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The Harsh Reality of being a Next-Gen Entrepreneur

By Nirupa Shankar

Can a “second generation” or “next gen entrepreneur” really be called an “entrepreneur”? Can you truly be an entrepreneur if you didn’t start the business? Are you qualified to be in the position you have been given? I’ve had to spend the better part of my career defending the “entrepreneur” title and justifying my seat at the table. While I have been working in the family business for almost a decade, I still haven’t been granted a “board seat” in the company because it doesn’t come by default. The notion that any senior management role can be taken for granted has long since vanished from my thoughts.

Brigade is a 31-year-old company, almost as old as me, started by my father, M.R. Jaishankar. While the company has been a public listed company since 2007, a majority of the shares are still held by the family. However, while it is often referred to as a “family business”, it is professionally run with CEOs for each of the business verticals along with COOs and CFOs and other qualified professionals in all key managerial roles. Since there is a lot of scope and scale to grow, the second generation is learning the ropes of the business and will only be given the reins of the company after a trial by fire.

During my time at Brigade thus far, I’ve learnt a few harsh realities along the way. The foremost of which is:

What Do You Bring to the Table?

Gone are the days of the silver spoon. If one is not able to add value to a discussion or a transaction, people will not pay much attention to you. It doesn’t matter whose son / daughter you are. You become irrelevant and what’s more – ignored! Over time, no one will care about your opinion unless you are able to add value to solve the issue at hand.

Perform or Make Way

The real estate industry was hit with three tsunamis – Demonetisation, RERA and the implementation of GST – over the last two years. While the initiatives were welcome, they affected the sentiments of market and buyers by making them more cautious. Due to this “wait and watch” stance taken by buyers, business was affected and sales slowed down. Many smaller players even decided to shut shop due to the tough market conditions. In these trying times, companies need to take a long hard look at their operating efficiencies and carefully remove the dead weight from the company. The more senior your role is in the company, the more weight you add to the organisation and if you are not able to lift yourself and the people around you, then you might as well make room for someone who can. Whether you are a promoter / entrepreneur or manager, in tough times, one has to either “perform or move out” for the greater good of the organisation.

Know and Share the WHY

Top down directives do not work anymore. You need to get a “buy-in” from your team – the people who will actually implement the things you tell them to. Staff want to know the “WHY” and not just the “WHAT” and the “HOW.” At Brigade, anyone, be it an intern or a management trainee is free to speak up and question a CEO or even our Chairman on a directive, and put up a differing point of view. Millennials want to know why a certain strategy is being adopted and they are not afraid to question anyone if they do not see logic in what is being presented. I cannot say “do it, because I said so” any more. I often have to enter with a “convince or be convinced” attitude for a meeting with my team. Since 80 per cent of management is the management of people, unless you are able to get your team to rally behind you, see the bigger picture and understand the why of a strategy; implementation and execution will meet many road blocks. Management now has to be collaborative. Gone are the days when a directive from the owner will result in action just because one is the owner. The team needs to understand in order to respect and implement decisions.

The Grind is required before the Glory

No job, not even your dream job is fun at all times. Usually we all see only the surface – the glory that comes with success – there has to be the daily grind of doing the hard work and the boring work that comes along with becoming an expert in one’s domain. While first-generation entrepreneurs have that natural fire in the belly to grow and expand their business, it is harder for the second generation and next generations to sustain the same passion and fire. Understanding and appreciating the nitty-gritties of a business come naturally to the founders as they have seen the business grow from scratch, it is up to the next generation to roll up their sleeves and understand all aspects of the business in a hands on manner for the wellbeing and protection of the organisation.

My own thoughts on family run businesses is this – Each of us have our strengths and we need to play to these strengths. I’m a firm believer of focusing on improving one’s strengths while minimizing the impact of one’s weaknesses. Not all of us can fill the shoes of the founder. What is required to get from point A to point B is different from what is required to get to from Point B to Point C. While next generation entrepreneurs are given great platforms to begin with, what they do with that platform is entirely up to them. One thing is for certain – nothing can be taken for granted. The benefits of Entitlement are short lived.

Nirupa Shankar is Director, Brigade Hospitality Services Limited/ Director, Brigade Real Estate Accelerator Program & VP-Business Development, Brigade Enterprise Limited’

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