01 June 2018

Governance activist forces out Samsonite CEO over false PhD claim

Governance questions hang over Samsonite as CEO Ramesh Tainwala steps down after allegations he did not bag himself a PhD.

Corporate governance issues at luggage maker Samsonite took another turn today with the resignation of its CEO Ramesh Tainwala, after claims that he faked having a doctorate. The Global Legal Post reported last week on the suspension of Samsonite shares, due an activist report accusing the firm of ‘questionable accounting practises and ‘poor corporate governance.’

Doctor who?
Mr. Tainwala resignation followed further allegations by activist Blue Orca that he had falsely claimed to be a PhD. The evidence is confusing. Samsonite's own website simply states 'Mr Tainwala' holds a Master's degree in Management Studies from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India (1982). Various company records websites state he holds a doctorate degree from Union Institute & University. A 2004 Economic Times of India report entitled ‘The CEOs with the exalted Phd degree’ praised ‘Dr Ramesh Tainwala’ saying in 1989 ‘the urge to study further overcame him. Encouraged by management consultant Mrityunjay Athreya, who was then on his Board, Tainwala enrolled for a PhD in economics at the University of Ohio. It took him all of five years to finish his thesis on ‘Challenges of entrepreneurship in developing countries.’ A 2014 research report revealed 76% of employers assume degrees are without verifying them with the issuing university, and 32% accepted copies instead of original documents.

Serious allegation
Timothy Parker, chairman of the company, in a statement said ‘While the board notes that since the company’s IPO in 2011, its disclosure of Ramesh’s educational background has been accurate, the board also takes seriously the allegation that has been made about his academic credentials. Ramesh tendered his resignation, citing personal reasons.’ Massachusetts-based Samsonite, which owns luxury brand Tumi, is one of the few major foreign stocks listed in Hong Kong, alongside Prada and L'Occitane International.