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The insider who became an outsider

Sambit Saha & Ishita Ayan Dutt | July 19, 2004

Today, he is disparagingly known as "the outsider" by the Birla family. But till last week, Rajendra S Lodha's credentials as a leading chartered accountant were acknowledged by more members of the family than just Priyamvada Birla.

In fact, Lodha's elevation in the Birla family is owed to Aditya Vikram Birla, arguably the most successful of G D Birla's grandsons.

It was Aditya Birla who spotted Lodha's potential and shrewd business acumen. So much so that Lodha acted as financial advisor to several Aditya Birla companies and helped improve their cash management.

Birla vs Lodha: War over a will

He was also involved in the growth of the Aditya Birla group companies overseas, owing to his formidable expertise in foreign exchange matters. When Kumar Mangalam Birla took charge of the A V Birla Group after his father died, he brought in his own team.

Lodha's rise in the M P Birla group, helped by his professional acumen, took place when the late Madhav Prasad, Priyamvada Birla's husband, was alive. His stature in the Rs 5,000-crore (Rs 50-billion) group was strengthened after Madhav Birla's death in 1990, and more so since 1998-99.

For most of the employee and executives of the group, he represented the wish and will of the Birla family, in this case Priyamvada Birla. Indeed, though Priyamvada Birla's will allegedly "surprised and shocked" the Birla family, it was not so for most in the corporate corridors of Kolkata.

For the past five years, Priyamvada Birla had handed over the reins of the companies to Lodha and trusted him completely. Not surprisingly, Lodha would refer to her as Badi Ma.

As one of the top officials of Birla Corporation put it, there is no change: "I used to take approvals previously from the chairperson and co-chairman (Priyamvada Birla and R S Lodha) on any proposal, now it will be referred only to Lodha."

Lodha's outward amiability is said to mask a determined nature. That is why colleagues in the same profession as Lodha feel that the Birlas may be one of the country's foremost business families, but the battle against Lodha will be tough.

"Though he comes from Kolkata, Lodha has won many friends with considerable influence in the corridors of power in Delhi. Be rest assured that he will be no pushover and the battle with the Birlas will be worth watching," a Lodha acquaintance pointed out.

Lodha has two sons -- Harsh and Aditya. Of these, Aditya, also a chartered accountant by profession, seemed to be following his father's footstep when he became ICC president two years ago.

He is founder and partner of Lodha & Co which is the Indian member-firm of BDO International, the fifth largest international accounting firm (annual billings: $ 2.6 billion) and chairman of BDO Lodha (P) Ltd.

Lodha has been a pioneer in acting as advisor to prestigious GDR/Euro issues in excess of $ 1 billion for several Indian corporates and has personally supervised the statutory audit of inter alia Reserve Bank of India, Life Insurance Corporation, Inadian Oil Corp, ICICI, Oil and Natural Gas corporation, Steel Authority of India, IFCI.

Nor is he an outsider in the realms of officialdom. He currently serves on the boards of National Securities Depository Ltd, Indian Petrochemicals Corporation, UTI Securities Ltd and PNB Gilts Ltd.

That apart, he is also on the Securities and Exchange Board of India's committees on the takeover code review, corporate governance and on disclosure in offer documents.

He is also a member of the Tariff Advisory Committee. For the former president of FICCI in its Platinum Jubilee year and of Kolkata's ICC, the backing of the Birlas which helped him to many of these posts has suddenly turned into something a lot less pleasant.

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