After a season of riveting primetime television, entrepreneur and investor Ashneer Grover has become a figure of national interest.

While audiences have been entertained by his sharp commentary on Shark Tank India, Grover’s recent months have been strewn with moments of controversy. We are talking about an audio clip of Grover using abusive language while speaking to a Kotak employee and an even deeper range of issues at his home company, BharatPe, which have culminated in the firm’s board asking him to resign.

Speaking to MoneyControl’s Priyanka Sahay and Sriram Mani, Grover goes guns blazing in a near-80 minute interview, addressing a wide host of accusations levied against him, while throwing current BharatPe CEO Suhail Sameer under the bus.

“It is not me, my voice, nothing,” says Ashneer at the start of the interview, when confronted with the infamous audio clip mentioned above. “There are a lot of people who are very jealous in the market. It’s like saying how can someone become so successful and create such amazing businesses within such a short span of time, while we have been at it for 10 years, 12 years. That jealousy has unfolded into this large conspiracy.”

Regarding the ‘conspiracy’, Grover continues to focus on highlighting how his competitors—likely PhonePe and PayTM—have good reasons to defame and attack his business and personal interests.

 

Grovers Under Pressure

Ashneer Grover and Madhuri Jain Grover
Credits: @ashneer.grover

At this point, the interviewers begin to turn the coals on Grover—highlighting the recent allegations that Grover’s family members have been siphoning company funds. According to the BharatPe board, Grover and his wife, Madhuri Jain, who is Chief of Controls, displayed ‘financial irregularities’.

That’s a fancy way of saying that New York City professional services firm Alvarez and Marsal (A&M), who was commissioned by the board to investigate the Grovers, reported that the company paid recruitment fees to a number of ‘consultants’ on employees recruited through them. In some cases, these employees denied any knowledge of engaging with the stated consultant.

“As per the document, the creator of all these invoices is ‘Shwetank Jain’. We understand from public domain sources that the brother of Madhuri Jain is ‘Shwetank Jain’. We noted invoices of three other vendors related to recruitment expenses. These have the same commonalities as mentioned above and all have the ‘author’ in document properties as ‘Shwetank Jain,” read the preliminary findings of A&M.

In short, the Grovers were accused by the board, post-investigation, of siphoning BharatPe’s funds through fake invoices, while billing vendors for non-existent services—pretty serious offences, made even more egregious by the fact that Grover had installed both his wife and his wife’s brother-in-law at key company positions.

Similar to the audio clip case, Grover dismisses these claims. “Absolutely false allegations. I will not answer anything which has not been asked of me by the board,” he said. “It is clearly arm-twisting,” he states.

He believes that his ‘tough’ founder persona is what has pulled the board away from him.

“Now, just because of someone externally targeting me, the board feels that going forward, will he (Grover) become our biggest liability from being the biggest strength because he is headstrong. Now bank licences require people to wear ties and coats and be not what he (Grover) is, as a personality. Therefore it is the best thing for us to get rid of this guy. It is a witch hunt.”

 

Ashneer Grover versus Suhail Sameer

BharatPe CEO Suhail Sameer
Credits: iMediaSummit

A key figure in these developments is current BharatPe CEO Suhail Sameer, who was appointed in 2021, with Grover’s ‘blessing’. This positive outlook seems to have turned around—with Ashneer publicly decrying the CEO. “He doesn’t enjoy my confidence to be the director. I have already written to the board that he should be removed as a director,” explains Grover.

“I have the right to nominate who sits as my nominee on the board. In the last one month, I have seen him operate as a puppet of the investors, not as my nominee.” Grover seems to feel that Sameer has let him down after setting down a valuable foundation for him—and made that clear in no uncertain terms.

“After having done everything and giving someone full degrees of freedom to operate, if you operate in a manner and side with the investors when I need you the most, then you don’t enjoy my confidence,” he said. “You don’t have a spine. Why should the puppet of the investors be my nominee on the board?”

When asked about who was the right CEO for the company, Grover confidently said, “I am the fittest guy to lead to the company.” Sticking to his guns, he soon described the board as ‘biased’ —and that “they will eventually end up paying the price for they way they are operating.”

When asked about any potential resignations, Grover responded with his own question: “Why would I resign?” “I am the MD. I run the company. If the board thinks I don’t need to be the MD, someone else should run the company. Please put my Rs 4,000 crore on the table and take the key from me.

I am sorry for nothing. I am absolutely unapologetic because I have the best of intentions, I go about my business in a very professional manner. People who know me understand the substance behind the person. So I am sorry but not sorry to anyone.”

(Featured Image Credit: BharatPe, Sony Pictures Television)