Taking the mantle of the family “shop”

Business is a family affair where I come from. We are of the baniya caste; baniyas are just 1-2% of the Indian population but make up about half or more of India’s wealthiest – both in the old industrial guard and in the ranks of new-age startup titans (Indians in the US and in India). Agarwals, Guptas, Mittals, Goyals, Ambanis, Bansals, etc – all are baniyas.

This concentration and adaptation is no coincidence. Baniyas are inherently trained by our family culture how to do business – how to strike off on our own, how to take and mitigate risks, how to value and build relationships as the cornerstone of business, how to dream of and sell big visions, how to reinvent oneself with the changing winds, etc. We don’t work for others, we are not profligate, and we don’t stop getting hungry.

My mother’s side has been engaged in small-scale sugar trading for several generations. As a child, I spent a lot of time visiting the family home and I would sit next to my great grandfather and then my grandfather as they tended the shop. I learned many lessons from them and from my mother’s stories of growing up in this setting. Although sugar trading is about as different of a business as it gets (and is essentially finished as a viable play), the principles are the same! For example, many baniya families have now realized the importance of engineering education, which is why so many of the large startups in this generation have been founded by baniyas educated at IIT or the like.

Perhaps I will reflect on these familial principles in greater detail in a future post; sitting in my late grandfather’s chair yesterday, with my young cousin next to me, made me truly feel like the baton had passed to the next generation. I struck off on my own early (in large part because it felt culturally imperative to do so) and I started with essentially nothing, but I had the huge benefit of these principles and familial context. Time to use them to go for the next level!