I finished meeting an investment advisory firm owner-partner, where we agreed to work together. I felt good about it as I got up from the odd looking chairs in his conference room. Odd because the handles were abnormally wide apart. He said they were just made that way. I thought maybe he had very portly clients. As I walked down the stairs I remembered his intention to be a lone star firm, where there would be junior partners but mainly to execute, all the relationships would largely be his. I thought he would explain his stand which contrasts with modern day philosophy of democratic firm building. But he had no qualms about it being a one man show, and that he intended it to be that way in the future. Well is there any empirical evidence on whether lone star firms survive better? Ambit, JM, DSP, Avendus, Mape, the big 4, JP Morgan, Goldman etc. I leave you to do your own analysis. My view however is that lone star firms can probably lay claim to some form of specialization, service or discretion but they can’t house great talent. Though you may argue that great talent will seek to be on its own. So given my anti lone star views, I was a bit deflated and I walked I reached the Bengali market roundabout and I remembered the Bengal Sweets sweet boxes that my father brought from Apollo Tyres shareholder meetings nearly 20 years back. I think they later banned giving gifts at AGM’s. So I walked into the store, salivated at the khoya based sweets and chola bhatura and then decided on gol gappe. I will rave about suji ke gol gappe and rant about the crap they call pani puri in Bombay some other time. While I was gorging, I saw an old portly man dressed in pyjama and the kurta of the baniyas in chandni chowk which is like short and has a pocket. He was standing behind and more than an armslength away. So the guy had to turn back and reach out to serve him. His demeanor and a couple of remarks suggested that he was probably the owner. When he left I asked the guy and he said that he was the owner and he never came when it was busy and always stood away from the customers. So I started my interrogation. The maalik was a great man. The guy had been working there for the last 23 years and so also most others. He said we have no coupon system (which is a centralized billing and collection system)because the owner trusts us and the customer can be flexible. We go to the owners house to keep the cash. We don’t ring the bell and we don’t need to ask the owner to take the next days cash. I thought this was extreme. You could see his pride in his owner and the importance of the trust that his owner reposed in him. He came from his village many years back and is not very literate. I guess its the choice between scaling up and being only one store. Is the chain of Haldiram and Bikano’s any better than Bengal Sweets or other such singles. My romantic mind says no but Mc Donalds and KFC makes me think otherwise. So maybe the lone star thing is more of a personal choice and its not to be confused with institution building.