior keeps a close watch on performance, especially that of Britannia, which is his personal favourite, executives said.
Britannia has been on a strong wicket in the last two years under chief executive Varun Berry, with both sales and profit growing at double digits. "Ness is yet to have a strong understanding of Britannia's business but he has been asking questions and making suggestions in product innovation," said an executive.
 
Anil K Hirjee, legal expert and vice chairman of Bombay Burmah, is a long-time confidant of Nusli Wadia in Bombay Burmah who also guides the Wadia brothers. He's involved in helping Ness build up his corporate profile, executives said. Hirjee has been with Nusli Wadia since the time he helped with the acquisition of Britannia decades ago. The group has been selling its textile manufacturing units in the face of competition from the unorganised sector and imports to focus on Britannia, the real estate business and GoAir.
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