The Marwaris by Thomas A Timberg, Gurcharan Das
Marwaris – the business community in India. Originating from the Marwar region of Rajasthan has been an enigma for business students across the world. These are traditional family based businesses, successful globally. They do not essentially follow the dictums of modern management principles. Remain within the family units. Pass on the baton from one generation to another. Letting the whole world wonder about the formula of their success.
Lately, a few books like this one and the Rokda – How Baniyas do business; have attempted to explore the reasons of success of Marwari family businesses. However, in my opinion they have all ended up documenting the known facts about these families. Being a Baniya myself, I am tempted to write a little more insider version of the stories. About what prepares the youngsters in the families to take up the business so naturally. When I was doing research for my book The Mouse Charmers, I did notice that at the helm of every successful new age company was a Baniya, Marwari or Gujarati.
This book is a good documentation of the Marwari families. Tracing their origins in various districts in current day Rajasthan and primarily in Shekhwati area of the state. They trace their journeys from this small region to across the country. And especially in the eastern parts where Marwaris prospered the most. In a typical British way of writing, there are names and dates wherever available and family trees – a chronicle of sorts.
Now the author has written an academic book by the same name about 40 years back. And he uses a lot of cut-paste technology and draws on a lot from that book.The topics jump from one to another. The references come up without any prelude. And you wonder if you heard that name and if those references are relevant for a lay reader.
In last 10-15 years, business writing in India has seen a surge. And authors have profiled a lot of businesses and businessmen. In Marwaris, there is no mention of them. It seems the author and editor just pruned the author’s earlier book.
Having said that couple of incidents mentioned in the book, made the time spent on the reading of the book worth it. One is when author describes his days in a guesthouse in Kolkata. When he heard a conversation between a Bengali and Marwari. Bengali not very happy with the Marwari’s success and predicted or may be wished that the Naxalites would soon kill Marwaris. To this, the Marwari coolly answered that ‘We would join them before they do it’. In a very anecdotal way, it summarizes the attitude of these business communities that have a way of merging seamlessly with the communities they operate in.
Another incident is between Birlas and Indira Gandhi. When she was the Prime Minister of India. She requested the Birlas to admit 2 students in BITS Pilani. Birlas refused but at the same time sought an appointment with the Prime Minister. They clearly informed her that they could not admit students on her recommendation. But they could create a PM quota of 5 seats that the PM is welcome to fill. Softly adding that “Madam, for these 5 seats you will have 5000 applicants”.
Mr.Birla impressed Indira Gandhi. I am not sure what happened on that issue but am sure Mr. Birla used this opportunity to get a few things moving for his business with this meeting. This incident also brings out how they manage the outer environment without compromising the character or brand of their companies. I wish there were more such incidents, for anecdotes teach us far more than any facts, figures or analysis.
I also agreed with some quotes in the book, like this one from Aditya Birla – ‘I have nothing against MBAs…but the training that is given is better suited for multi-nationals. Business institutes, unfortunately, have a bias for sales…. their whole culture is westernized so they do not really fit the Indian Culture.’
Business students can read this small book with just about 150 pages.
This book is a part of Story of Indian Business series edited by Gurcharan Das. Other books in this series include:
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