Ashok Melwani - Negotiating an Exit From the 4th Generation Family Business [The Business of Family]


11 January 2021

50 mins 59 secs

Season 1

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Special Guest

About this Episode

Ashok Melwani started his career as a teenager, working in his family’s fashion retail stores during the school holidays. In 1982, he joined the business full-time, working his way up from brand manager to an executive director of the 4th generation Indian family business. He's a seasoned entrepreneur with decades of experience in retail, food & beverage and distribution, and now an executive coach.

Ashok is a guide to the road less travelled. His story is a fascinating journey of a struggle to leave the family business and ultimately forge his own path.

Standout Quotes:

  • "My most disliked few words, 'You should know what to do'." - [Ashok]
  • "If the CEO of a business is not passionate about a business, he has no business to be the CEO" - [Ashok]
  • "If the family business is the only thing on your resume, it's not very worthwhile" - [Ashok]
  • "Crowd brings crowd to a restaurant" - [Ashok]
  • "Two things I and my wife can never give you as parents, we cannot give you resilience, it only comes from hardship... We cannot give you self esteem, it comes only from achieving your own goals and making a name for yourself" - [Ashok]
  • "Everybody has a price at which they might do something which is borderline unethical, and the price depends a lot on your socio-emotional background" - [Ashok]
  • "When one door closes, another door opens.. in order for that to be true, you have to do your part which is don't hang around too long when the door closes" - [Ashok]

Key Takeaways:

  • Ashok shares that although he wasn't particularly excited to work in the family business, the incentives and knowledge gained made it a perfect introduction to the retail business.
  • If the family business is the only thing on your resume, it's not very worthwhile, even if you were the MD.
  • Ashok discloses that following the impact of the Asian financial crisis on his transition out of the family business, he had fallen into depression for close to a year.
  • If you leave a family business, you don't want to have some small share in the business and start second-guessing whoever is left behind.
  • Although he had a clean exit, there were effects on the family dynamics at the time, as some family members didn't understand why.
  • Despite the many setbacks, looking back, there is no doubt that leaving the family business was the right step to take for Ashok.
  • I have no respect for trust fund kids.
  • You have a life outside and beyond the business, a lot of entrepreneurs are consumed by their business even when they should be spending time with family.
  • Ashok admits that based on his experience with his family business, he was not encouraged to start another one involving his children
  • After interacting with younger family business executive owners, a common notable point was that they were given time to work outside the family business before coming back.
  • From Ashok to his kids: when one door closes, another door opens, don't wait around too long afterward.

Episode Timeline:

  • [00:49] Introducing "Ashok Melwani"
  • [01:56] Ashok narrates how he joined the family business
  • [02:50] What sort of products was the business offering?
  • [13:03] Your career with the family business, where did it reach, and what happened next?
  • [31:32] Ashok explains he had a clean exit from the family business.
  • [34:00] Would you say that leaving the family was the right decision for you?
  • [35:04] How is the family business going today?
  • [36:31] Did you ever try and nurture your children to work with you and create another family business?
  • [38:28] Ashok's opinion on children inheriting wealth
  • [40:39] A notable experience that helped shape his journey.
  • [44:00] What advice would you give to a driven entrepreneur who aspires to be the founding generation of a multi-generational family business?
  • [44:57] What's your take on generational businesses?
  • [46:46] My next stage in life involves venturing into Leadership Coaching
  • [47:35] Ashok's letter to his children

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