10 corporate battles to remember Wadia vs Wadia and Goenka Nusli Wadia (left) has been called a corporate samurai. His battles with Dhirubhai Ambani and Rajan Pillai are legendary. His first corporate brawl was a curious case, given who one of his opponents was: his own father. Neville Wadia had decided, in 1971, to sell Bombay Dyeing Ltd to take-over tycoon R. P. Goenka (right). A young Nusli Wadia refused to accept the deal. He had his back to the wall, yet fought back fiercely by getting the rest of the family, the unions and even J. R. D.
Tata to thwart the deal, showing early signs of a rare ability to lobby and win allies in a tough battle. This is one of the few instances when Goenka lost a takeover battle. HP Nanda vs Swraj Paul In the early 1980s, with the tacit support of the then Congress government, Swraj Paul (right), a non-resident Indian, launched an aggressive takeover bid for Escorts Ltd. The latter’s promoter H. P. Nanda (left) put up a fight, but faced a backlash from the government that asked financial institutions with a stake in Escorts to support Paul, and launched a series of tax investigations.
Nanda hung on, and in 1984, the courts ruled in his favour. ITC vs BAT In 1996, British American Tobacco Industries Plc (BAT), the single largest shareholder in ITC Ltd, and led by Martin Broughton (right), made a play for control of the Indian company. But ITC, under K. L. Chugh (left), was able to convince the Indian government the fight was between a strong, well-managed and board-run Indian company and a predatory multinational. Government-owned institutions with a stake in ITC helped avert the threat. The Birlas vs Lodha Priyamvada Birla(left), widow of M.
P. Birla, died childless in July 2004, leaving all her assets, valued at Rs3,000-5,000 crore, to Rajendra Singh Lodha (right), the MP Birla group’s auditor. When the Birla family came to know about her will, they opposed it, saying she could not have left her assets to an outsider. The Birlas claimed in court that Priyamvada Birla and her husband had earlier written an irrevocable “mutual will” in which they said all their assets would go to charity. Various cases are being fought between the Birlas and Harsh Vardhan Lodha, R.
S. Lodha’s son, who is now MP Birla group chairman. R. S. Lodha died in October 2008 after a cardiac arrest at B. K. Birla’s flat in London. Harsh Vardhan Lodha has yet not secured probate of Priyamvada Birla’s will, but heads the group with the support of directors of holding companies that own controlling stakes in MP Birla group firms. Nusli Wadia vs Dhirubhai Ambani PTA and DMT are innocuous abbreviations for two chemicals used to produce polyester. Together they reacted to create a national explosion in the 1980s.
Reliance Industries Ltd run by Dhirubhai Ambani (right) and Bombay Dyeing Ltd led by Nusli Wadia (left) were stiff competitors in the polyester market, with the former using PTA and the latter DMT as the main input. Those were the days when the government had a say in technology choices, so what ensued was a bitter lobbying war that eventually led to a political crisis for the Rajiv Gandhi government in New Delhi and a murder investigation in Mumbai. Vijay Mallya vs Manu Chhabria Photo: India Today Vijay Mallya’s corporate spat with the late NRI raider Manu Chhabria (right) was an epic one, lasting nearly 20 years.
It all began in 1984, when a then unknown Chhabria made a hostile bid for liquor major Shaw Wallace and Co. (SWC). Mallya (left) claimed the bid was actually made jointly by an offshore firm in which he was a partner, while Chhabria disputed that and eventually gained ownership of SWC. A legal battle raged for years in Hong Kong, during which Mallya also partnered Chhabria’s estranged brother, Kishore, and kept up the pressure for getting what he believed rightly belonged to him.
It wasn’t until March 2005 that the battle came to an end with Mallya finally acquiring a controlling interest in SWC from the Chhabria family, three years after Manu Chhabria died at 56. Ratan Tata vs The Tata satraps In 1991, Ratan Tata (left) inherited a business group that was run by a confederation of ageing satraps under the benign control of J. R. D. Tata. The Tata scion wanted tighter control over the companies in the sprawling empire, and that led to a showdown with the likes of Russi Mody (right), Darbari Seth and Ajit Kerkar, all men of considerable achievement but resistant to change.
The younger Tata did not have a very successful track record till then but he eventually took control and transformed the Tata group, making it the ambitiously global and relentlessly innovative group that it is today. Wadia vs Rajan Pillai Photo: India Today Nusli Wadia’s battle to acquire Britannia Industries Ltd made the headlines in the late 1980s, when he first tried to buy biscuit maker Britannia, then owned by US giant RJR Nabisco Inc. Wadia (left) first met the Nabisco brass through a friend, NRI cashew trader K.
Rajan Pillai (right), in the late 1980s. But Nabisco changed its mind about selling to Wadia and appointed Pillai chairman of Britannia. This turned the two one-time friends into foes. Soon Pillai acquired Britannia and partnered with French food company, Danone SA. Then the French company fell out with Pillai, accusing him of fraud, and instead tied up with Wadia. After a bitter boardroom battle, Pillai was ousted and Wadia eventually took over Britannia in the early 1990s. Pillai later died in custody in an Indian jail.
L&T vs RIL In the late 1980s, Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T) chairman N. M. Desai, discovering that Manu Chhabria (right) had acquired a stake in the firm, presumably to launch a hostile bid, got Reliance Industries Ltd’s (RIL) Dhiru-bhai Ambani (left) to buy a larger stake and come in as a white knight. Ambani had designs of his own and became chairman with the support of the Congress government that asked financial institutions with stakes in L&T to back him. RIL’s plan was thwarted when the Congress lost power in 1989.
RIL sold its stake in the early 2000s to the Aditya Birla group, triggering another takeover battle that ended with L&T selling its cement business to the group. Bajaj vs Bajaj In 2001, Kushagra Bajaj convinced his father Shishir Bajaj (left) to ask the Bajaj clan to transfer to them the two companies they managed, a sugar producer and a consumer products maker. The Bajajs, Shishir’s brother Rahul (right) as well as cousins Madhur, Shekhar and Niraj, initially demurred. They eventually agreed, but not before dirty linen had been washed in public.