Tell us about your early career days, as well as journey through IL&FS IDF.

In my 20 years of work experience across several companies in the financial services space, my initial years provided me with grounding in accounts, audit, reading financial statements, along with completing my chartered accountancy. I started my career with Price Waterhouse Coopers and then worked for IL&FS from 1995-99 in the Investment Banking team. My early stint with IL&FS laid the foundation in finance for me and gave me the critical core quantitative and analytical skills which has helped me through the years. Serving in the investment banking division and handling innovative funding structures- leasing, lending, and advisory, I gained my foundations in financial services with IL&FS.

At IL&FS, I had made up my mind to pursue international education and gain overseas work experience and towards that endeavor I left IL&FS in end 1999 and spent a year with Arthur Andersen in their corporate finance team.

I then moved onto the United States in 2001 to pursue my MBA from the University of North Carolina a top US business school. The MBA program was enriching and I gained academically. In the final six years of my US sojourn, I worked with an AIG subsidiary where I was responsible for their corporate and international business development and US Airways for their turnaround strategy. Even though I had spent time overseas, my dream was to always come back to my home country. In the year 2009, I returned to India and was welcomed by IL&FS Group with open arms and was encouraged to steer the ship in a different role. Back in the early 90s, IL&FS was comparatively a smaller organization from what it is today, a behemoth having around 250 subsidiaries; however the corporate spirit has remained the same over the years

My second innings with IL&FS began, with the project finance team at the Holding company, helping with capital allocation for the Group.

One of my biggest learning experiences has been with my assignment for IL&FS Engineering, one of the three companies belonging to the Ramalinga Raju descent, taken over by IL&FS. Stationed in Hyderabad, with my family in Mumbai, I had to constantly shuttle between two cities. My involvement with Maytas Properties, which was also bought over by IL&FS, was in helping with debt restructuring and assisting in the settlement with the private equity firm which was invested in the company. At IL&FS Engineering, I handled a large BOT portfolio of more than 1000cr, handled the CDR exercise, participated in the induction of a Strategic investor and was an integral part of the team that was managing the operations. Both IL&FS Engineering and Maytas Properties experiences were tremendous and gave me varied perspectives still continue my participation with these two companies through Board level participation for the BOT portfolio entities. It’s been an incredible ride for me in these 20 years, both a personal and professional achievement. can now pull together all that I have gathered and learnt in ILFS, into a leadership role. This organization encourages you; even if you have spent time outside they welcome you with open arms and give you the opportunity in a different role.

How would Infrastructure Debt Fund(IDF) contribute to the overall infrastructure industry?

Historically infrastructure projects were funded only by the banking sector. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for banks to increase their infrastructure lending given the huge asset liability mismatches, sectoral and group concentration issues and rising NPAs.

Infrastructure projects require long term funding. In most developed nations, pension funds and insurance companies are the large investors in infrastructure. As of today, the corpuses of private life insurance and pension fund managers are increasing. There is a large pool of capital available domestically and the government is extremely focused and believes that a portion of these funds can be diverted towards funding infrastructure projects.

This is where IDF would play a huge role in taking some of the burden away from the banks and help the government to achieve its objective of broadening the type of players who fund infrastructure projects in the country.

As the CIO of IDF, how did you navigate the fund raising and investments?

In the latter half of 2012, IDF as a concept had just given birth. As I said earlier, the government was keen and IL&FS was asked to take this initiative.

Having shown indications to get involved in this project and I was the first employee of IDF.Along with help from my IFIN colleagues, we prepared all the paperwork to procure a license to get into the business. We acquired our license, as well as launched the initiative in February 2013, thereafter commencing the activity for fund raising. By mid-2013, a global crisis occurred: the rupee dollar exchange rate went through a lot of fluctuations and all emerging markets went through significant turmoil; even India wasn’t spared from it. We had tied up with a couple of foreign investors, but due to this volatility, some of the commitments made by the investors, either got postponed or cancelled. Even though we debuted the fund in February, it was not until December 2013 that we actually closed our first fund.

As intense as it was, it was also an eye opener to the challenges that a start up like us faced-from almost a year of meeting with investors and asking them to entrust their faith in IL&FS, to pitching that we were a strong institution with a great concept. Nonetheless it was a great journey and we were eventually successful in raising our first fund in 2013 and the second one thereafter; simultaneously building the team.

How do you envisage your journey towards growing the business even further?

I will begin by talking about the objectives I have set for myself… Today IL&FS IDF is a fund management platform with a corpus of around 1500 cr. My personal goal for this year is to increase our committed corpus by 60% by March 2016 Through a mix of domestic and overseas fund raise. With the first quarter in this financial year, we have already launched our third fund. We are profitable and wish to build on what we already have. Our approach is in meeting new investors. Although we are cognizant of the fact that this is still a fresh concept, we need growth in this business by building new relationships. We would also need to be alert at all times and make sensible decisions and investments. The company has been engaging with international investors and before the closing of the year we wish to raise funds from international investors as well. The goal would be to see an incremental rise over the next three years, where the fund reaches a USD 1 billion platform from the current 1500 cr, without any problem assets.

How has IL&FS nurtured the leader in you?

This company has always been entrepreneurial. They are always willing to try new ideas, giving employees the flexibility and freedom to do different things, with adequate support even in your worst blunders. They have always nurtured people who can think outside the boxin getting business and with guidance from the supervisors, have encouraged individuals to do something different from what the market is doing.

The dynamism with which IL&FS works, is always finding a solution to a problem, which is very important to being a leader. And that’s what the organization has instilled in me. Tell us about your leadership transition journey. I would like to thank Mr Ramesh Bawa for his encouragement and continued support in giving me this opportunity. Although I was integral towards the investment strategy function, transitioning to a leadership role has been entirely different; I have set a few goals.

First, market pitch of the good work that has happened over the last two years by meeting existing investors along with making presentations to prospective investors, has begun. Second, engagement with the team and reassure them that the change in management does not impact the inter-team dynamics and effectiveness. Third, people’s minds are subject to considerable uncertainty and ambiguity in the event of an unexpected and premature leadership exit. Therefore, providing clarity and managing expectations has also been a part of the immediate agenda.

CEOs bring in their own style of working. What do you anticipate would be your way of doing things?

As a CIO,I was constantly involved in the strategy, but as a CEO I am responsible for managing the investments. Along with a shift in management role, there is demand in results in meeting and exceeding internal and external expectations. The mission now lies in going from where we are, to a much larger platform. Use a wide-ranging approach, talk to as many people as possible, with a greater need to excel and perform whilst maintaining confidence and meeting the expectations of all stakeholders.

How do you strike a balance? Where do you seek inspiration?

I enjoy what I do and that has always been a driving force for me. A huge professional as well as personal achievement would be scaling up from 1500 cr to USD 1 billion fund, by presenting this first of its kind concept and opportunity to the Indian market players and asking premium investors to place money into the fund, in turn used to fund infrastructural projects. This in itself is a big motivational factor. Apart from this, IFIN as a culture has always been encouraging and supportive.

What are your core values?

Born and raised in a middle class family, I have risen through the ranks. No matter how high you rise professionally and personally, it is essential to always remember your roots and stay grounded during all your interactions. And this is a key quality and core to being a leader.

How do you translate the team’s goals to individual motivators?

In this organization everybody has a voice: encouraged to state their point of view, thoughts and ideas. Each employee brings different years of experiences. Cultivating a feeling of belongingness, encouraging one to contribute, keeping a positive environment, taking calculated risks, giving recommendations and thinking outside the box is not only a motivational factor, but also plays a massive role in the dynamism within the team.

Tell us something that you are passionate about?

Along with a healthy mind, I endorse being fit and healthy. So my day is incomplete without a visit to the gym. My children, Ayaan and Rhea, thirteen and seven years respectively, are the biggest driving influences in my life. My wife Daisy has been the biggest supporter, guiding light and balancing factor throughout my career. As a family, we love spending lots of quality time over weekends, as well as love taking those once a year short or long trips. If time permits, I wish to hopefully learn a musical instrument someday

As a parting note… any future aspirations?

Professionally, once you reach the position of a CEO, you have already reached the pinnacle in your career. My personal ambition is to create a platform that will set the gold standard for fund management in the infrastructure sector of the country.

ILFS has contributed a lot as far as development of infrastructure is concerned. But fund management is fairly a new territory. International or domestic investors, who wish to explore investment opportunities in the infrastructure sector, should consider IL&FS as their first port of call.

As shared with IFIN Panorama Editorial Team


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