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Nepotism = Momma’s Boy / Capability

By: Rajesh Oza Email By: Rajesh Oza
July 2010
Nepotism = Momma’s Boy / Capability Dear PMG:

My mom’s a Certified Public Accountant who, for decades, has run a thriving practice. Her dad was a CPA in the USA, and a Chartered Accountant in India. And his father, too, was a CA in India. I studied accounting in college, and after receiving my MBA, I joined a public accounting firm where I was promoted to the partner level. Now contemplating retirement, Mom has been encouraging me to take over the helm at her firm.

It seems to me that nepotism is a fundamental part of Indian life but out of place in the modern world of free markets. Indeed, in the postmodern world that this column promotes, I would think that nepotism constrains not only merit, but also free choice. As such, I’m contemplating saying no to my mother.

Dear Friend,

“Almost every page of the Gita advises us not to make a distinction between our own people and others. How is this to be done? Reflection will lead us to the conclusion that we should perform all our acts in a spirit of non-attachment.” (M. K. Gandhi).

Yes, Abhishek has Amitabh and Jaya, Anil and Mukesh had Dhirubhai, and Rahul has Sonia who had Rajiv who had Indira who had Jawaharlal who had Motilal?. Nepotism is as Indian as the tricolor. It also seems to be wrapped up in the American red, white, and blue, as evidenced by the Kennedy clan and the Bush dynasty. But does that make it true in the Gandhian sense of seeking truth?

Your field of endeavor is a noble one. Unlike family life, accounting is founded on ethical non-attachment. Indeed, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has a website dedicated to a Code of Professional Conduct from which I’ve unearthed this gem: “Integrity also requires a member to observe the principles of objectivity and independence and of due care.” While my search for “family” yielded countless pages at the AICPA site, there was not a single result associated with a query on “nepotism.” This suggests to me that there is nothing inherently unethical in the concept of a family business, but that undue favoritism is not in the public good.

In regards to your situation, perhaps you can use the simple arithmetic formula of Nepotism = Momma’s Boy / Capability. If you will be perceived by colleagues or clients as a Momma’s Boy with limited capability, you can be sure that the charge of nepotism will stick. If, however, your considerable education and experience qualifies you to take over a firm led by a high-integrity leader who happens to be your mother, I imagine that most (though perhaps not all) stakeholders will celebrate a succession planning process that will enable continued success for all.

Parents, who, naturally, want their children to succeed, would do well to heed the following guidance from Gandhiji: “The real property that a parent can transmit to all equally is his or her character and educational facilities. Parents should seek to make their sons and daughters self-reliant.”

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