Family rift in Murugappa Group as woman heir fights for place in men-only board

Valli Arunachalam, one of the heirs of the former family patriarch M V Murugappan is fighting for a seat on the board of the group’s holding company that she inherited.
Family rift in Murugappa Group as woman heir fights for place in men-only board
Family rift in Murugappa Group as woman heir fights for place in men-only board
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A public spat is brewing at the 119-year-old Chennai-based conglomerate Murugappa Group, as the daughter of family patriarch late M V Murugappan, fights to become a member of the male-only board of the group’s holding company.

Valli Arunchalam, the older daughter of M V Murugappan is one of the inheritors of the 8.15% shareholding of M V Murugappan along with her mother and sister. The asset settlement dispute comes two years after the death of MV Murugappan.

Valli is now seeking a seat on the board of Ambadi Investments, a holding company of the Rs 37,000-crore group.

According to a Business Standard report, Valli had said that she discussed two options of inheritance with her uncle M V Subbiah and the current management of the company. Subbiah is currently the senior most member of the family and the family patriarch after Murugappan's passing. 

One option put forth by Valli was to give her a seat on the board of Ambadi, or that she exit the group by selling her stake to other family members at a fair market value. Both these options have reportedly been rejected by the group.

According to an Economic Times report, the seven branches of the Murugappa family own the promoter shareholding of Ambadi, all of which are represented on the board of the company. Given that her family owns 8.15% stake, now inherited by them, they should be given a seat at the board as well.

The seven branches referred to here are the seven cousins and silbings of the fourth generation of the Murugappan family, who are currently navigating the group’s strategic direction and growth. While MV Subbiah, along with late MV Murugappan are from the third generation, Arun Alagappan, Arun Murugappan, A. Venkatachalam, Vellayan Subbiah, A Vellayan, MM Venkatachalam and MM Murugappan comprise the fourth generation of the Murugappan Family. Valli Arunachalam and her sister are also from the fourth generation. However, the company website only lists the seven brothers/siblings.

As per the BS report, the board of Ambadi Investments has traditionally been reserved for male heirs of the family, something Valli is now fighting against.

“My father, in his will, bequeathed everything to me, my younger sister and my mother, and clearly stated his wish to give us equal rights and to represent our branch in the family business,” Valli told ET.

Valli told the media that the fight is not only for her rightful share, but also against the biases women face. A nuclear engineer by qualification and a technology consultant by profession, Valli’s demand is that female heirs should be given the same importance and rights as male heirs.

“In this lone battle for equal rights for women in the boardroom, I hope this will have some impact in making the journey easier for other women who are treated unfairly and not given the opportunities they deserve,” she told Business Standard.

Valli reportedly first approached other family members after MV Murugappan’s death, asking them to appoint her or her younger sister to the board of Ambadi and hence honour her father’s wish. It's been two years since they have been fighting for their rights, but to no avail.

She told ET that the family and the company’s approach towards the issue has been very vague. While the issue of giving her a seat on the board came up at Ambadi’s board meeting in November 2019, no decision was taken.

According to Valli, while there are different ways to deal with the issue, there is no intent on their part.

While she hopes for a settlement soon, Valli told BS that if the issue is not resolved amicably, she may have to adopt other available means.

The Murugappa Group has over two dozen companies, including nine listed companies. These include Cholamandalam Investment & Finance, Coromandel International, Tube Investments of India, Carborundum Universal, and EID Parry (India).

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