Volume IconThree personalities and a company which stood apart from the rest

On the last day of 2021, take a look at the newsmakers of the year - Falguni Nayar, Adar Poonawalla, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and Tata Group have been the torchbearers of hope in an otherwise grim year

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Falguni Nayar

In the male-dominated clique that is India Inc, few women have gained entry. India’s women labour participation rate is just 21%, and one would be surprised that even in the upper echelons of the Indian business world, with all their talk of gender inclusion, female representation is dismal.

In 2019, out of 1,814 chief executives and MDs of NSE-listed companies, only 67, or 3.69% were women. And last year, India had just one woman chief executive among Nifty50 companies, just as in 2019.

Given this state of affairs, Nykaa CEO Falguni Nayar, much like her startup, is a unicorn.

The entrepreneurial bug bit her when she was 50. And the online internet beauty business was a complete break for Nayar, who came with 18 years of experience as an investment banker with Kotak Mahindra. 

In November this year, nine years after being founded in 2012, Nykaa’s parent company FSN Ecommerce Ventures listed on Indian bourses. While 2021 saw several startups going for IPOs, Nykaa was one of the rare ones that was profitable. 
As Nykaa’s valuation crossed the Rs 1 lakh crore mark after its public listing, the net worth of Nayar, who owns around 52.56% stake in the company, surged to $7.90 bn.

In the process, Nayar, an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad, has become the wealthiest self-made woman in India and is among the country’s 20 richest people, the only woman in this all-boys club, or as various publications have called it: the Nykaa among Nayaks.

Adar Poonawalla

Someone who is on the Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People Of 2021” list, is an obvious choice for this wrap. The only son of Cyrus Poonawalla -- who established the Serum Institute of India (SII) in 1966-- Adar Poonawalla was sent to boarding school in London when he was nine years old.

Adar returned over a decade later with a degree in business management from University of Westminster and joined the family business in 2001, without even an official designation.

The next decade was spent under the shadow of his father, before Poonawalla became CEO of the company in 2011. And his moment of reckoning took almost another decade to arrive, when the world was under the grip of pandemic.

Rising to the occasion, Poonawalla took a “calculated risk” and ramped up vaccine production, without waiting for government sanctions. The 40-year-old pumped in around $800 Mn into his company’s Pune facility to manufacture millions of doses of the then unproven AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19. At the beginning of this year, SII delivered its first batch of AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccines for the Indian population.

As of now, over 80% of the Indian population has received at least one shot. And over 90% of them had rolled up their sleeves for Covishield.
But Poonawalla had his share of controversies. His plan of exporting a large chunk of its Covishield output hit a roadblock when the deadly second wave of Covid-19 hit India in April. By that time, just about 2% of India’s population was fully vaccinated. India banned the export of vaccines, hitting the supply of Covishield to poorer countries.

While many hailed Poonawalla for SII’s role in India’s vaccination drive, global commentators flagged what they called lack of transparency in his statements.

In June 2020, Poonawalla had said that his company would manufacture one billion doses of Covishield for low and middle income countries, of which, 400 million would be ready by the end of 2020. But, in January 2021, SII had a stockpile of just 70 million doses. Poonawalla also faced criticism for offering the vaccine at different rates to the Centre and the state governments.

Nevertheless, as the year draws to a close, Poonawalla’s, and consequently, India’s worries, seem to have eased somewhat.
The company recently announced that it will reduce Covishield production by half as it has fulfilled its orders to the Indian government and has a stockpile of 500 million doses.

Meanwhile, another of Serum Institute of India’s Covid vaccines, Covovax, has been authorised for “restricted use in emergency situations”. While his initial plans of supplying 1 billion doses for low-and-middle income countries might have gone awry, Adar Poonawalla and his company hold the key to ending this pandemic.

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala

2021 could not be a better year for eternal India bull Rakesh Jhunjhunwala as he completed six decades of his life. The best measure of this, his wealth, has more than doubled to $5.9 billion this year, according to Forbes. 

Shares of The Titan Company, Jhunjhunwala’s biggest listed holding, surged 55% year-to-date in one of their best annual performances. The 4.9% stake he holds in the jewellery and watch maker is now valued at Rs 10,500 crore.

He also reaped a windfall from some of his private investments after three of his portfolio companies hit the public markets this year. In March, gaming company Nazara Technologies got listed on the stock exchanges, followed by Barbeque-Nation Hospitality in April and Star Health and Allied Insurance and footwear retailer Metro Brands in December capping the year. 

The year was not without controversy though. Jhunjhunwala, his wife Rekha Jhunjhunwala and eight others settled a case on alleged insider trading in shares of Aptech by agreeing to pay more than Rs 37 crore to SEBI. This includes settlement charges as well as disgorgement of ill-gotten gains.

But, the highlight of this year has been Jhunjhunwala donning the entrepreneurial hat and plunging into an industry where the likes of Vijay Mallya and Naresh Goyal failed. 

He co-founded India’s newest ultra low cost airline Akasa Air. For this, Jhunjhunwala brought on-board former Jet Airways CEO Vinay Dube and IndiGo’s former President Aditya Ghosh. 

Akasa unveiled its livery and tagline last week, two months after receiving initial clearance from the Ministry of Civil Aviation to start operations. 

Akasa is expected to take to the skies next year, having placed a multi-billion-dollar order for 72 Boeing 737 MAX jets in November. 

With Jhunjhunwala catching the fancy of aviation, he should remember what Sir Richard Branson famously said, “If you want to be a Millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.”

Tata Group
India’s oldest and biggest conglomerate added more value to itself this year. The country's national carrier Air India, once owned by it, came back into its fold.  Nationalisation had taken it away. And now, privatization has brought it back.

Tata Group retained the title of India’s most valuable brand by a considerable lead with a brand value of $21.3 billion. Its crown jewel TCS also became the first Indian IT company to cross $200 billion in market capitalisation.
But for the group, 2021 will be marked as the year where it laid the foundation for the future. It is expanding to consumer-facing digital businesses, green energy and electronics. 

Its Chairman N Chandrasekaran is injecting new life into what was being seen as just another big conglomerate. It is first connecting several brands across the Tata universe through its super up TataNeu, expected to launch early next year.

To expand its offerings it has acquired online grocer BigBasket, online pharmacy 1MG and invested in Curefit. But arguably the most visible deal for Tata was its acquisition of Air India. The national carrier is returning to the Tatas after 68 years. This has raised speculations of a possible consolidation of Tata’s aviation interests, which include Vistara and AirAsia India. 

Having said that, Tatas are emerging as a credible challenger to the dominance of IndiGo, which has been ruling the market.  It’s not just aviation, the Tata Group is also stepping up its green energy game.  

This is an area where Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani have started a massive infrastructure building exercise. Tata Power has installed renewable power capacity of 4GW, with plans to ramp it to 15GW by 2025. 

This month it was awarded the contract to build India’s largest solar and battery storage project worth Rs 945 crore. Just as the government unveiled an incentive scheme to secure a semiconductor supply chain for India, Tata Group is reportedly planning to set up a semiconductor assembly and test unit. Tata is already building a high-tech electronics manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu.

With the entry of Tata, the competition in the Indian sky will be a sight worth gazing at. And consumers will reap the benefits.

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First Published: Dec 31 2021 | 8:15 AM IST

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