Kumar Mangalam Birla Curated
Chairman, Aditya Birla Group and Vodafone Idea ...
CURATED BY :
What is that one business that you should NOT have had invested in ?
What is that one sector, you are the most eager to get into ?
What has been the most difficult deal for you ?
Who is your favorite political administrative leader ?
Who is your favorite business leader and why ?
What would the earth-shattering reforms that you want to be imposed that would change the entire business culture ?
Are you seeing a turnaround in the economy after so long ?
Is the financial services space going to be the next big growth are for Aditya Birla Group ?
What do your dinner table conversations look like usually ?
Are your children interested in the business you do ?
You are the largest cement player in the country with Ultratech, what pricing power does it give the company in the key markets ?
Why was the Ultratech - Jaypee deal so crucial for Ultratech ?
You have made 36 acquisitions in over 20 years, what drives you to go ahead with the deals ?
How do you look back at the journey so far ?
Tell us something about your son and daughter pursuing their passions.
What were the impacts of BREXIT on India ?
How do you see the ABG ten years from now?
In terms of business profile, 80-90 per cent, it will be the same. We would have shed a few businesses and added on some new businesses. We would stay very contemporary in terms of management practice and people development initiatives. We would be known globally across the industries that we are in (where we will be) amongst the first three players. We would be a very formidable brand globally as a corporate. We would be known as a bottom driven, highly people oriented company, a place where people would want to come and work, very highly rated on the people front and the growing global footprint 149 a very aspirational place to work in that is where very broadly I see us. And we will always remain a very proud Indian company at heart. That is an inextricable link that can never get severed.
Going forward, what are the major positives and negatives that you see for India?
The advantage is the fact that the respect for India has increased. So the acceptability of an Indian company taking you over is much higher today because of the whole perception of India as an economy of the future. So there is awe about India which makes growth overseas much easier for an Indian company. The challenge will be that the size of acquisitions would have to become larger and larger to be meaningful. And funding will always be some sort of a challenge; of course it is company specific. But structuring in terms of raising finance, impact on the mother company on its balance sheet that I think is always going to be a challenge.
Today there is a lot of focus on BRIC countries. How do you see the interplay between India and China in the coming years?
Any growing multinational cannot afford not be either in China or in India. From a global competition point of view, it is very tough to compete with the Chinese because there is not a level playing field. There is a huge amount of government intervention (and) it is largely an opaque economy. But having said that it would happen sooner or later that they would have to become a market driven economy and I do not think that India lacks in any which way – the only issue where we have a handicap is infrastructure. In terms of entrepreneurship, brain power, intellectual capacity, resourcefulness, we are as good as the Chinese, if not better. So I do not think that we have anything to fear of the Chinese and in terms of the global economy, given the rates of growth and the size of the market, (China and India) have to be on the radar for any multinational.
How about some of the Indian management concepts, such as “jugad”, which roughly translates to extracting maximum value?
Today if you look at any private equity investor I think they are doing a very good job of extracting maximum value. No, I do not think that there is something like an Indian way of management anymore. But in a globalizing world, again I am not sure if there should be an Indian way of doing things, as opposed to an ABG way of doing things, or a GE way of doing things. So, it has to be something that has been evolved by the organization and has worked well. It is a process that has been fine tuned several times over. It is an accumulation of learning over the years and in terms of knowing what works well and what does not. That it has to be the organization way of doing things. That is what makes you distinctive. I believe an employee today for example in a globalized corporation would want to join you for the value systems that you stand for, for your working philosophy, for your way of incubating talent. We are very proud to be Indian, we are very proud of our culture and tradition. But is there is an Indian way of management, I do not subscribe to that.
So in what way would you then think that the Indian-ness in the Birla DNA has influenced the growth of your company?
The Indian-ness is perhaps imbued in our value system but you know these are values that are universal values. I think it is more a matter of the organization, its own evolution, its own value system, its own ways of doing things. So, not compromising the long-term for the short-term or treating people with respect and dignity or setting people up for success, helping people reach their full potential is for us a philosophy, a way of doing business.
“Compassionate capitalism” is said to be one of the unique management styles in Indian multinationals. Do you agree?
If compassionate capitalism would mean that we would be soft in terms of result orientation, it is not true. We try very hard for results, whether it is a company that has been nurtured here by the group for the last 30 years or it is a takeover which The growing global footprint 147 is six months old. So compassionate would have a different connotation, and it depends on what aspect of compassion one is talking about. But I would think that keeping the current management or investing in R&D or human resource development, these are all good business decisions. It is driven by what is required and what is good for the business.
Generally, the multinational companies from emerging economies are growing mainly via acquisition and research shows that for a successful acquisition, cultural compatibility is very important. So, in the light of your recent acquisitions, what has been your experience?
I do not agree with this view of cultural compatibility. I think that is very difficult to achieve. If you have grown up in say Germany or Japan, it is not easy to have cultural compatibility with let us say an Australian or an Indian and I do not think that it is really required. What is essential is a shared understanding of what the organization is about, where we want to reach, what is the strategic architecture to get there. I do not think we can claim to have a uniform culture across our businesses across the world, to be really honest. But if culture is a derivative of the value system then we have a very clearly articulated set of values. One of the first activities that would be on the agenda. for an acquired company would be for us to explain our values to them, how they would apply in different contexts and how one would deal with value deviation. So culture, if at all in our case, is a derivative of our value system.
In view of the recent happenings (in India), do you think that for firms that are operating in a challenging political environment where there is systemic corruption and red tape, it is that much more challenging for them to have high standards of governance?
To me it is all about the desire to follow the principles of good governance irrespective of what the environment is like not succumbing to it, no matter how fierce or mild it be. Whatever the temptations or whatever the provocations, if a corporate chooses a path of good governance then the environment around becomes somewhat irrelevant except that you are perhaps in a way compromising on your growth. But that is a very conscious decision and you have to be very sure that that is a decision you are comfortable with.
Currently, a lion’s share of your group’s turnover comes from the commodity businesses. What about your foray into the knowledge intensive services?
We have a presence in two large emerging service sectors; one is mobile telephony, the other is financial services and we have taken bets on these two emerging sectors. I am pretty sure that these are strong bets given our study of the sectors and also the fact that we have been around in both of these sectors now for almost 15 years. Like any other corporation, you have got to make choices and capital allocation is always a very difficult choice to make. Having said that, we largely, as of now and going forward, we would remain largely a commodity player. I think that the demand for commodities will never go away (even though) pace of growth is slow. But it is also a space we know very well and we excel in, so I do not want to move out of spaces where we have huge strengths and a formidable track record. But at the same time we try to strike a balance investing in the more service oriented, futuristic businesses as opposed to the value businesses like manufacturing.
Can you trace the international odyssey of your company in terms of the key milestones on the way?
So, internationalization is much more important and is driven by economics of cost, of where the customer is, of where you can get technologies and so on. Increasingly, I also believe that internationalization is a good de-risking strategy. For a conglomerate like us with a large stake in India, I think de-risking our Indian portfolio is important. India is perhaps one of the most difficult places to work out of in terms of infrastructure, the frequency with which policy changes happen and not having a longer-term view of policy. So, I have come to believe that for a group like ours, internationalization is also a part of de-risking process as risk management is very critical in the growth of an organization. But de-risking is not just about financial risk but also in terms of decision making by quality (that is) the manner in which decisions are made. That said, I have never, at any point in time, given a mandate to my businesses that they need to have so much revenue coming from international operations in a certain timeframe. For us, it will never be globalization for the sake of globalization. It is led by a genuine need for the business globalization is never a mandate in itself, it is not an end in itself, it is a means to achieve a larger objective.
What is the update on the e-commerce business?
We are looking at growing it. They are doing around 3-4,000 orders everyday. But margins have come down significantly due to heavy discounting in the industry. Until investors don’t turn off the taps at some of the larger players in the segment, discounting seems to be the order of the day.
Any new areas of growth that you are looking at?
None at all. We are just focused on where we are.
Do you think the business environment today is stable enough?
I think that confidence is coming back. One of the key stumbling blocks is that many companies are stuck with large debt, which they have accumulated over a period of time and therefore they don’t have the room to invest. Personally, I think it will be a while before full-throttle investment happens. You look around and how many corporates do you see who have debt within a manageable level. So, I don’t see any significant corporate investments happening in the next four to eight quarters. Our debt levels are very much under control. We are investing around Rs2,600 crore in a new cement plant in MP. We are looking at similar greenfield investments across several of our businesses. Some of these are fresh plans. We continue to believe in the inherent India story.
What is your view on GST?
GST is a structural move in the right direction. It could take a few months to settle down. It is another one of the government’s fundamental shifts which are all very well thought through...It will make us a much more robust economy.
The economy, though, continues to be in some kind of flux, especially sectors like infrastructure and housing. What is your sense on it ?
Housing is one sector that is yet to take off. It has to reach a certain scale to really have an impact. As of now, it doesn’t have significant enough demand. But the trajectory is great. Not just from the point of view of cement, but for the economy as a whole. One is banking on housing and infra development when we do a deal of this magnitude. Some sectors like roads, railways, metro, irrigation are doing well. But there is headroom for improvement in infra. The investment is premised on infrastructure development in the country.
How do you see the significant change happening in all of your main businesses ?
Our financial services business gets listed sometime in middle of August. Premji Invest has just come in as a sort of anchor investor...I think robust growth and value discovery is how I would describe this part of our journey.
What is the growth drivers for the group overall?
We are seeing robust growth across our sectors. Our mission has always been to be leaders in each of our businesses which is one, two or three.
Are you planning to come back to the entertainment sector ?
How disappointed were you when the banking license was denied to you due to the regulatory framework ?
Are you looking forward to bringing in any more investors, like Premji Invests ?
How concerned are about the health of the economy, since all of your NBFCs and businesses are linked directly to it ?
What about the ARC business attracts you ?
What are your ambitions for Aditya Birla Capital after the changes in the regulatory system ?
Is the restructuring over ?
Did the listing of Aditya Birla Capital close the restructuring of the group for the foreseeable future ?
How do you cope with business failures ?
If you had choice, what would you have been, if not the head of the ABG ?
Is there an aspiration of significant consolidation to be played in the market ?
How aggressive would the bet of financial services befall on you ?
And the brand name? Idea? Vodafone? What will it be? What will be the name of the merged entity?
Both, Vodafone and Idea are amazing brands in this country with a loyalty and a lot of affinity created in their customers. We will definitely leverage on both. Now, of course, we will develop professionally an identity in the marketing and the communication strategy. But what we can say today is it is our intention to continue to have the presence of both of them in the market. Whoever is today, working with Vodafone or with Idea should be reassured, they should continue to invest because these two brands together will become a power brand.
As far as your shedding the spectrum is concerned, have you had pre-consultations with the regulators on whether you are going to get any money out of it and also, the regulatory approvals because this is a complex deal?
No, we have not, but keep in mind that let us put things in context the amount of extra spectrum that we have is few tens of megahertz out of 1,800. So, it is really relatively tiny. Of course, we are trying to sell it and there might be other operators who here and there need it in which case we would be very happy to take some money, otherwise, we will just hand it over. But it is not a big thing. It is a small thing.
You are going to be the Chairman of the combined, merged entity. How are you going to also form the top-management team? You have Co-CEOs, Co-COOs and a CFO appointed by Vodafone. How will this really work?
This is a company that is going to be jointly managed and with equal rights. That is the underlying objective or the overlying philosophy of the whole combination and for the new company. I will be the Chairman, that is a privilege for me. The CFO is going to be a nominee of Vodafone. The CEO and the COO, we have said that we will choose the best person for the job. That is only fair that any such appointment is merit based.
So, Idea's stake really makes for a king-maker in the overall Indus stake because now both combined have a majority in Indus. So, what is the plan there?
That is not the way to look at it because Indus has an agreement between shareholders to allow everybody to have a fair voice at the table and never any of the three has been dominating the other two. This is a healthy mechanism and we are now more aligned on this side, but we have never been dis-aligned with Airtel. So, I will see this as a joint effort to maximise the value of an extraordinary asset that this country has.
ake us through how confident you are in terms of synergies gaining that component of spectrum that is coming out from this number. And also, your plans for the tower asset sale which is also going to be playing an important part in your overall valuation dynamics.
We are very confident about the synergies and we are very confident for two reasons. First, the large majority of the synergies come, of course, from the towers and if you think about two companies that are going together and as I said, typically, Idea is stronger where Vodafone is weaker and Vodafone is stronger where Idea is weaker. We had some circles where we had single digit market share and maybe they have double digit market share and vice-versa. So by putting together the towers, very easily, you can see the numbers. Total number of towers will be at least 20, but probably more percent less than what it is today and that means less electricity, less transmission, lower leases. This is relative quick and relatively easy to achieve. Plus of course, we have whatever the choice of IT systems and you can reduce some duplication and redundancy. So, we have experience as Vodafone of mergers. As you know, we have done a number of mergers in the recent years and we always systematically have hit the synergies, either earlier or higher than what we set. So, I am confident. Your question on Indus, we have an interest, now completely aligned to maximise the value of the 11 percent that Idea owned, but also the 42 percent that Vodafone owns and in this, we will work together with a third partner in Indus to find the possible best allocation of that money.
Competition is the biggest driver?
The real driver is the vision for the future. India is digitizing. Digital India is a priority of the government. If you think about what will be enabled by broadband, you want it everywhere, you want it in the urban areas, but you also want it in rural areas. You want it in metros, but you want it in every single village. And if you start thinking entertainment, new services, and payments, and financial inclusion, having a player in this country that can give all of that to all of the Indians, ensuring choice, ensuring that there are five big competitors and that Indians can choose from all of them and there will be no difference whether you live in a village or whether you live in a city, I think this is the logic. Of course, we need to preserve competition and we intend to be one of the strongest competitors in this country.
Is consolidation really the need of the hour in the telecom sector? Why this big move?
The primary reason and the fundamental reason is the fact that there is great industrial logic and business sense to both of these businesses coming together. If you look at the combined company, we are talking about leadership in 22-23 circles. We are talking about market share across the country, about 40 percent. Customer market share of about 35 percent. 1,850 megahertz which is a very large bank of capacity and so on and so forth. So, basically, it is about the coming together of two companies who have huge complementarity especially in terms of the assets that they own. That comparative intensity is always an important dynamic, it is always a trigger and that is the reality. That is how the real world works.
What are your investment plans for the foreseeable future ?
When do you think that AB Capital itself will need capital ?
Is there a possibility that Grasim comes down from 57% to 51% stake to capitalize its flagship, Idea ?
Do you have any plans in de-merging further as Aditya Birla Capital ?
Do you believe in sustaining the legacy ?
I have no interest in leaving a legacy behind, to be really honest with you. Continuing my family legacy has always been a big thing for me right from the start. Leaving my own legacy is not just something that I really think about or I honestly feel about. Each of my roles has been very interesting. It’s taught me and stretched me. You know it has taken me to dimensions that I would not have needed to go to earlier. I think that BITS (Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani) is a role that is particularly interesting. It’s a family legacy and I’ve been entrusted in leading it. It’s a rare legacy and something that I feel really proud about. IIM (Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad) is something that is really close to my heart because not only is it such an iconic institution, it’s my subject, I have lived my last 30 years so I can relate to it much more whether it’s pedagogy, whether it’s curriculum — that’s something that I can relate to. Education is something that’s of interest but my heart is in my work. I mean, I have spent I think most of my energy in the last 25 years doing what I have done at work.
What are your thoughts on Women in business ?
We have, if I remember right, 23,000 women managers out of a total of out of 130,000. In top management it’s just five per cent. It is very disappointing. So diversity is something important for us for going forward. We want to see many more women. I can see that at middle-manager level, we have several women but our endeavor is to create jobs for women that are not just jobs in PR and marketing but frontier jobs. So we have a woman who heads our aluminium rolling company unit in a town near Mumbai and she is doing a great job. And I think that women make very good managers. We hope to have more than 30 per cent women in the next five years. I don’t think women need any kinds of concession, I think they can make it on their own merits.
What is your Success Mantra ?
We always say this that our group is all about the people. And I think one of the most important responsibilities and duties for each one of us in the company is to create a pipeline of leaders. In fact, one of the asks that we have is how many leaders are you creating below you? Are you creating a pipeline of leaders? Not just at the top of the company but also across the length and breadth of the company. It’s a very competitive environment in corporate India now. So if you have two people who are performing as well, the one who has spent more and is more inclined to develop more leaders would steal a march over the other. We also say that we don’t want to have individual stars who can’t work in a team, we need people who can create teams around them. So it’s about people and it’s about building things.
What would your business reform wish-list consist of ?
Wow, I wasn’t expecting a business question! I think that there’s a lot more that can be done to ease businesses. The government has done a lot. I think the state governments have to follow suit and work in a collaborative way. That is one thing I think that can really move the needle and make a huge difference. So we know that there are many such issues that India as a country is facing. There are two-three that strike out to me. I think our education needs a reform. Education, as a sector, in our country is hugely regulated and there’s so much of intellectual capital. We are known as one of the intellectual capitals of the world, thanks to the IT industry, but the sector still remains highly regulated. The other is to make India green. I don’t think we are going to leave the planet a better place for our children, so emission norms and sustainability initiatives should be looked into.
What would your word of advice be for young entrepreneurs ?
I think from a business point of view it’s very important before you get into a business to understand the basics of the business and to really understand its value-drivers and what makes it click as opposed to getting into a business because it’s sexy and savvy — it’s the worst thing to do, which many kids of this generation are falling prey to. There are many of them who are also doing very well. So I think, from a business point of view, that’s the advice I would give. I think Indian entrepreneurship is one of the biggest strengths of our country. But it’s also important to do your homework. So that’s the advice that I would give.
What are your opinions on the Next-gen Birlas ?
I think everyone’s style of parenting and views on parenting are personal. For Neerja (his wife) and me, we believed that we wanted our children to start off with what they wanted to do, which would help them to groom themselves as individuals and to pursue their passions. Our only condition was that they had to work very hard at it. So you have to work very hard at what you do and try your very best to excel in it. And we are really happy because I see both of them do that. My daughter (Ananya Birla) is not just a pop singer but she also runs her own micro-finance start-up. She has also gotten into affordable housing that we keep a watch on — well, at a very broad level because they won’t let you get closer than a point, this generation. But we have a very good sense of what she is doing. Her music is very interesting and she is doing quite well. She’s got a little fan following of her own. My son (Aryaman Birla) plays cricket. He is with the Rajasthan Royals and plays for Madhya Pradesh Under-23, of which he is the captain. So the point being these kids are really brilliant. This generation is a really different generation from ours. I think it’s important to give them freedom as long as they are reasonable, as long as they are very clear about family values and sticking to those, as long as they are associating with the right people and in our case, we are fortunate that all of these are regarded.
How did you start out with Aditya Birla Group taking it further as a business ?
It was very overwhelming as I was just 28. There were lots and lots of emotional turmoil because my father (Aditya Vikram Birla) passed away very young, unexpectedly. I had something that kept me going and that could take my mind off all the personal stuff that had happened in the last few years before that. I had done my CA and MBA. More than that, I had spent a lot of time working with my father. I understood business and its dynamics and my father made sure I knew that. I had worked with him for two years and he made sure I paid attention. I remember that I was supposed to go on a work trip and I didn’t end up going. I told my dad that I was “very tired” and I remember him telling me that he hadn’t heard of anyone who died of being tired. What do I say to that? I have learnt from my grandfather and great grandfather that wealth has to be used for society as opposed to being lavish and spending mindlessly and that wealth wouldn’t stay very long with you if you were to do that. They also talked about personal habits and how that leads to character formation and the kind of impact it has on your future generations. My great grandfather was very influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.
How do you find talent for such global ambitions?
We have already implemented 2/2 structure. A leader will have to work with two different businesses in two different geographies. He gets the best chance to get a plum role in the group.
Which model you follow while pursuing global aspirations?
We follow a conglomerate model instead of a federal structure. We have a corporate talent centre to help group companies.
Which Aditya Birla Group brand can go global first?
I think we have a great brand Idea. It will be our starting point. However, currently, we are focusing in India. There are a lot of challenges here.
Is fall in the rupee a worry as you are focused on commodity business?
Not really. We are in financial services. We are in telecom. We are in services. I see a lot more focus on the services sector.
Which sector can make it to a global brand?
Right now, opportunity for consumer brands is in India. So, the focus has to be here. Abof.com (an e-commerce initiative from Aditya Birla Group) is easier to take global.
Do you see a global Indian brand emerging sometime now?
I think that making global Indian brands is something that requires patience, requires time and consistency in terms of product quality. I think we are yet to see any brand coming out of India that is truly global.
What is the biggest challenge in making India a global manufacturing hub?
India needs to learn a lot of new skills for making global Indian brands, including miniaturization. We are some time away from that. However, this is right time to start learning new skills for India.
Do you look at the debt-laden companies as opportunities to invest in ?
What implications did happen with the Jaypee-Ultratech deal with the Birla ?
How did your businesses take into consideration the reform of GST ?
What was your style of parenting your kids ?
Was there a letter from your grandfather and great grandfather stating some amazing ethos passed on your your generation ?
What kind of nepotism did you have to go through in your own family and how did you bring about that change ?
What did you father teach in terms of business principles ?
How were you so determined as a businessman at the age of 28 ?
Is liquidation a possibility in the Vodafone-Idea venture ?
What is it that you would like the Government to do with regards to the NBFC crisis ?
What did you mean when you said you wanted ABG to be less Marwaadi ?
Will the Providence Partners group dilute stake further ?
No. Post-dilution, we have 12% in Indus and we will hold on to it. We don't intend to sell more.
Idea has transferred towers in some circles to Indus. What are your plans for the remaining circles?
We have not yet firmed up plans for towers in circles outside Indus.
Why did you think of exiting the business in 2005 ?
We took the right decision by staying put in the emerging telecom business. Idea's market cap is the highest among the AV Birla group's listed entities.
Are you looking at any international acquisitions?
The focus is very much on India. No international acquisitions are on the radar. We have our hands full. It will be premature to think of overseas acquisitions until we strengthen our position within the country.
How will Idea fund the Rs 2,700 crore-plus expenditure on buying out the Modis in Spice?
The funding will be done through our own internal accruals and treasury operations.
Your father Aditya Birla once said, "Thinking only of profit is a sin". What do you think?
Business has a larger social responsibility to perform whilst striving to maximise value for its shareholders.
What is your strategy for the telecom sector?
We see telecom as a core business. We recently entered into an alliance with Tata Telecom and will have the circles of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh as our footprint. We intend to stay in the service (cellular) side.
What do you propose to do with Indal's idle capacities in the south?
The Indal acquisition brings with it significant capacities in the fabricated-products sector. For example, the rolled and foils sectors. We will review the idle capacities to see if it makes economic sense to revive them shortly.
How much time do you devote to your family?
I try to spend at least Sundays with my family.
Should political funding by business houses be more transparent?
Transparency should be a norm. We have formed a General Electoral Trust for such funding.
After the emergence of IT tycoons, do you get sleepless nights?
We are proud of their achievements. Our focus is on traditional businesses while partaking in some new age ones. I sleep peacefully.
Why is the Birla Group behind Reliance, the No.1 private enterprise?
It is difficult to explain why a company is No. 1 or 2. In all our businesses, we enjoy a leadership position.
Till about 10 years ago, the Birlas and Tatas were the face of Indian industry. Now there are others who have gained prominence ...
Being in the forefront of industry is not the preserve of a few. It should be a matter of pride to see Indian entrepreneurs flourish. However, this in no way takes away from our position of pre-eminence.
What do you think of the role of MNCs in India?
MNCs bring in new technology, novel management practices and global experiences from which important lessons can be gleaned. They spur economic growth in a constructive manner.
What should India do to attract more foreign exchange?
India should continue with its focus to earn foreign exchange. NRIs, like the non-resident Chinese, should plough funds back into the country.
In many Birla firms, marketing/financial people seem to rise much faster than the technical guys. Has this resulted in internal politics and red tape ?
To generalise is not the best thing to do. Four of my 10 directors hold a degree in engineering/technology. Many of our profit-centre heads are technocrats. We believe in meritocracy.
Can you give me some tips on how to be successful like you?
The new economy has proved that anyone with intelligence, out-of-the-box thinking, perseverance and passion can make it.
The days of brick and mortar business are over. Do you agree?
No. IT is a great enabler. It can be used to enhance the competitiveness of brick and mortar businesses.
Why are you not entering information technology (IT) in a big way?
Until now, our presence in IT has been relatively small. We are exploring ways of increasing it meaningfully. For example, we have acquired a company in the US, Learning Byte, which focuses on technology-led instructions for corporates. We are working in many areas, in particular B2B and B2C. In our ready-to-wear apparel business and financial services, we will leverage web power.