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Apollo's succession plan: Rotating chairmanship for the four Reddy sisters

Executive Vice Chairperson Shobana Kamineni admits the approach works as Apollo Hospitals is multi-dimensional.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Apr 19, 2018, 09.03 AM IST
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Succession in Indian business families can often be a prickly subject. The Reddys of Apollo Hospitals have a unique solution: rotating chairmanship.

Apollo’s founder, Dr Prathap Reddy, has put in place a mode that allows each of his four daughters, Preetha, Suneeta, Shobana and Sangita, take turns at the helm. This is, of course, in addition to clearly demarcated roles within the business. Preetha manages the hospitals, Suneeta the finance, Shobana the pharmacies and insurance business, and Sangita is in charge of IT initiatives.

Ahead of her talk on breaking through the boy’s club at a women’s forum in Mumbai, Shobana Kamineni spoke with ETPanache about taking turns being at the top, avoiding conflict, and dealing with mansplainers while building a business.

Rotating chairmanship
“We saw ourselves in a unique position of being the only health player in the world that owned every bit of health care,” Kamineni, executive V-C, Apollo Hospitals, said. “So, we said that when you have this multiplicity and all of us are running [parts of] it, we have to be interdependent. The whole thing stems from there.”

Apollo's succession plan: Rotating chairmanship for the four Reddy sisters
Between the sisters, no one is first among equals, she feels. Perhaps Preetha, by virtue of being the oldest. “But when it’s professional, each one of us is running a P&L that is fairly large and important to Apollo. When one is the head, the others support and play that interdependent role. The collaborative approach, we felt, would make our organisation a lot richer and keep these pieces together.”

She admits the approach works as the company is multi-dimensional. “I don’t know how that would work if we were a uni-dimensional company.”

Maintaining bonds
The sisters, despite being separated by geographies and time zones at times, remain close.

Technology has helped. “We speak pretty much every day. The best thing is messaging apps. We have a group which we allow our kids into; a working women one, a sisters only and one which dad is part of. He thinks he’s a part of all of them,” Kamineni said with a laugh.

On a more serious note, she added that a lot of credit for keeping the bond strong went to their parents, especially their mother. “For them, there is an emotional responsibility and respect to stay together. When you are siblings, you look at disputes with the point that I have to resolve it. You can’t wish away your siblings. They will always be there. So, when you have a perpetual relationship, you design your work and responsibility keeping that perspective in mind,” Kamineni said.

Apollo's succession plan: Rotating chairmanship for the four Reddy sisters
L-R: Shobana Kamineni,Pinky Reddy and Amala Akkineni (Image: BCCL)

Managing gen-next
Between the four sisters, there are 10 gen-next candidates. Not all work with the business full-time, since many have opted out voluntarily. “By the time I was 26, I built three Apollos. I had a real founder mentality,” said Kamineni. “We built it [the business] ground up. So my sisters and I really didn’t have a choice. We were in it. In the next-gen, some of them think that healthcare is not big enough for their aspirations. Each one wants to be a Dr Reddy. And that’s good. You must have the what-can-we-do-that-will-make-a-difference attitude.”

Only one has followed in the grandfather’s footsteps, opting for medicine. “The youngest grandchild, Sangita’s third child, is studying to be a doctor in England,” she added.

Succession plan
Just before she dashes off to deliver her speech, Kamineni answers one last question. Would the succession story of the Reddy family have gone off differently if a brother was involved? Without skipping a beat, she said, “Easy, yes. Because there is nobody to challenge it. I give my parents credit for that. Maybe a brother would have been challenging, but it [the succession plan] would have happened either way.”.
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