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Newsmaker: Nitin Kasliwal

Can he stage a comeback?

Raghavendra Kamath 

Nitin Kasliwal

Nitin Kasliwal has seen a lot of ups and downs. Recently, though, it has been more downs than ups for him. After a slew of petitions to wind up the company last year, the chairman and managing director of S Kumars Nationwide, or SKNL, which owns the Reid & Taylor line of clothing, is now faced with an even bigger problem. The shareholders are calling for his removal as chairman because they don't like the direction he is taking the company into.

Led by Mumbai-based stock broker Bharat Jayantilal Patel, the dissenters have given a notice to convene an extraordinary general meeting to seek his removal. They say the company has been grossly mismanaged under his leadership, resulting in losses over the past few years. The shareholders are particularly peeved about SKNL's mounting debt which shot up to Rs 4,484 crore at the end of March 2013, causing the company to default on its interest commitments and setting off a cascade of problems.

Besides winding up petitions from lenders such as ICICI Bank and India Debt Management in various courts in Mumbai, Kasliwal was also "named and shamed" for defaulting on loan commitments. UCO Bank, as part of its policy to make the name of defaulters public, published his photograph in newspapers for non-payment of Rs 110.07 crore that he had borrowed for the group's fabric and apparel arm, Reid & Taylor.

An ambitious industrialist, Kasliwal invested big in brands and distribution. He roped in Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan to promote Reid & Taylor suitings, and doubled up advertising campaign for home-made textiles. Following an expansive strategy, he also acquired several global brands to mark SKNL's presence in the luxury segment. In India, SKNL retails international luxury brands such as Alfred Dunhill and Escada and owns Stephens Brothers, Carmichael House and Belmonte. In also owns Hartmarx, which is best know for dressing US President Barack Obama.

At its peak in FY 2012, SKNL's profits jumped to Rs 470.84 crore, but soon it fell on bad times, leading the promoters to pledge their shares to financial institutions. A former executive, who does not want to be named, says, "The company drew up plans thinking funds will come but that did not happen. When you are highly leveraged, interest burden will suffocate you." Sure enough, things went from bad to worse as the financial institutions started redeeming the pledged shares. According to BSE data, the promoter group and entities now hold just 3.59 per cent stake in the company.

Over the past two years, a number of people at the senior level have quit, among them are chief executive Aloke Banerjee, managing director (brand retails) Tarun Joshi, director (retail and apparel) Ashesh Amin and chief operating officer (Reid & Taylor) Janak Dave.

Many say while Kasliwal's ambitions were big, he faltered on delivery. After stitching up a deal with Singapore-based wealth fund GIC for infusion of Rs 900 core into Reid & Taylor, Kasliwal believed that he could get high valuations for all his ventures. But the slowdown in the economy disrupted those plans and curtailed his fund-raising options. Reid & Taylor's initial public offering of Rs 1,000 crore in 2010-11 had to be shelved due to poor market situation. At the same time, the disconnect with customers added to the company's woes. "It followed a strong brand ambassador-led strategy but did not deliver on the operations front. I feel somewhere it lost the customer connect due to lack of innovation in merchandise and marketing," says the former executive mentioned above. Kasliwal, however, is not giving up. He says he has already drawn up plans and tied up with investors to save the company.

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First Published: Thu, April 16 2015. 21:28 IST