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By Tara Ollapally, June 3, 2024

Harmonising family business dynamics: The role of mediation in sibling rivalry

The ongoing dispute between Baba Kalyani and his sister Sugandha, of the prominent Kalyani Group in India, highlights the complexities and repercussions of such conflicts

By Sougata Ray, Tara Ollapally, Nupur Pavan Bang

Sibling rivalries within family businesses have historically posed significant challenges, often leading to adverse outcomes for these enterprises. The ongoing dispute between Baba Kalyani and his sister Sugandha, of the prominent Kalyani Group in India, highlights the complexities and repercussions of such conflicts. This case mirrors the damaging effects witnessed in other renowned family businesses globally, such as the Ambani brothers’ feud and the Rothschild brothers’ dispute in the 19th century, underscoring the pervasive nature of these challenges and their potential impact on business sustainability and growth. 

Moreover, countless family businesses have been entangled in protracted court battles, resulting in stagnation or downfall, due to sibling rivalries. In this context, mediation emerges as a compelling alternative, offering a structured, constructive, fast, and economic approach to resolving intra-family conflicts, thereby safeguarding the longevity and prosperity of these enterprises. This article explores the transformative power of mediation in resolving such conflicts, using a real-life case as a backdrop to illustrate its efficacy and process.

Sibling Rivalries: In family businesses, conflicts between siblings can simmer beneath the surface, exacerbated by competing visions and divergent paths. Many a times, the rivalries often stem from deeply ingrained dynamics forged during childhood or formative years, which resurface when challenges arise in adulthood, particularly during discussions surrounding succession, inheritance, or leadership responsibilities within the family enterprise. These conflicts are exacerbated by a myriad of factors, including disparate personalities, ambitions, perceptions of fairness among siblings, and unequal roles, responsibilities. 

Additionally, competition for control, recognition, or individual legacies within the business context further fuels discord among siblings. Generational transitions and divergent visions for the future direction of the enterprise also contribute to clashes over strategic decisions and succession planning. 

Take, for instance, the case of a successful automobile parts manufacturing business led by two brothers, each with distinct roles and aspirations. Tensions escalated during discussions on business expansion, culminating in a grave altercation where the older brother inflicted severe injury upon the younger. Legal proceedings ensued, charging the older brother with “Attempt to Murder” under Sec 307 of the Indian Penal Code.

Understanding the Dynamics: Delving deeper into the roots of the conflict unveils a narrative shaped by patriarchal influences and familial expectations. The father, a revered figure in the industry, imposed his aspirations upon his sons from an early age. While the older brother adhered to the path laid out for him, the younger pursued higher education and personal aspirations. Eventually, the younger brother returned and joined the family business. Soon, disagreements over business strategies and asset ownership started to surface between the siblings, threatening both familial bonds and business stability. Legal proceedings followed.

The Role of Mediation: Amidst the legal proceedings, the court recognised the scope for resolution in this deeply personal dispute and referred the case to mediation. Here, the mediator embarked on a journey to unravel the intricacies of the brothers’ relationship and unearth the underlying emotions fueling the conflict. The older brother’s feeling of entitlement to the larger share was driven by a strong sense of ‘giving up’ earlier to comply with the father’s wishes. By fostering empathy and compassion the mediator was able to help the younger brother see his older brother’s struggle and invoke his own higher wisdom.  The mediator facilitated transformative dialogue, transcending legal entanglements, and preserving familial bonds.

Key Learnings from the Mediation Process: The process allows the participation of other key members. This brought greater understanding of the emotional and mental landscape of the two brothers as well as the dynamic between them. Insights gleaned by the mediator through numerous conversations helped the brothers see their realities more effectively, which was critical for informed decision making. The mediator’s ability to connect with the parties on a human level paved the way for reconciliation. By delving into the parties’ emotional landscapes and fostering empathy, the mediator transformed the conflict into an opportunity for healing and growth.

Implications for Family Businesses: Family business disputes are as driven by the emotional experience of the family members as the financial and professional pulls of the business. The case study serves as a testament to the transformative power of mediation in harmonizing family business dynamics. The ability of the process to focus on resolution over legal victory allowed the brothers to not only preserve the legacy of their ancestral enterprise but also reaffirmed the bonds of kinship. This highlights the importance of proactive conflict resolution strategies in fostering sustainable business continuity and nurturing harmonious relationships for generations to come.

In conclusion, mediation is an alternative way of navigating sibling rivalries within family businesses. Mediation offers a transformative path towards resolution, transcending legal entanglements and preserving familial bonds. As family businesses continue to grapple with conflicts, embracing mediation as a proactive conflict resolution strategy can pave the way for healing, growth, and harmonious coexistence.

Sougata Ray and Nupur Pavan Bang are from the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business; Tara Ollapally is Co-founder CAMP Arbitration & Mediation Practice.

(Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of taraollapally.com. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.)

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