BharatPe’s Ashneer Grover takes ‘voluntary leave of absence’ after phone scandal


Days after an abusive audio clip of him emerged, BharatPe co-founder Ashneer Grover has decided to go on a ‘voluntary leave of absence till the end of March.

It all started on 5 January after an audio clip was leaked that had Grover allegedly abusing and threatening a Kotak Group employee for missing out on share allotment during the initial public offering launched by beauty firm Nykaa.

In the audio clip, Grover appears to hurl at a relationship manager from a bank while his wife is heard pacifying him.

A day later, Grover tweeted that it was fake audio by seamsters.

“Folks. Chill. It is 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,” he had posted.

On 9 January, however, Kotak Mahindra Bank said it was pursuing legal action against the husband-wife duo over the ‘inappropriate language’ used by them against its employee.

By then, Grover had deleted the tweet in which he alleged that the sound clip was fake.

On Wednesday, BharatPe co-founder and managing director Ashneer Grover in a statement said that he was taking voluntary leave till March-end.

He said he will return on or before 1 April 2022, and expects to spend the time in between “thinking more deeply about our next phase of product development, and BharatPe’s path to profitability and IPO”.

In his statement, Grover said he planned to take a temporary leave of absence from BharatPe till March-end “after much deliberation and introspection”.

“I’ll be utilizing this period to rejuvenate and refresh myself for our next sprint of value creation. I expect to spend the time thinking more deeply about our next phase of product development, and BharatPe’s path to profitability and IPO. I will also double down on investing myself personally…I am excited about what we plan to build at UNITY SFB with our partner Centrum,” he said.

The BharatPe Board has accepted his decision and announced that the company will continue to be led by its CEO Suhail Sameer and its management team.

“For now, the Board has accepted Ashneer’s decision which we agree is in the best interests of the company, our employees and investors, and the millions of merchants we support each day,” it said.

An Economic Times report states that Ashneer Grover is said to be aggressive and abrasive with employees and other stakeholders. In the 16 January report, a mid-level executive, who recently left BharatPe, is quoted as saying, “Are you really surprised? He’s always been like this. The only difference is, this time, it’s out in public.”

Another mid-level employee told ET in the same report, “Many times we felt forced into doing things even when we knew it was not the best possible solution. I guess everyone who has worked here is aware of his (Grover’s) temperament and many senior managers do not want to step out of line with him.”

Another Economic Times report states that his brash behavior with the Kotak Mahindra employee wasn’t his first. According to the report, an email exchange between him and Sequoia India’s Harshjit Sethi in August 2020 shows that Grover used expletives over the course of the conversation.

“Messages and threats from you (Grover) over the last few days and months have been hurtful and disappointing… Specifically, we have heard your message of not wanting us on the cap table {…} We need to have a decisive conversation about how the relationship between Sequoia and BharatPe changes going forward,” Sethi wrote in a mail to Grover in August 2020, as per the ET report.

Netizens were fired up on social media on Wednesday asking about his appearance on Shark Tank India. On the start-up investment reality show as well, Grover is known for his rude comments.

He and his wife Madhuri Grover had sent a legal notice to Kotak Mahindra Bank’s Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Uday Kotak and to some of his senior management, accusing the bank of failing to secure financing and allocation of shares for Nykaa’s IPO.

The notice sought damages for the gains Grover and his wife would have made after subscribing to shares worth Rs 500 crore in the company, besides Rs 1 lakh towards the cost of the legal notice.

Kotak Mahindra Bank had said: “This notice was received by us and was replied to appropriately at the time, including placing on record our objections to inappropriate language used by Mr. Grover.”

“Appropriate legal action is being pursued. We would like to confirm that there is no breach or violation by the Kotak Group in any manner whatsoever,” the bank had said.