BharatPe’s corporate governance battles are playing out on Twitter

BharatPe fired co-founder Madhuri Jain Grover yesterday (Feb. 23) over alleged “misappropriation of funds“. The fintech company said she had funded personal beauty treatments, electronic items, and family trips to the US and Dubai with company money.

Grover hit right back against BharatPe’s board almost immediately by opening a can of worms — not in the company office, not in court, but on Twitter.

The company’s former head of controls tweeted videos of drunken parties at the unicorn’s office in 2018, featuring co-founder Shashvat Nakrani, CEO Suhail Sameer, and her own husband Ashneer Grover.

In another set of tweets, she accused chairman Rajnish Kumar of forging a conspiracy with co-founder Bhavik Koladiya and leaking the governance review.

The corporate governance battle bleeding out of the boardroom, albeit shocking, is not beyond imagination.

A new social media world order for India Inc

“Social media has affected politics and society, so why not boardrooms,” Ankur Bisen, senior partner and head of consumer, food and retail at Technopak Advisors, told Quartz.

“It’s breaking barriers for a lot of things that would be discussed behind closed doors. There is a nuisance element of social media, but it’s also becoming an activism tool, enhancing standards and putting a certain kind of pressure on corp governance.”

Things coming in the public purview and drumming up interest on social media can be good, like in the case of NSE’s ex-chairman consulting a Himalayan yogi. It could turn out to be bad, too. But “to say it should not happen is just delaying the inevitable,” Bisen said.

Learning from BharatPe, companies could try to minimise damage by adding restrictions and liabilities in future, but to expect people to not speak up at all is not pragmatic.

In any case, when founders and investors take the battle out of the boardroom, they aren’t seeking a resolution. They’re looking to tip the sentiment in their favour.

“With so much negative publicity around the founders, a social media spat only indicates the founder’s efforts to salvage their image when pushed to the wall,” said Rajeev Gupta, director of financial markets data at GlobalData. Its damage control before anything is “proved in the court of law so far or established in writing by the company auditor,” he said.

However, the question is, will this hullabaloo make them look like fighters or troublemakers in future?

What if Madhuri and Ashneer Grover found a new startup?

Fiery ambition is a plus point for founders and is necessary to get a new venture off the ground.

However, “when companies grow exponentially too soon, it leaves little time for the founders to learn the public etiquette or mature to the consequences,” said Gupta. “The same energy and aggression that got them all the success — and was necessary — when meets the public eye, is judged differently.”

Having said that, the personality of individuals won’t entirely determine a company’s chances of success.

“There will be additional scrutiny and clauses in place and it may not be an easy journey but this is not the end of a career for sure,” said Gupta.

“All will depend on who is proven right eventually in the board room or in the court of law. If the financial irregularities are proven, it could have serious negative implications, but if nothing is proven, the founders may get even more successful with a stronger resolve.”

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