In her first-ever television appearance, Murugappa scion Valli Arunachalam left no stone unturned in lashing out at the explicit gender-bias in the Murugappa family, and the family-run board at Ambadi Investments Limited (AIL), the holding company of the Murugappa Group.
The last few days have seen Valli hit out against AIL’s refusal to grant her or her sister a place on the company’s all-male board and reluctance to buy out their 8.15 percent stake at “fair price”. Valli’s father MV Murugappan passed away in 2017, leaving no male heirs.
“They (the Murugappa family) have said that we are demanding (a position on the board) as a succession right, which is not true. We asked for it based on our shareholding. Then they said we don’t have insights into the running of the company business. Well, we have never been given the opportunity,” said Valli in an exclusive chat with the CNBC-TV18 managing editor, Shereen Bhan, before quipping, “I have a doctorate in nuclear engineering — I’m not radioactive; not yet.”
Valli said that her fight for the last couple of years is for all women fighting patriarchy in the corporate world: “I’m not the only woman going through this. It’s high time we start a public debate about this and take action now.”
The Murugappa scion’s claim seems to hold legal high ground since AIL’s articles of association do not discriminate based on gender — the company’s traditional all-male board notwithstanding. “The current executive chairman of the group, MM Murugappan, came on the board of Ambadi three months after his father’s passing at the age of 23,” said Valli drawing light to AIL’s inherent gender bias, “So, the excuses they have given us do not hold ground because it’s okay for male heirs to be inducted to the board without requisite training in the companies, while qualified females cannot be inducted to the board. It does not make sense. This is gender bias”
A great deal of Valli’s anger is directed not only at the family’s well-known patriarchal practices but its unabashed flaunting of this stance. “It is no secret that some male members of the family have made statements in public forums that they keep their women out of the business,” she pointed out, “I think that for corporate leaders to make such insensitive statements is a blow for working women and millions of women who are working every day trying to balance the home and work front.”
With no communication between Valli and the other seven branches of the Murugappa family for months now on her request to buy her stake in AIL, the Murugappa scion says the only amicable settlement that she sees fit is a place on the board, for either her or her sister.
"A board seat is an amicable settlement, and I think it’s only fair,” she said, also adding that although she would not want to take the legal route to resolve the feud, it could well come to that should the incommunicado remain: “I would have no other option but to explore other means. I hope it won’t come to that."
Earlier, Murugappa Group chairman MM Murugappan wrote to employees of the group's companies assuring them that AIL would handle Valli's claims "in line with standards of good governance" while taking subtle exception to the latter's decision to speak to the media.
"You may have read an article in some business newspapers today, quoting Mrs Valli Varunachalam, one of the daughters of late MV Murugappan, about demands she has made in respect of her shareholding in Ambadi Investments Ltd (AIL), a holding company of the Murugappa Group," the statement read, "While the Murugappa family and the board of AIL are handling this matter, it is unfortunate that Mrs Arunachalam has taken recourse to the press."
Neither the Murugappa Group nor AIL has issued a public or a press statement, yet. CNBC-TV18's continued requests for a statement have not been responded to.