Review: Ultimate Family Business Survival Guide by Priyanka Gupta Zielinski
Caring for customers, leading low-key lifestyles, and helping employees’ families meet their educational aspirations are among the initiatives that help build family businesses
When I first received this book and glanced at the title I groaned, “Oh no! Another how-to book.” My spirits lifted only after I skipped the foreword by Sajjan Jindal of JSW Steel and turned to the first page. A few pages later I’m pleasantly shocked. The stilted title hides the book’s welcome flavour. This is a love story!
In her maiden work, young entrepreneur-by-inheritance Priyanka Gupta Zielinski candidly takes forward the theme of love on several separate platforms. Her Hissar, Haryana-born father Ashwani Gupta picked life up by the bootstraps to create steel structures and mining logistics businesses that are worth approximately US$ 200 million today. Priyanka adores dad not because of the money he’s made for the family but the values he has taught. That’s the storyline. The narrative is peppered with anecdotes, each bearing a moral to this end.
Caring for – rather than “loving” – each customer is one of numerous lessons for survival. The author once made gross errors in some very technical tensile strength calculations in a steel structure order. As they stood, the errors would cause a substantial loss.
Never hide or fudge anything, father taught her. We care for our clients. So be honest, trust them and if they know our product is best, they’ll trust us in return. He was right. The loss never happened.
Ashwani Gupta was educated at the University of Hard Knocks. He saved family expenses to afford Priyanka’s earning a masters degree in finance from New York University. Education, she learnt, is key to survival. Today, under Ashwani’s tutelage, Priyanka facilitates education till the last family member of each employee. And there are 1,200.
The book describes the lasting benefit of this policy. Loyalty is a prime factor. Employees’ children – even grandchildren – find priority employment opportunity. After all, proprietors of the family business know best their nextGen employees’ qualifications. The initial cost of providing this perquisite was high, but the long-term benefits for the family business are much higher, explains Priyanka. Another sure shot survival strategy.
There’s a unique in-house innovation in place in the business to secure employees’ loyalty. Priyanka writes that she has created a “Circle of Trust” in the company to recognize employees’ efforts and reward their loyalty. The criteria for selection to the Circle embody the fundamental qualities she values like efficiency, curiosity, growth, loyalty and ingenuity. Such recognition helps forge strong bonds across the workforce. To be a member of “Circle of Trust” is a badge of honour, and some of these individuals have have reached the highest leadership positions in the organization.
Techniques for survival in the big bad business world – work shrinkage due to pandemic is a freak example of how bad it can be – can’t really be taught in classrooms or mugged up from books. Still, Priyanka wrote this book to fulfill an urge to share her own survival lessons.
One of them is to always begin Client-Speak with the affirmative. New, old and prospective customers are miffed to hear “No” whether at the start or the end of the dialogue. The author has learnt to encourage her team “to just say Yes”, and then figure out how to make that “Yes” happen!
On the art of customer negotiation, she writes that her father has taught her to ask questions. “Answers will follow if you ask the right questions,” she says, adding, “I’m an eternal optimist.”
This sort of survival strategy might seem too hypothetical but I reckon life isn’t fun unless we try to untie its bundles of uncertainties.
The book does have some shortcomings. Why is it tailor-made to help running – or limping – family-owned businesses only? Surely there’s a huge audience of start-up hopefuls who could do with Priyanka’s survival tips?
One important issue hasn’t been touched on at all. When a family business thrives, as this one has, the cash box at home tinkles with the jingle of profits filling it up. A middle class family rises to become upper middle class and then slogs to be ultimately reckoned wealthy. How does the successful owner seamlessly weave his family into society without being laughed at as parvenu, an upstart or nouveau riche? There’s plenty of envy and jealousy out there.
The author writes that her father has left untouched the family’s essentially frugal lifestyle. Being frugal is poles apart from being miserly, she adds. The Guptas continue to fly economy class, still drive modest motor cars and shun haute couture. Don’t show off, runs father’s diktat.
None of all this is run of the mill, copy paste stuff. It’s a jolly hope that this author’s next work will be better.
Sujoy Gupta is corporate biographer and business analyst.