BharatPe Co-Founder Ashneer Grover goes on leave but why?

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Mumbai: After an alleged role in an abusive audio call leaked on social media recently, BharatPe Co-Founder Ashneer Grover has decided to go on a voluntary leave of absence till the end of March 2022.

Leave of Absence
BharatPe Co-Founder and MD Ashneer Grover on Wednesday announced his decision “to take leave of absence” on social media.

I’ve been relentlessly at work building up BharatPe for almost 4 years. After much deliberation and introspection. I plan to take temporary leave of absence from BharatPe till March-end. I will return on or before 1st April 2022,” Grover wrote in a message on Twitter.

In the later part of his post, Grove elaborated about how he will utilise the long period on himself and spend this time thinking about products, BharatPe’s profitability and IPO.

I’ll be utilising this period to rejuvenate and refresh myself for out next spirit of value creation. I expected to spend the time thinking more deeply about our next phase of product development, and BharatPe’s path to profitability and IPO,” Grover explained.

I will also double down on investing in myself personally. I am a builder and I know my energy is best spent creating value for the millions of Indians we serve each day,” he continued.

At the end of his message, Grover praised BharatPe’s team of professionals and expressed his trust and confidence in BharatPe CEO Suhail Sameer. “I am confident that under the leadership of our existing CEO Suhail Sameer, the team will continue to deliver.”

BharatPe board members’ forced Grover
What appears clear now is that Grover had to “take leave of absence” after the company’s board stated in media that “Ashneer Grover will take a short leave from BharatPe.”

BharatPe’s board of directors, which also includes investors from Sequoia India, Ribbit Capital, Coatue Management and senior bankers namely ex SBI Chairman Rajnish Kumar and ex-Union Bank Chairman Kewal Handa- unanimously insisted that Grover needs to leave for some time, according to a media report.

Interestingly, BharatPe CEO Suhail Sameer in an interview with MoneyControl told that “no board member ever suggested Ashneer take a leave of absence. Ashneer was the first one to present it sometime back. We all rejected it.”

Will leave put end to the leaked audio controversy
Whether Grover had decided to “take leave of absence” or it was BharatPe Board members’ unanimous decision remains inconsequential now. But certainly what remains is that leaked audio clip which continues to raise many questions on Grover’s behaviour and his alleged role in the controversy.

Grover is facing allegations of abusing an executive of Kotak Mahindra Bank with expletive language during a call. He’s also alleged of threatening the executive over failing to secure Rs 500 crore funds to buy Nykaa scrips during its IPO.

In response to the leaked audio clip, Grover has refuted the allegations against him and claimed that it was fake audio by some scamster trying to extort funds from him.

Folks. Chill. It’s a fake audio by some scamster trying to extort funds (US$ 240K in bitcoins). I refused to buckle. I’ve got more character. And Internet has got enough scamsters,” Grover had tweeted on 6 January.

Grover’s version on this entire controversy hasn’t gone down well or remains questionable. Kotak Mahindra Bank according to some reports is planning to take “appropriate legal action” against BharatPe Co-Founder and MD Ashneer Grover and his wife Madhuri for allegedly abusing and threatening a bank employee during a call.

Scrutiny in the aftermath of the controversy
This is where Grover remains under the scrutiny of media as well as the public for his “abusive and unapologetic behaviour.”

And this further could trickle down a major negative impact on BharatPe at various levels. Including reputational damage to its unicorn fintech brand, overall business and fundraising activities, as well as its valuation, could go down before it plans a $4 billion IPO sometime later this year.

More so, BharatPe’s tremendous success as the newest unicorn of India has led Grover’s selection as one of the judges on a reality show Shark Tank India. Being a judge on a reality show has put Grover right in eyes of the Indian people. Particularly a large section of youths that are closely following successful entrepreneurs and startup founders as role models and idols.

Since the audio clip surfaced two weeks ago, the netizens have heavily trolled Grover for his abusive and indecent behaviour. Many users on various social media platforms have even demanded Grover’s ouster from the reality show Shark Tank India produced by SonyLIV.

Damage controlling act
So it’s obvious. Grover had to go on leave of absence. He has been under tremendous pressure from all corners and had to take some evasive damage controlling measures before it was too late to handle the downfall.

Not just on his personal and professional front as a successful entrepreneur but also to avoid any financial implications and risks to his fintech ventures including BharatPe, PostPe, 12% Club, and PayBack.

Corporate governance culture and policies remain critical areas in most Indian businesses and organisations. And this often allows top executives and founders to get away from any irregularities and misconduct including their personal and professional behaviours.

Probably, Grover should consider himself lucky enough so far. Because BharatPe’s board members have asked him to take leave of absence for more than two months but have not taken any strict disciplinary action against him.

Board members of BharatPe could have sacked or even expelled him from the company and initiated an internal inquiry against Grover. This could have sent out a strong and clear message that the company has transparent and accountable management to deal with any irregularities and controversies.

But that’s not the case so far.

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