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Murugappa family feud: Won’t shy away from battling in court, says Valli Arunachalam

Murugappa family feud: Won’t shy away from battling in court, says Valli Arunachalam

By Jude Sannith  Sept 22, 2020 7:22:40 PM IST (Updated)

Valli Arunachalam, the fourth-generation Murugappa Group heir, has hit out at the rest of the family for continuing to deny her and her sister a board position at the group’s holding company Ambadi Investments Limited (AIL).

Valli Arunachalam, the fourth-generation Murugappa Group heir, has hit out at the rest of the family for continuing to deny her and her sister a board position at the group’s holding company Ambadi Investments Limited (AIL). In a strongly-worded statement released on Tuesday, Valli said she was “shocked” at the manner in which the Murugappa family had conducted itself.

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She reiterated that the family has been unwilling to settle her branch of the family’s shareholding in a fair manner, despite “multiple attempts” made to sell their stake to the rest of the company at “fair value”. Valli’s statement points out that her branch of the family comprising her mother, sister and herself have made several proposals to settle the feud including mediation, only to be met with a cold shoulder from the rest of the family.
AIL Board votes to keep Valli out
On Monday, Valli’s claim to a board position was put to vote at the annual general meeting (AGM) of Ambadi Investments Limited (AIL). However, 91 percent of the board voted against inducting the fourth-genration Murugappa scion to the board. “They have made clear their intent of continuing the oppressive and vexatious conduct against us,” Valli said, in her statement.
“It is evident that the family cannot tolerate women in their boardrooms, and they have showcased their considered view in this regard,” Valli added, hitting out at the gender bias at the highest levels of the Murugappa Group. “It is very unfortunate that the AIL shareholders, the overwhelming majority of whom are also board members, are not able to understand what contributions women can make on the board.”
'Male heirs preferred in place of more qualified female heirs'
Continuing to attack the alleged gender bias within the family, Valli questioned the logic behind the board’s reluctance to grant her a board position, despite her impressive academic and workplace credentials. She attacked the company’s willingness to let apparently less-deserving male heirs sit at the board even as her family was denied a position.
“A female heir with a doctorate degree, 24 years work experience in fortune 500 multinational companies, and numerous patents and publications to her name cannot be inducted to the board, even three years after her father’s death, despite being representative of the same shareholding, whilst a 23-year old male heir with a master’s degree and no job experience can be inducted to the board soon after his father’s passing,” Valli pointed out in her statement, which also invoked Late US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s quote: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
'Won't shy away from courts'
Valli’s statement ended reiterating that she would seek out justice, and hinted that she would be forced to look at legal avenues to settle her claim. “It was always our wish that the family issues remain within and are settled at the family level, but clearly it seems the family is more concerned about protecting its draconian perspectives and practices, even if it means forcing us to take the battle to courts. We will not shy away this time.”
Trouble within the Murugappa family has been brewing since 2017 when former chairman MV Murugappan died, leaving no male heirs. Since founding in 1900, the Murugappa Group has held firm to one patriarchal family tradition: only male members have occupied positions on the board. Murugppan’s daughter — and great-granddaughter of the group’s founder Dewan Bahadur A M Murugappa Chettiar — Valli Arunachalam has been waging a lone battle to change the tradition.
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