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Some in top flight, some lose speed

Business Standard lists the corporate leaders who would remember 2015 as a game-changing year, and those who would want to forget

Business Standard 

Some in top flight, some lose speed


From an economist to a banker: Rajiv B Lall

The year 2015 was a turning point in the life of IDFC Managing Director & Vice-Chairman Rajiv B Lall, who donned the hat of a banker. IDFC was one of the two players to get commercial bank licences this year. Leading the infrastructure financier's transformation into a bank at a time of intense pain and tepid growth for the financial sector remains a challenge for this economist-turned-banker.

Tasked with scripting growth in the decade ahead, Lall has questioned age-old assumptions and received wisdom as a banker. Perhaps that is what makes Lall, who holds a doctorate from Columbia University, describe himself as the chief cultural officer managing IDFC Bank, which has attracted top talent from various banks.

Aware of the long time that might be required for an upturn in the economy to be visible, Lall bought insurance through large provisions for stressed assets and carved out a "bad bank" for sharp focus on recoveries. It seems a smart strategy, as money collected from bad accounts would move straight to the bottom line.


  • In 2015, IDFC received licence to start banking operations
  • Lall is leading the new bank as its MD & CEO
  • IDFC Bank started banking operations from Madhya Pradesh with 23 branches
Rajiv B Lall, MD & CEO IDFC Bank

People's manager, star of a blockbuster public issue: Aditya Ghosh

Some in top flight, some lose speed
Few public issues in recent times have received so much attention as that of IndiGo, India's largest airline by market share. Within weeks of listing, the airline has broken into the ranks of the top-50 most valuable by market capitalisation. This follows a successful listing last month that attracted marquee investors from India and abroad. The airline's stock price has risen more than 50 per cent since listing.

What investors really like about the company is its management structure, and President Aditya Ghosh's personalised approach. His ability to remember employees by name is famous. Despite having no prior experience of running an airline, Ghosh has been running IndiGo immaculately. A lawyer by training, Ghosh was involved in aircraft acquisition and other aspects related to setting up of the airline. Before taking charge as IndiGo's president in 2008, Ghosh had worked at corporate law firm J Sagar & Associates, and later as a general counsel at InterGlobe.

Apart from operational efficiency, Ghosh has also brought in his personal touch. He has brought in people-oriented processes to the airline's functioning; an eye for detail makes him unique. The other aspect where he has succeeded is his talent retention. There has hardly been any exit among IndiGo's top leaders.

What makes IndiGo stand out is its focus on its business model; this has not changed since inception. Its owners have ensured the airline does not waver from its no-frills low-cost model, and investors have given it a thumbs-up.


  • Spearheaded by Aditya Ghosh, IndiGo had a very successful public issue in Nov
  • His ability to remember employees by name is known
  • Ghosh has brought a people-oriented approach to IndiGo's functioning
Aditya Ghosh, President Indigo

A 'transformer' at work: Vishal Sikka

Some in top flight, some lose speed
Vishal Sikka has yet to complete a full financial year at Bengaluru-headquartered IT services company Infosys. But the transformation he has brought in the company and its results are quite visible.

When Sikka joined Infosys in August 2014, the company was going through a difficult phase and was seen as the worst performer in its peer group. The company had also seen quite a few senior-level exits. And most importantly, the morale of employees, whom co-founder N R Narayana Murthy terms the most valuable asset, was abysmally low.

Within the first two quarters of 2015-16, Sikka helped the company bounce back with better-than-expected numbers. He re-energised employees, as well as the top leadership, by engaging with them constantly. Under his leadership, the company looks set to regain its lost glory and return to industry-leading growth next year.


  • Sikka has brought back a culture of innovation at Infosys; has articulated short- and longer-term goals
  • Brought rigour for execution and strong financials for consecutive quarters
  • Boosted staff morale and hit the brakes on attrition
Vishal Sikka, CEO & MD Infosys

Some in top flight, some lose speed
Banking on strengths and playing it safe: Chandra Shekhar Ghosh

At first glance, Bandhan Bank CMD Chandra Shekhar Ghosh does not come across as a banker. In public engagements, he is more comfortable interacting in vernacular.

At weekly microfinance meetings in the villages, women in such groups often treat him more as a revered relative than a lender. However, when in office, Ghosh is a true-blue banker. He is the man behind the blueprint for a microlending firm's seamless conversion into a bank.

The year 2015 was a good one for Ghosh, who won a commercial bank licence for microfinancier Bandhan. His blend of business sense and knowledge of ground realities makes Bandhan a one-of-a-kind institution. Banking on close to seven million rural borrowers, Ghosh has remained choosy while getting new investors on board.

As a microfinance institution, even when peers were flush with funds from global investors, Bandhan was selective in diluting equity stake, except to IFC and Sidbi. Besides, Ghosh mostly stayed away from aggressive profit-driven means.

As a bank, too, Bandhan is treading cautiously. It is staying away from corporate loans, the biggest source of stress in the banking sector at present.


  • Ghosh has stayed in tune with ground realities by connecting with common microfinance consumers
  • He is behind the blueprint for microfinancier Bandhan's conversion into a bank
  • Ghosh's blend of business sense and knowledge of realities makes Bandhan a one-of-a-kind institution
Chandra Shekhar Ghosh, CMD Bandhan BANK

Driving India's taxi market: Bhavish Aggarwal

Some in top flight, some lose speed
In 2010, when he started his taxi-hailing service Ola, modelled on Uber, Bhavish Aggarwal would himself drive some of the taxis in Mumbai to ensure his customers were satisfied. Today, he need not drive - he does not own a car, but he has a network of 350,000 drivers across 102 cities available to drop him, with a tap on Ola's smartphone app.

Now based out of Bengaluru, Ola dominates the taxi-aggregator market in India and claims to control 80 per cent of the market. It has raised $1.2 billion from investors like SoftBank, Tiger Global and DST Global, and is valued at over $5 billion.

Aggarwal, 29, is confident he will play a part in redefining transport, not just in choked metros but also in smaller towns. On how he is building his business, Aggarwal's answers are always sharp and to the point - focus on customers and worry little about competition. He is not worried, so what if the rival is Uber, which has committed $1 billion to expand in India. He has formed a coalition with Didi Kuaidi, Lyft and Grabtaxi - each with common investors - to take on Uber. For now, Aggarwal's focus is on consolidating the drivers on his network and ensuring they remain locked to better serve his customers.


  • Aggarwal's Ola today has a network of 350,000 drivers in 102 cities across India
  • Ola claims to control 80% of India market in the segment
  • Ola is valued at over $5 bn
Bhavish Aggarwal, Co-founder & CEO Ola

Bucking the trend: DK Sarraf

Some in top flight, some lose speed
Heading an oil & gas company at a time of historic low global prices was a challenge, but Dinesh K Sarraf will be counted among those who managed to buck the trend and give their firm's production & exploration business a leg-up.

ONGC's crude oil output from nominated blocks, and those under production-sharing contracts, is estimated to rise to 26.1 million tonnes by March 2016, compared with 25.9 mt last year. This will mainly come from western offshore. The firm had seen its output falling in the past 8-10 years, at 2.5 per cent a year, though it arrested the decline in 2014-15.

Sarraf, 57, took over as chairman & managing director of ONGC in March 2014. But within two months, the company was in dispute with the government and Reliance Industries. In September 2015, ONGC could not get a favourable verdict on the gas migration issue, but what it got was nothing short of a victory, because the Delhi High Court ordered the government to take a call on the issue within six months of receiving an expert panel report.


  • ONGC got a leg-up at a time when firms globally were hurt by low oil & gas prices
  • ONGC's production is estimated to rise this year
  • ONGC has got a victory of sorts in its dispute with RIL

Sporty entrepreneur: Keshav Bansal

Some in top flight, some lose speed
At 23, Keshav Bansal is the youngest owner of an Indian Premier League team. But like the brand Intex his father Narendra Bansal founded, he likes to start early.

A graduate from the Manchester Business School, UK, Intex Director Keshav Bansal has been heading the marketing division for three years. Also a state-level squash player, Bansal was actively involved in getting actor Farhan Akhtar on board as Intex's brand ambassador a few years ago; he has also been instrumental in raising decibel levels around the brand Intex.

As a marketing expert, he knows what IPL can do to raise the profile of a brand competing with the likes of Micromax and Samsung for market control. Bansal had earlier said he was open to other brands associating with the Rajkot IPL team and would be happy to have a long-term relationship with IPL.

As the market for 4G handsets hots up, Intex could use IPL to extend its lead over rival Micromax, which has contested its claim of being the number-two handset maker in India.


  • Bansal was involved in getting actor Farhan Akhtar to endorse the Intex brand
  • Was instrumental in raising decibel around the brand
  • Could use IPL to extend its lead over rival Micromax
Keshav Bansal, Director Intex


Controversy's favourite child: Rahul Yadav

Some in top flight, some lose speed
Once the blue-eyed boy of India's start-up ecosystem, Rahul Yadav found himself out of a job in June. The IIT-Bombay graduate had started three years earlier.

The company, which was supposed to turn the real estate scene on its head, had started out as a listing platform but quickly turned into a tech company for builders. Yadav had played a key role in making changes to the firm's infrastructure. And, all was well until an email to Sequoia Capital MD Shailendra Singh came to light.

Yadav accused Singh of trying to "brainwash" his employees to open their own ventures. And a war of words broke out on various internet forums. Yadav then took on Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka, Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal and Ola founder Bhavish Aggarwal, too.

Yadav's outspoken ways in the press, against investors and fellow entrepreneurs meant that infamy followed him wherever he went. He then resigned from his position as CEO and "donated" his shares to employees and asked other start-up CEOs to follow suit. Left without a stake in the firm, Yadav was fired from his position and what followed was an unceremonious exit.

He has now started a data analytics firm and received seed funding from Paytm's Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Flipkart's Bansals.


  • Yadav, an IIT-B graduate had founded
  • His outspoken ways and knack for taking on investors landed him in trouble
  • He was fired from his position in June this year
Rahul Yadav, EX-ceo

Soft steel and hard debt woes: Shashi Ruia

Some in top flight, some lose speed
Just a few years ago, Essar Group Chairman Shashi Ruia had grabbed headlines for his successful exit from Vodafone India, with billions of dollars. He invested across sectors like steel, oil refinery, telecom, business process outsourcing and coal mines globally. But 2015 turned out to be a difficult year for his group, with the steel firm defaulting on bank loans. The group's name also figured in an alleged corporate espionage case which damaged the brand Essar.

By the end of the year, Ruia had to pacify banks by promising to sell assets and pay back dues. The banks, which have lent close to Rs 1 lakh crore to the group, want their money back, in time. Standard Chartered Bank, which lent close to $2.5 billion to Essar's London-based holding firm, recalled its loans, asking it to either repay the dues or face legal action.

The Ruias have blamed external factors like sagging steel prices for the change in their fortunes.


  • Banks have an exposure of Rs 1 lakh crore to Essar Group
  • Standard Chartered, which lent $2.5 billion to Essar's London-based holding firm, has recalled its loans
  • Ruias have blamed sagging steel prices for difficult times
Shashi Ruia, Chairman Essar group

Formula One skidded off track: Manoj Gaur

Some in top flight, some lose speed
Manoj Gaur is known for negotiating hard. But these days, Gaur, who took over from his father Jaiprakash, is fighting with his back to the wall. This highly religious corporate tycoon leader is busy selling the group's assets to rivals, to repay loans of close to Rs 60,000 crore.

In 2015, Gaur sold the group's hydro power assets to JSW and two cement plants in Gujarat and MP to the Aditya Birla group. Yet, the lenders are not satisfied. Bankers say Gaur will have to exit the entire cement business - another 24 million tonnes per annum - to be able to meet its obligations. Jaypee's Formula One business has proved a big financial disaster, with no races planned in the near future.

Gaur's flagship company in 2015 defaulted on repayment of $200-million foreign currency convertible bonds, even as the power firm's standalone rating was downgraded to default early this year. In July, rating agencies also downgraded JP Associates' standalone debt to default. In November, CARE Ratings also downgraded cement subsidiary Jaypee Cement to default category. Next year, Gaur can look to a shrunk group size, with asset sales in the fast lane.


  • Manoj Gaur is busy selling the group's assets, to repay loans of close to Rs 60,000 cr
  • Gaur will have to exit the entire cement business to meet the group's obligations
Manoj Gaur, Executive chairman Jaypee Group

First loss in two decades: Arvind Dham

Some in top flight, some lose speed
Nothing can be more worrisome for a founder than seeing his company post its first loss after two decades of robust performance. Arvind Dham, the man behind Delhi-based component maker Amtek, had seen pressure mounting from a debt burden of Rs 19,000 crore, and a slowing domestic operations in early 2015. He had flagged off the issue to banks.

Between 2011 and 2014, the firm invested Rs 5,000 crore in expanding domestic capacity. It also did a series of global acquisitions. Other than the rising interest burden and weakening domestic revenues, Dham was battling negative news flow arising out of the JPMorgan development, and debt troubles.

In early 2015, JPMorgan had bought Rs 200 crore worth of Amtek's non-convertible debentures from the open market. However, CARE Ratings suspended ratings of these NCDs for lack of information from Amtek promoters; JPMorgan had to temporarily stop redemption of funds under which the debentures were bought.

The NCDs were due for repayment in September, but Amtek failed to make payments. JPMorgan recently sold the NCDs to a third party. Amtek's stock price had crashed from Rs 197 in December last year to Rs 25.60 in September 2015, recovering marginally since. Dham, under pressure to send a strong message, decided to raise about Rs 6,500 crore by selling an asset abroad.


  • Delhi-based Amtek Group posted its first loss after two decades of robust performance
  • Between 2011 and 2014, Amtek invested Rs 5,000 crore in expanding domestic capacity
  • The firm faced negative news flow in 2015, besides debt woes
Arvind Dham, founder & chairman Amtek

Unable to implement the Odisha project: Gee Woong Sung

Some in top flight, some lose speed
At a high-level review meeting chaired by the Union Cabinet secretary to take stock of the beleaguered Posco project in Odisha, in August this year, Posco India Chairman & Managing Director Gee Woong Sung was candid about the company's inability to implement the projects. This was, he said, due to a host of problems - land acquisition issues, the state government not renewing an MoU, and the new MMDR Act ruling out the possibility of Posco getting captive iron ore mines for its project on a preferential basis.

Undeterred by the Odisha debacle, however, Sung has chalked out strategies to expand and consolidate Posco's presence in the country. Posco India, under Sung, has signed an MoU with Uttam Galva for setting up a three-million-tonne steel plant in Maharashtra while ramping up its steel processing capacities in the state, as well as Gujarat. It commissioned a 1.8 mtpa cold-rolled mill at Raigad (Maharashtra) in January this year and aims to put on stream two processing plants at Sanand (Gujarat) next year.


  • Posco India's Odisha plans have been marred by land acquisition issues
  • The state government has not yet renewed an MoU
  • New MMDR Act has limited availability of iron ore mines
Gee Woong Sung, CMD Posco India

First Published: Wed, December 30 2015. 23:34 IST