Kumar Mangalam Birla, counted among India’s wealthiest individuals, said that as a parent he gives his children the freedom to choose their careers and follow their passion in a big shift from his time when following a set professional path was a given.
“Both Neerja (his wife) and I felt that the kids should be given a chance to follow their passions," Birla, chairman, Aditya Birla Group, said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit held in the capital on Friday. Birla was addressing a question by CNBC TV18’s Shereen Bhan on whether he was flexible and accommodating as a parent, especially as his children have chosen unconventional career paths—ranging from music to cricket.
Birla, currently at the helm of the 162-year-old conglomerate founded in 1857, is father to three children, Ananya (25), Aryaman (22) and Advaitesha—a young teenager. At present, the three do not have any active role in the cement-to-telecom conglomerate. So far, the company has not made public its plans on whether the children will take up any leadership roles in the $48.3 billion (turnover) group.
Daughter Ananya is a musician and founder of Svatantra Microfin, a microfinancing company she set up at 17, according to information available on the company’s website. In 2015, she also launched an e-commerce marketplace, CuroCarte. Son Aryaman Birla is a cricket player.
“We said to them you’ve got to take the rough and tumble yourself. I mean, I cannot go, and sing or play cricket for him on the crease, I don’t know the microfinance business, and I have enough on my plate. So, we have had a discussion about it, we are very happy for them to do what they are doing. They are both excelling," Birla said. He said, as parents, they hope their children will preserve their core family values, and develop a strong work ethic.
“I am very sure of one thing, that they need to develop a good work ethic—which I see both of them doing. They work incredibly hard in spheres that are incredibly tough and where they have some high ups and low downs, we are very happy about the way they are going about what they are doing." Moreover, the one ask as parents they have from them is that they stick to family values. “And there, I think they are very tough on themselves in any case in terms of being true to their family values," he said.
Birla took over as chairman of the group in 1995, aged 28, after his father, Aditya Vikram Birla passed away. Over the last two decades, Birla has steered over 35 acquisitions in India and globally. According to a Forbes listing, Birla, 52, is India’s 10th wealthiest man (2019).
Birla said that growing up he did not have a choice to pick his own career path, unlike children today who have options to pursue their own interests. “As opposed to that, I didn’t have a choice."
But if given the option, Birla would have done things differently. “I think I would have been an entrepreneur—it would have been business, but I would have probably started from scratch. It could have been a more interesting journey. I was pretty much told if you don’t do your CA and your MBA—I mean to the point of saying, you are out on your here."
But times have changed and one has to stay contemporary, Birla added. “That’s important."