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C Sivasankaran: A maverick prone to courting controversy and the CBI

A consummate deal-maker, the former Aircel boss raked in the moolah in many, but lost a packet in several others

Surajeet Das Gupta 

Siva Group Chairman C Sivasankaran
Siva Group Chairman C Sivasankaran

Serial enterprenuer is not new to controversy or his tryst with the (CBI). In 2011, Siva deposed before the agency against friend-turned-foe that the latter had forced him to sell to of Malaysia before giving him license in 14 circles, when Maran was the telecom minister. That led to a series of investigations on the Marans as well as chargesheets and allegations of a deal with Maxis, a special court discharged all the accused in the case last year, after a span of six years.

Siva now faces the once again, but this time he is at centrestage with the agency registering a case against two of his and a clutch of banks for allegedly defaulting on loans of over Rs six billion.

Siva also came under the scanner just a few years ago when ousted chairman dragged his name in various deals, which included Tatas offering him 10 per cent share in at a discounted rate and giving him management contracts for procurement services that were not in conformity with industry standards, because of his friendship with While the Tatas denied all the allegations, Siva hit back at Mistry saying that hiring him as chairman was wrong.

However, Siva is not all about controversy. He has also been a consummate deal-maker, in many of which he made money, while others ended up as failures. Siva started his innings in business in 1985 after he purchased from Robert Amritraj, father of former tennis star Vijay Amritraj, and launched personal computers for as little as Rs 33,000 - rival machines cost as much as Rs 80,000 in those days. Success was instant. Sterling was catapulted to the top three computer of India.

But it was telecom that brought Siva into the limelight, giving him reputation but also heartburn. Siva shifted base from Chennai to New Delhi, and began operating out of a five-star hotel. In 2004, Siva won for Delhi and three other telecom circles: Uttar Pradesh (east), Haryana and Rajasthan. But he sold them off in no time to his old acquaintance from Chennai, of Essar, for $105 million. In 1996, he bought rapper MC Hammer's house in Fremont, California, to set up his base in the United States.

He also made a pitch to buy into Sunil Mittal's and by 1997 had over 10 per cent in the company. He then demanded a slot on its board which Mittal refused. Eventually, Siva sold the shares to Mittal at Rs 90 apiece; his acquisition cost had been Rs 100 and he admitted he had lost money.

His next business deal was when the Ruias offered him shares in But the Nadar community, which owned the bank, opposed the deal. Two years later, in mid-1999, it bought out Siva's stake and he made money. Siva also sold Dishnet DSL, the country's first internet DSL provider that he had launched in 1998, to VSNL for Rs 2.7 billion. He even wrote to Rebecca Mark, CEO of India, offering to buy the troubled energy company's India business for one rupee!

Siva found it hard to stay away from telecom, which is why was born, but so were his problems. took over as Union telecom minister and Siva was now bombarded with queries from the department of telecommunications about his licenses An attempt to sell his Tamil Nadu business to Hutchison, to get the cash to roll out other circles, was never cleared and so in 2005 he announced he would sell the business to

Yet, Siva was back again. With the ministry under A Raja, Siva got licenses in six circles via through the first-come-first-served rule. He also roped in Batelco, which took a subsbtantial stake for Rs 10 billion. Yet, with the cancelling these licenses, was stranded with about 3.6 million subscribers in five circles and had no option but to shut shop. That is when BMIC, which owned 42.7 per cent in the company, exercised the "put" option under which, in an exigency like this, Siva had to buy out its stake at the price at which it had been bought: $212 million.

Siva fought a bitter battle with BMIC, which got an order from an English high court to freeze Siva's assets worldwide. A few days later, Siva was declared bankrupt in

It wasn't only telecom that Siva bet on-he tried his hand at setting up under the in Singapore and India, but that did not fly. He bought coffee chain but decided to sell it off in three years to of Italy. His next big stop was to go in for renewable energy which made him acquire WinWind in 2006, but he would soon file for bankruptcy. In 2007, he bought 49 per cent into Sahara group's Aamby Valley project, on the condition that Sahara would buy back his shares at a pre-determined price three years later. He got Rs 16.8 billion from the sale.

In 2008, Siva bought a Norwegian company called JB Ugland Shipping for around $300 million. An information memorandum for a private placement of debentures by Siva Ventures in June 2009 disclosed that the man had taken the 931-hectare Coetivy Island in Seychelles, 290 km south of Mahe, on a 99-year lease to develop a mega township. That is what seems to have taken Siva to that country.

For all his profitable deals, Siva left behind a trail of failed ventures. He had tied up with of to get into DTH, but the project never took off. He had announced a $1-billion undersea cable line from Chennai to Guam but got a similar project up and running first, which ended the viability of Siva's plan. But that was business Siva style.

First Published: Sat, April 28 2018. 01:47 IST
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