Its high time for the ‘entrepreneur suicide’ conversation
The world of business is glamorous but also dark. Disagreements among business partners can take a sour turn especially when there’s a lot of money involved. Every day we come across suicides in the entrepreneurial and business world and it’s the right time to start the conversation. Especially since more people are venturing into the start-up space, people with humble backgrounds who have no idea of the dangers lurking in business around cheating, extortion, financial devastation, debt and business rivalry.
Brilliant Minds – A great loss to the business world
The recent suicide of John McAfee, the software mogul who is named after his antivirus software which he sold prior to his tiff with the United States government around tax evasion has opened a can of worms once again. Brilliant minds like these are lost to suicide each year. Although McAfee’s suicide was due to his run from US authorities on fraud charges, there are numerous instances of business tycoons especially in India who have lost their lives due to circumstances around their professional lives and finances.
What leads a successful business owner to suicide?
The lifestyle led by entrepreneurs is a precarious one that often clashes with their personal, professional life, as well as the business and political environment around them. There are many reasons that lead to successful business owners committing suicide including extreme outliers of the profession, stress, failure, competition, time away from loved ones and family, less social life, less sleep, and more recently business crashes mostly recently due to the pandemic and lockdowns.
The first factor that determines whether setting up a business somewhere is healthy or not is how far the local governing bodies and state departments are willing to encourage investments and entrepreneurship.
There was a sudden mistrust and hostility regarding business ownership in India especially around Swiss Bank accounts, and income tax returns. A lot of business owners suffered from unnecessary raids, harassment and extortions from malicious entities who are in power. This affects the mental health of entrepreneurs since they are perceived as greedy or distrustful by their own employees and peers. If the business environment is not conducive in this manner, it can affect daily operations. In fact, the state of Kerala has seen a number of entrepreneur suicides in the last 3 years due to this very reason. It ranks on the 28th spot in India’s investor friendly states out of 29 Indian states.
Entrepreneurs who lost their lives to suicide
CCD VG Siddhartha
VG Siddhartha established a coffee empire in the country at a time when a youth centric Starbucks style coffee shop cum cybercafé was a novelty. He paved the way for a modern hangout spot for Indian youth centred around delicious brews that were sourced from his own coffee plantations. But unknown to the public eye, Café Coffee Day’s V G Siddhartha was embroiled in a deep financial crisis, mounting debts, that led to an eventual downward spiral of the thriving entrepreneur. There are speculations that he was crushed under the intense stress and pressure coming from Private Equity investors and the tax departments.
Vineet Whig, the Chief Operating Officer of Encyclopaedia Britannica, a publisher of the online Encyclopaedia committed suicide in 2016 when he cited depression as the reason in a suicide note. His family said that he was an inspirational soul whose loss is irreparable in their lives.
A more recent suicide is that of Joy Arakkal, a Dubai based businessman from Kerala who was the Managing Director of the ‘Innova Group of Companies’ in the UAE. He was a magnanimous person who involved himself in numerous charitable projects. However, Joy Arakkal embraced death to escape the financial woes that he faced in relation to his business.
Other notable entrepreneurs who died by suicide include Raj Travels’ owner Lalit Sheth, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, a Russian American entrepreneur and Mike Alfred, Founder and CEO of Cambrian Genomic.
When Death Feels Like a Good Option, The Dark Side to Business
What’s in it for me?
In just the last one-year, innumerable suicides have occurred among small business owners mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic. Small businesses have been the worst affected and the mental health of their founders could not sustain the absolute destruction of their livelihoods. Business reasons are the biggest contributor of suicide rates in India. The State of Karnataka stood in the 3rd spot in 2019 in suicides among businesspeople.
There needs to be a sense of ownership among the small business and start-up ecosystem in India regarding mental health of entrepreneurs. Suicide risk is high in the business fraternity and owners need to guard against mental health impact of starting a business. Mental health start-ups need to cater to entrepreneurs. Until the social and political constructs are kinder to businessmen and women, the onus is on the founder, his kin, and well-wishers to prioritise mental well-being and safety measures to protect the company as well as your personal life from loss and devastation.