Atul Nishar, the Founder & Chairman of Hexaware Technologies, is a well-known IT leader in India who has contributed in promoting Indian software capabilities across the globe. He has also successfully promoted and managed IT companies that have become global enterprises. He is also the President of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) Mumbai.
Under his leadership, Hexaware Technologies has grown into a global software and BPO services corporation, with a market cap of US$ 2 b.
A serial entrepreneur by nature, Atul founded Aptech Limited, a computer education company, in 1985. He grew Aptech into a leading global IT training outfit with over 1000 centres across 40 countries.
An active and known figure of the Indian IT industry, he was the Chairman of National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) in 2000 and he continues to be on the executive council of NASSCOM.
FAB Editor – in – chief Sonu Bhasin met Atul Nishar in Mumbai to get a sense of the way forward for Indian family businesses.
Your lessons in entrepreneurships started early in life. What are the learnings that have stayed with you through the years?
Atul Nishar: The very first lesson I learnt, and to Quote Socrates was “The only thing I know is that I know nothing at all”. The lesson is to be humble and approach each matter with an attitude to learn. The second learning is not to speculate, invest your money, not just gamble. Third, effective execution is critical. A business is as good as the management team it has. Fourth lesson is that it is always better to choose a business that is scalable.
Promoters often face a dilemma on whether or not to sell their business. Did you have a conversation with yourself? What was the thought process behind divesting your business?
Atul Nishar: It is not easy to exit from a business which you have built with a lot of hard work and passion. I am proud of the way Hexaware has grown and has built value for its shareholders, clients and employees. After running the business for 23 years, day in and day out, I wanted to take a break and do different things in life. Therefore, I decided to put the business in the hands of a PE fund that can continue to grow the business.
Should a start-up always remain an entrepreneurial promoter driven entity, or should it transition into a professional one?
Atul Nishar: For several years a start-up would need entrepreneurial spirit and risk taking ability of the promoter. But with the scaling up of the operation, the entity has to transition into a professional set up. Only then can it scale up.
We see many inheritors choosing to go the start-up way instead of following their fathers. Capital however comes from the family. How can the patriarch balance his own expectations versus that of his progeny?
Now a days, well-educated children of Business families do not want to join the traditional business of the family. Instead they want to create a business on their own, It is better for the family to professionalize their management rather than expect children to join and run for them. Today’s start-ups offer great opportunities.
What stops the patriarchs from harnessing and channelizing the entrepreneurial spirit of the gen-next in their own businesses?
Atul Nishar: It depends on the nature of the business. If innovation and new technology can be introduced and if the business model can change to move with the times, the next generation would have an interest.
Do you see a difference between India and overseas entrepreneurial spirit in the family businesses? What do you attribute these to?
Atul Nishar: Today India is seeing a wave of entrepreneurship expressed in the form of start-ups. India being an emerging economy, offers opportunities that might not be so prevalent in the developed world.
Entrepreneurship, in the minds of most people, is associated with younger people. Why do you think is this so? Why not with the older, more experienced people who may actually make it a success? Is there a formula to ensure that an investor in a start-up stays as a mentor and doesn’t end up overwhelming the start-up?
Atul Nishar: Entrepreneurship is not age related. Experience is very valuable. Ray Kroc started McDonald’s at the age of 50. No matter what the age, just that one should have the energy and mind set to start a new venture.
Good investors only stay as mentors and do not interfere with the management.
What about the fact that often the next generation in the family is not willing to join the reins of what you begin. What do you do then?
Atul Nishar: While running family office, the children should be encouraged to invest in start-ups since it is a huge learning. The ideas, sprit and energy of the start-up brings with it the whole disruptive model of business giving the children great exposure and is also a win – win for both.
The purpose of family business is to create value for stakeholders (includes family), clients and employees. In India, promoters are unwilling to exit the family business since there is an over association with the business. If the next generation is not keen, and the value addition stops, then it makes sense for the promoter to exit and allow someone else to carry on with the business.
How does a family business owner know that it is that right time to start a Family Office?
Atul Nishar: There is no right time. If you have the liquidity, then one should start immediately and at the earliest. One should keep in mind the power of compounding. Also, early investing gives a profession approach to one’s investments. This will enable you to have clearly defined goals and a long-term approach. Lot of families focus only on the main business, but if one simultaneously focuses on investing wisely and smartly then the pressure to earn out of main business is reduced.
Several promoters are busy managing their own businesses. And they feel a family office is the way to outsource money management to a group of professionals. Is that the right approach? And what is your own approach? Why did you choose that?
Atul Nishar: The promoter should spend time in a family office just like he does in his other businesses. No difference here.
In my case, we have a CEO for family office, but I am actively involved in decision making. I believe that works better.
In India the family office concept is still in its infancy. Do you think that the erstwhile HUF model was a kind of a family office?
Atul Nishar: Family office is to professionally manage family’s surplus funds with a certain set objective, defined risk profile and asset distribution. This is different than the HUF model.
In your opinion, can a family office structure also ensure continuity in the family business? Or are the two mutually exclusive?
Atul Nishar: Family businesses can be put under the structure of a trust which will ensure long term continuity of management and the trust can be overseen by the family office. This would avoid risk of inheritance tax and disputes among legal heirs.
Entrepreneurship is not age related. Experience is very valuable. Ray Kroc started McDonald’s at the age of 50
Good investors only stay as mentors and do not interfere with the management
The objective of a family office is to professionally manage family’s surplus funds with a certain set objective, defined risk profile and asset distribution
The ideas, sprit and energy of the start-up brings with it the whole disruptive model of business
While running a family office the children should be encouraged to invest in start-ups