Misunderstandings, power tussles and unhealthy rivalries between siblings have often torn family businesses apart. The latest on this list is Fortis Healthcare whose founders and brothers Malvinder and Shivinder Singh were recently locked in a legal tussle. We spoke to millennial siblings who have been working together on how they sort out differences of opinions to ensure the organization keeps functioning smoothly.

Play on strengths

Amruta Velumani and Anand Velumani of Mumbai-based diagnostic testing service providers Thyrocare Technologies are usually on the same page when taking a decision, despite their different personalities. While Amruta, 27, describes herself as aggressive and vocal about her opinions, her 29-year-old brother is the opposite. But what works for them is that their working styles complement each other.

Anand Velumani, executive assistant to the CEO, says his sister and he both have accepted that arguments and disagreements are bound to occur. “As long as you are aware that there should be and would be disagreements, you also become aware about how to handle the situation. Communicating more often with each other helps, even if it adds no value," he says.

Living in the same premises as their office, their conversation usually revolve around business. Like Anand, Amruta says there are bound to be heated discussions. “But we remember that both of us are trying to establish an identity for ourselves and are in the learning phase," she says.

Same, yet different

While they may be working together, both have different responsibilities, which ensures they don’t trespass into each other’s territory. While Amruta handles talent acquisition and management at Thyrocare, Anand is at the realm of Nuclear Healthcare, part of the parent company. “My father started two businesses—Thyrocare and Nuclear. Anand looks more into Nuclear and I look more into Thyrocare. So, we are separate in terms of crossing zones," says Amruta.

Similarly, the Zaveri sisters, directors of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ), have clearly defined roles. The elder sibling, Binaisha, 35, looks into bringing in professional management into the business and store openings, while Raashi, 31, is into backend operations with an eye on product development and overall vision of the company. “Both of us have our own personality and unique proposition that we bring to the table. Our father identified it at a young age and nurtured us in that direction, so that we look after different parts of the businesses. But we do have to collaborate and work together too," says Binaisha.

With four-and-a-half years difference between the two, Binaisha often feels like she gets a millennial perspective when discussing work with her younger sister. “At work, whenever there is any disagreement, we look at the pros and cons to mutually decide what is in the best interest for our customers. Once you use the consumer and the brand promise as a filter, you can resolve the deepest of disagreements with ease," says Raashi. On the other hand, Amruta’s experience is different. With just two years age gap, the siblings view each other as equals.

Amruta (seated) and Anand Velumani believe in communicating with each other often.
Amruta (seated) and Anand Velumani believe in communicating with each other often.

Tackling differences

The Velumanis are still in the initial stages of their work partnership, while Zaveris’ partnership is a decade old. There are a few things, however, that the siblings need to do to ensure their arguments remain healthy and fruitful.

When Amruta realizes that her brother is continuing to resist her viewpoint, she ceases to push her point further. “The result matters, not each other’s opinion. Even when he starts thinking he’s right, he’s open for a review at every stage. I may not be able to convince in the first or second stage, in the third stage, either I will get convinced or he will get convinced," says Amruta. “As long as you want other person to be better, any relationship blossoms. But we are also evolving," adds Anand, who describes Amruta as the one who is quick in terms of execution, while he takes time to absorb and is more consultative in his approach. Another thing that the siblings ensure is maintain transparency among themselves on everything.

Rajiv Agarwal, professor, family business and strategy, SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai, says that trust, confidence in each other and having open communication channel can help siblings deal with any differences. Also, it’s important to have processes or mechanisms in place, which enable siblings to address their issues and deal with it instead of sweeping them under the carpet until conflicts break out.

At the Zaveri household, Binaisha points out that her father Shrikant Zaveri has setup a family forum, where all the family members in the business have to follow certain rules and guidance laid out by him. “He had the foresight to create a level playing field for both his daughters. He started this when both of us joined the business so that no one feels they are ignored or sabotaged," she says.

Prof Agarwal says sometimes problems can arise when the spouse’s or their family, influences or pressures the sibling for their stake in the business. “What you need to watch out for is that can these siblings meet in a neutral environment without the influence of the spouses to resolve issues out," he says. While, the Velumanis are unmarried, the Zaveris say their husbands, who are both working professionals, bring in their own perspectives to the business.

Giving a sports analogy, Prof Kavil Ramachandran, executive director, Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business, explains that firms run by siblings is like a doubles team of tennis (or badminton). The two players should not only complement each other in terms of knowledge and skills but also have a great chemistry. “The big challenge is to sustain the team effect over the years, especially when the family dynamics undergo changes with spouses entering or children growing. As this transformation happens, families need to be educated on family governance; they should be able to keep family and business matters separate," he advises.

Take into account

■ Start by putting systems and processes beforehand.

■ Have a third person who is trusted, has high credibility and has some stake in the outcome on standby as an arbitrator.

■ Recognize that there is a problem and do not be in denial until it is too late to look for a solution.

—Prof. Rajiv Agarwal, SP Jain Institute of Management and Research

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