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Ananya Birla, 28, and Aryaman Vikram Birla, 25, children of billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla, were inducted as directors of Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd on Monday, marking the entry of the fifth generation of the family in the $60 billion conglomerate.

The appointment of the siblings to the fashion retail business of the Aditya Birla Group, instead of its flagship cement and aluminium businesses, is considered a well-thought move as their contributions may be more valuable in the rapidly changing fashion and new-age industries, which frequently sees rapid shifts in consumer trends.

Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said, “Their nuanced understanding of new-age business models and emerging shifts in consumer behaviour will infuse fresh energy to the board of Aditya Birla Fashion."

Both were groomed in the family’s privately owned businesses. Ananya’s stint in business is over a decade old, even as she pursued music on the side and her brother Aryaman tried his hand in cricket, representing the Madhya Pradesh Ranji team as well as being a member of the Rajasthan Royals team in the Indian Premier League.

Ananya started her business career by establishing Svatantra Microfin, a microfinance company, at the age of 17. Her younger brother, Aryaman, incubated the group’s D2C platform, TMRW, apart from the maiden entrepreneurial foray into the hospitality business. Aryaman is also leading the group’s venture capital fund, Aditya Birla Ventures.

Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail has scaled up by building a formidable portfolio of fashion brands across categories, covering all major segments of the Indian apparel market.

Last week, Ananya and Aryaman were inducted as directors on the board of Aditya Birla Management Corp., the apex body that provides strategic direction to the Aditya Birla Group’s businesses. With an induction into the group’s strategic think-tank, they will have a close look at its diverse businesses, including its flagship companies such as Grasim, Ultratech Cement and Hindalco.

“The choice of the fashion and retail business indicates that a lot of thought had gone into this decision; for instance, it would be an area where they can relate themselves very closely compared to the group’s most other businesses. Their induction into the group strategy team will allow them to learn and develop as responsible inheritors. It is significant that they are not provided with any executive leadership roles. In essence, I look at it as a mechanism to groom them as responsible owners and not operating owners," said Professor Kavil Ramachandran, a senior adviser at the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise at the Indian School of Business.

The induction of the Birla scions mirrors the recent moves by other business groups to bring in the gen-next into businesses. The Ambani family last year allocated responsibilities to Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani’s children, Akash, Isha and Anant Ambani, to lead new-age businesses, while the main businesses of oil and gas, refineries and petrochemicals are still under their father. Noel Tata’s children Leah, Neville and Maya were appointed late last year to Tata Medical Centre Trust’s board, a Tata Trusts affiliate, in a move seen as developing the next generation of leaders.

The induction of Ananya and Aryaman was planned carefully, unlike that of Kumar Mangalam Birla, who had to hurriedly take over responsibilities after the untimely death of his father, Aditya Birla. Kumar Mangalam Birla consolidated the businesses in carbon black, VSF, etc., and made several strategic acquisitions in cement and aluminium, building the group to acquire global scale.

The group, in recent times, forayed into paints with an investment of 10,000 crore under Grasim. Its telecom business, a joint venture with Vodafone Group Plc, is facing challenges, and the gen-next will watch closely the seniors dealing with these two ventures.

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