India Inc spreading its wings in 2007

Written by Agencies | New Delhi, December 31: | Updated: Dec 31 2007, 16:01pm hrs
India Inc's managers have always had the enterprise, they found the sure shot way to make billions this year and with the billions came the clash of egos - as large as their larger than-life persona.

Ambani vs Ambani, Tata vs Birla, Ambani vs Mittal, the fights came in all permutations and combinations, making 2007 arguably the most happening as well as a tumultuous period for the Indian industry that stamped its authority overseas with about 250 acquisitions worth over 32 billion dollars.

The Tatas acquired Anglo-Dutch steel giant Corus, Essar walked away with Canada's Algoma, Birla's conquered mining giant Novelis, Mallya took a swig of Scottish whisky major Whyte & Mackay.

The global expansion too was not void of fights be it between an Indian and foreign entity or among the domestic

giants such as Tatas and Mahindras, who are still slugging it out for acquiring US auto giant Ford's British brands Land Rover and Jaguar.

The resurgence of Indian industry comes on the back of uncanny skill shown by the corporate world to make money, possibly faster than others in the world. The size of Indian bourses, one of the fastest growing markets, more than doubled since January 2007 with market capitalisation of all the listed entities booming to over 1.7 trillion dollars from just over 800 billion dollars.

This, coupled with a huge domestic market, which the global players perceived as under-tapped, prompted an increasing flow of foreign direct investment (estimated at 15 billion dollars), global equity and debt funds as also a greater number of MNCs charting out India strategy.

But what's business without stories of wealth creation, rivalry, succession battles or success stories There was a generous supply of all this during this year and even a particular industry taking the government head on.

Even after the settlement in 2005, the bitter battle between the Ambani brothers continued on and off the court earning them the dubious distinction of being one of the world's famous feuding siblings from US magazines. The outcome of the battle for gas is still far from over at the Bombay High Court, while Anil Ambani group squarely blamed top functionaries of elder brother Mukesh's Reliance Industries of conspiring and sabotaging the group company Reliance Power's upcoming IPO.

Anil was also involved in a bitter battle over allocation of telecom spectrum with he himself charging rival Sunil Mittal of Bharti, Birla's Idea and Vodafone Essar of hoarding the spectrum beyond their eligible limits and sought Prime Minister's intervention.

Elder brother Mukesh, in the meantime continued to make money for all the stakeholders in the group, which is valued at more than Rs 500,000 crore. He, however, failed to cut ice with Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh where the group company Reliance Retail was forced to down the shutters, while rivals Goenka's Spencers and Biyani's Big Bazaar continued to thrive.

So infectious was the corporate infighting this year that even two of the country's oldest and most respected Indian conglomerates, Tatas and Birlas could not prevent themselves from indulging in a public spat over Idea cellular. After exiting Idea Cellular last year, Tatas accused Birla of disclosing confidential shareholder agreement, which the latter dismissed as a frivolous charge. The matter is pending in the Supreme Court.

The Tatas were also involved in an exchange with US-based Orient-Express Hotels when its group company Indian Hotels failed to elicit a favourable response to an acquisition bid. The issue acquired racist tone when Orient-Express Chief Paul White dubbed Indian Hotels as a 'predominantly Indian' chain trying to take mileage from its luxury branding.

Another high drama that hogged the limelight was the fight between two-wheeler makers Bajaj Auto Ltd (BAL) and TVS Motors Co over patented technology. The Chennai-based company slapped as Rs 250 crore defamation suit against BAL at the Bombay High Court. The later sought direction from the Madras

High Court to stop its rival from launching 125 cc bike 'Flame', which it said infringed in its digital twin spark ignition technology. The cases will be heard in January.

The Bajaj family was also on the news over the division of the empire. Patriarch Rahul and younger brother Shishir's sides tried hard to reach an out of court settlement only to fail to reach a conclusion at different hearings of the Company Law Board.

Ranbaxy group company Fortis Healthcare and noted cardiologist Naresh Trehan also had their share to contribute to the in-fighting saga played out by India Inc, when the later was thrown out from Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre (EHIRC). After an ugly public spat Trehan decided to quit EHIRC to join Apollo Hospitals group, while also agreeing to sell off his 10 per cent stake in the institute, which he nurtured since inception, for about Rs 70 crore.

It was, however, not only the individuals and companies who were in a fighting mood. The cement industry mustered up enough courage to take on the government refusing not to roll back price hikes after the Finance Minister P Chidambaram announced a differential duty structure on cement in his Budget speech.

While the cement industry did manage to hold on to their stand and get the government announced a revised excise regime, they were pulled up for cartelization and price rigging in a 17-year-old case by anti-monopoly watchdog MRTPC. The commission hauled up as many as 44 manufacturers, including ACC, Birla Cement, ACC and JK Cement, for working in concert under the aegis of the Cement Manufacturers Association to manipulate prices, prompting the government to assure that it would look into the matter.

The year was, however, a good year for Naresh Goyal and Subroto Roy, who successfully buried the hatchet with the former's Jet Airways agreeing to acquire Air Sahara from the latter. After the Rs 2,300 crore deal crashed last year, it took off again earlier in the year after an estimated payment of about Rs 2000 crore.

The aviation sector also saw another consolidation with Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher Airlines acquiring 46 per cent stake in Capt Gopinath's low cost carrier Air Deccan for nearly Rs 1000 crore. The boards of the two airlines have ultimately decided to merge and create a single corporate entity to cut down operational costs and accelerate profitability.

This was also a year which witnessed one of the most successful disinvestment processes when the government exited the country's largest car maker Maruti Udyog Ltd -selling its residual stake of 10.27 per cent for Rs 2,360 crore to a clutch of financial institutions led by Life Insurance Corporation. Since then the company has been rechristened as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and its long serving Managing Director Jagdish Khattar hung up his boots with Japanese successor Shinzo Nakanishi stepping into his shoes.

There may be changes in the guard, but India Inc will be looking forward to the next year with more zeal and fervour to carry on with what they have done this year, specially in conquering the global markets.