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Nusli Wadia battled Ambanis and Tatas and lived to tell the tale

The $7 billion Nusli Wadia

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Wadia, who was once called as the epitome of South Bombay’s old money and genteel respectability, has been a part of many corporate brawls during 1970s and 1980s.

One of the many first corporate fights was with his father, Neville Wadia, who was the chairman of Wadia Group. His father wanted to sell the famous Bombay Dyeing company and settle abroad.

However, a young Wadia who hadn’t even joined the business then refused. He got support from the rest of the family, the employees and J.R.D Tata, the patriarch of the very family who he later sued.

”I don’t want to be a second-class citizen in some European country. I am going to live in India. And I am going to run Bombay Dyeing,” Wadia declared to his father.

Wadia managed to keep his father from selling Bombay Dyeing by acquiring 11% stake in the company. It could not have been possible without the help of mother Dina and J R D Tata with whom he enjoyed a paternal bond.

But the waters did not remain calm for long. He faced many formidable foes soon after.

​The clash with Ambani

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Wadia’s battle against Ambani was one of the most celebrated business battles in Indian corporate history. Media called it “the ancient regime locking horns with the nouveau riche”. After all, the Wadia family is one of India’s oldest and wealthiest families. Whereas, Dhirubhai Ambani was known as a young upstart who hailed from a village in Gujarat.

Ambani, with his connections, allegedly persuaded the government to increase duties of chemicals used by Bombay Dyeing. The great Indian textile war forced prominent leaders of the country to pick sides.

Soon after, Ramnath Goenka the editor of Indian Express – who initially tried to broker peace between them – turned his cudgels against Ambani. After washing dirty laundry in public and a murder attempt and much more – the battle simmered down. Meanwhile, Bombay Dyeing had to shut down one of its plants.

​Britannia and how the cookie crumbled

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There is a story and war behind how Wadia became the owner of Britannia Industries — the iconic biscuit company.

Wadia set his sights on the US-based Britannia after he decided to enter the cookie business. However, the parent company Nabisco turned down his proposal and made K Rajan Pillai the chairman instead. Pillai had 38% stake in the business, and also brought in a French partner. Soon, Pillai was accused of fraud and jailed – paving the way for Wadia to get what he always wanted.

Today, Brittania is worth ₹749 billion, and is one the top companies of the country and Wadia’s crown jewel. Many of Wadia’s battles have paid off, and handsomely. But he decided to settle his feud with Ratan Tata – though peace came only after the top-most court in the country asked him to. It is yet to be known if this is the last one that the feisty 72 year old will fight.