As longstanding Marcellus clients would know, the longevity of successful businesses is a subject which is of great importance for us because it is the stockmarket’s underestimation of this which allows us to identify to great companies which are being undervalued by the market. Outlook Business recently published a thought provoking article on this subject. Did you know that not only are a handful of India’s best known companies over 100 years old, such companies are very different from your usual companies who hang around only for a few decades? As Rajat Mishra explains in this insightful article, “Building a company is difficult anywhere in the world. Nurturing it for over a 100-years take a combination of a philosophy of growth, astute understanding of headwinds and the determination to survive the deadliest of down cycles.”
Here is Mr Mishra’s fascinating list of 17 prominent Indian companies who have been around for a century or more (the brackets indicate the year in which they were founded): Delhi – Hamdard (1906); Kanpur – JK Organisation (1921); Kolkata – ITC (1910), Britannia (1918), The Birlas (1919), Berger Paints (1923); Jameshedpur – Tata Steel (1927); Madurai – TVS (1911); Thrissur – Catholic Syrian Bank (1920); Mysore – The Bangalore Press (1916), Tata Coffee (1922); Khopoli – Tata Power (1915); Baroda – Bank of Baroda (1908); Mumbai – Central Bank of India (1912), Hinduja Group (1914), and New India Assurance (1919).
So how are 100-year old companies different? Vicky TenHaken of Hope College, Michigan, USA says that “My observation is that old companies successfully strike a delicate balance between tradition and change, honouring the past. They believe that they have something unique. They stay invested not only to protect it but also to build it further.”
As you would expect, the Tata Group has been a major case study for those interested in understand the longevity of Indian businesses. Mr Mishra writes, “Many attribute the success of the group to its employee friendly policies and its long term vision. Five years before TISCO, Asia’s first integrated private steel company, which was renamed as Tata Steel, was founded in 1907, group founder Jamsetji Tata wrote to his son Dorabji about his vision for a planned city with all amenities for employees. We know it today as Jamshedpur.
The most striking feature of the Tata Group is its adherence over the generations to the values and culture set by Jamsetji, say analysts. LRK Krishnan, professor of management at the Vellore Institute of Business, Chennai…according to him when the employee-value proposition – benefits given in return for skills, experience and commitment to the company – is provided, employees are willing to go beyond the call of duty. “The value added incrementally by the employers is far greater in companies which stay relevant for 100 years. These are companies where the employee engagement score is very high, leading to higher customer satisfaction,” he explains.”
Another intriguing aspect of how 100-year old companies endure is their ability to navigate the political environment. Mr Mishra writes, “The way India’s early banias manoeuvred the courts of Indian princes and the offices of the East India Company and then put their might behind the Indian national movement has not changed much as the post-Independence industry captains are made to tack their boats according to political downwinds.
Businesses want to be seen with the government of the day not just to keep its agencies away, but they actively seek direct benefits from it. Subhash Chandra Garg, who retired as Union Finance Secretary in 2019, says that governments have many levers through which they influence the business decisions of corporations. “The government has an enormous fiscal expenditure programme and a large capital expenditure programme in roadways, railways, transportation, etc. Government endorsement can help companies benefit from that,” he says.
He goes to the extent of saying that governments play a leading role in deciding the fortune of companies….”
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Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor financial advice. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this publication in any shape or form. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services. Marcellus Investment Managers is also regulated in the United States as an Investment Advisor.
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