Wordsmith Casebook :: A Small Business Nightmare in Calcutta


A father bequeathed an established business to his only son with the intention and hope that the son would take this forward. It was something of immense value delivered on a plate. The business was a chartered accountancy firm. The son was formally trained in the UK, funded by his father. The business was not doing well.  The son claimed that he was working hard, the father was semi-retired, staff were leaving and so were old clients and on-boarding of new clients was next to nothing. It was difficult to know what was happening to a 35 year old business. The father contacted me ( one of his trusted colleagues read the blog and asked him to contact me) and I entered with the role of an investigator – pro bono.  The bargain was to get an unbiased opinion for them and for me,  an attempt to investigate the reasons for the decline and if possible, help the owner(s) to help themselves.

First Investigative Measures

  • Interviewing the son, I had figured out that the Leadership was thrust on him. He wanted to work for few years in the UK but since his father bankrolled him, he had no option but to return and work for the family business. He did not dislike it but he did not like it either. On top, he was finding his father not letting him go. A classic conflict of generations where both sides are right, while seen from their own perspective. But it was not right from business perspective.
  • The son had also acquired the bad habit of “vanity projects”, generally contracted by those who get things on a silver plate. He never thought seriously of putting his training into practice and so instead of being empowered by the training, he was a victim of it.
  • The family had borrowed heavily to fund some of the projects of the son and the father obliged, partly because of love for the son and if the business fails, they would lose their house in one of the prime locations of South Calcutta.

Meeting Clients – existing and those who had taken their business away 

  • Most of the existing clients were old firms and businesses and they have common problems like their accounting firms. Birds of the same feather flock together.
  • The clients who had left told me that they had found that the firm had no focus and the new Leadership neither gave them the efficiency of the new nor the charm and elegance of the old. Damned.

Meeting Staff – who are working and those who left 

  • Leadership was the problem. The son wanted the lifestyle of an established business leader but since he did not earn it, staff did not respect him and that created anger in his small and pompous mind. More staff left.
  • The staff complained that the new Leader was surrounded by many consultants and mentors and he parroted what they told but was not able to demonstrate as how they would achieve this as a Team. Classic victim of contemporary dubious mentoring business.

Final De-briefing meeting with the Owners

The business is committing suicide and there is no homicide. It is 100% internal and 0% external. Clients who are still there are here because of habit and also because they cannot afford anything better – so need to be cheerful about. Moreover, these clients are also not growing. So, new clients should be on-boarded.

That means the reputation must change – new leadership should earn market’s and client’s trust and that means to ask them what they want. To be out of the clutches all mentors and consultants and go and ask the clients what the business lacks. They will be happy to tell.

I had told the father, in front of his son (not married, 29 years old) not to invest any further money into the business, keep money and a place for his old days and leave the reins completely to the son – with the asset and the liabilities. He should enjoy his hard-earned retirement and should give his opinion, only when consulted to.

Latest Report

  • The father had moved to a flat near his home / office with his wife and staying there.
  • The son had re-structured the business and the debt and is working 120 hours a week and thus no time for coffee/lunch breaks with consultants and mentors.
  • On boarding new customers and prospects, many of his own generation is busting his balls and he has broken off with his girl-friend
  • He eats his lunch with his staff in the office rather than earlier going to his home upstairs for a mama’s boy lunch.



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