Charge of abandoning autistic son to dent image of Zoho’s Sridhar Vembu: Reputation Experts

Chennai:  The series of tweets by Sridhar Vembu, Co-Founder and CEO, Zoho Corporation and the article by Forbes magazine about his wife’s allegation in court filings of abandoning her and their autistic son will certainly impact his image, said reputation experts.

They also said the tweets by Vembu on Tuesday were not properly thought out and the strange shareholding pattern – Vembu said to be holding only 5 per cent in the company but his sister a product manager said to be holding 47.8 per cent – and other things will make institutional investors to think before investing as and when Zoho goes public.

“The image that was projected about him (Sridhar Vembu) as the sacrificial social contributor as a rural billionaire who gave up his posh US life camouflaging his personal issues by overt public relations has crashed,” a communication expert told IANS preferring anonymity.

“What you project for your company can’t be different from what you are and your character. Brand Image for an entrepreneur is built by personal, social and corporate reputation which may crash when vulnerabilities are exposed that directly correlate to matters of integrity the essence of any brand reputation personal or corporate,” he added.

In the case of Vembu, the expert said, the autism of his son is projected as a fundamental trigger for all his actions and reactions but how he has acted doesn’t seem to augur well for a socially responsible corporate individual.

“Even lesser privileged parents of autistic children would not have acted in this manner,” he said.

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Vembu said: “With vicious personal attacks and slander on my character, it is time for me to respond. This is a deeply painful personal thread. My personal life, in contrast to my business life, has been a long tragedy. Autism destroyed our lives and left me suicidally depressed.”

“As our son got older (24 today), I felt the endless treatments he was under were not helping much and he would be better off in rural India, closer to loving people and helping to lift up people. She (Vembu’s wife Pramila Srinivasan) felt I was giving up. Our marriage collapsed under that stress,” he tweeted.

The Zoho founder lives in Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu where Zoho has a centre.

In terms of Vembu’s personality image, there are two perspectives to examine – India image and overseas image- Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, had told IANS.

Terming Vembu’s India image as rock-solid, Bijoor said: “A persona with his kind of resources has decided to return to rural India and reinvent life, business and indeed a new way of thinking. In many ways he leads taking ‘Vanaprastha’ through its practical steps. This is very Indian and very Hindu.”

However, in the case of Vembu’s image overseas, Bijoor added: “Out here lies the story of “abandonment”. Even with little or no truth to this angle, Western media (social media included) will use it to gain traction on a story.”

“Vembu coming to settle a business run out of rural India is an old story now. It is “Dog bites man”! Not news at all anymore! For whatever reasons! The angle of “abandonment of a special needs child” is “Man bites dog”! It is news! And grist! Sadly!” Bijoor said.

While there are tweets in Vembu’s support, there are also tweets where he was criticised for leaving his wife with a son having special needs.

“Honestly & most certainly Your Autistic son would hv needed your presence & you shud hv stayed with him instead of moving out. Somehow doesn’t feel right to me. Your business cud hv been managed from there!” tweeted Anantha under the twitter handle @AnanthMaangs.

“Majority of couples remain in marriage because of children.. children should be reason for continuing in married life it should never be reason to separate,” tweeted Santheep under the twitter handle @santheepnair.

On the necessity of Vembu tweeting a series of messages another communication expert told IANS: “The shit has hit the ceiling with the Forbes article. The article cannot go unanswered. So, he has to explain his stand. Keeping silent will affect his image.”

According to Bijoor, a personal issue has unfortunately gone public.

“This entire personal issue has unfortunately taken a very public route. And social media is possibly not the best media to use out here. In fact, no media is,” Bijoor remarked.


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