What is your view on the first year of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister? Do you think he has failed to meet expectations?
It is unrealistic to expect that change will happen in one year. Even if you take over a company and try to turn it around, it cannot be done in one year. Here we are talking about the whole country, a very complex country. What I see is that there is focus on the right areas and there is a lot of work going on. They (the Modi government) are doing the right things. And it is very reasonable to expect that they will take another year before we actually see the impact on the ground. Modi is 100 per cent on expectations in his first year term.
Pantaloons Fashion & Retail has been in the red. Is this restructuring an exercise to bring it in the black sooner than it would have been otherwise?
That is not the driving factor. Profitability of Pantaloon has improved significantly since its acquisition in the past three years. A lot of work has gone into restructuring, reformatting and renovating stores and refreshing the brands. So it is at a take-off point now which is why we thought it is a good time to bring it together.
What is your expansion plan for the new entity following this restructuring? How do you see the emerging e-commerce sector affecting your growth plans?
We would be adding 250-300 stores for Madura (Garments) every year. And 35 stores a year for Pantaloon. I think that will be an investment of Rs 450-500 crore every year. As of now, while this business is relatively small, going forward, I would not be surprised to see it a very significant growth driver for the group in three to five years.
E-commerce will impact the brick-and-mortar retail, but the fact that our brands are leading brands in each of their segments and they are so firmly entrenched that the impact on them would be minimal. I do not think brick-and-mortar retail is going away. But the growth rate might slow down because of the emergence of e-commerce.
E-commerce is here to stay. It is a global phenomenon and it is a great proposition in terms of price and customer interface. Some of the e-commerce companies in our country is doing well. We are looking at e-commerce, but we have not been able to zero in on anything specific. However, the management will look at e-commerce as a sales channel for growth.
Aditya Birla Nuvo has been a conglomerate with a combination of cash cows and growth businesses requiring continuous funding. Since you sold out the business processing outsourcing business of Nuvo some time back and now created a separate entity for apparel, what is the way forward for the parent?
It will continue to invest in its current businesses. Fertiliser is an attractive opportunity. However, the bulk of the investment will be in financial services space. This includes the NBFC (non-banking financial company), housing finance, mutual fund and insurance. We have also applied for a payments bank licence. My sense is that this will have a good part of its future investment.
Due to the complex structure of Nuvo, it has always attracted conglomerate discount by the investors. What is the effort you are putting to simplify it?
This transaction seeks to do away with that conglomerate discount by giving our shareholders a direct stake in the garment company. They not only retain their stake in Nuvo, but get a direct stake in the apparel company, too.
There have been talks about UltraTech getting merged with B K Birla group’s cement units. What is the update on that?
That is completely speculative and not true. There are no such plans.