In the Fast Lane

Four years of at least 12-hour work­ing days. Con­vinc­ing For­mula One boss Bernie Ec­cle­stone. A $400 mil­lion in­vest­ment on a world-class cir­cuit. It took all this and more for Sameer Gaur to bring the ul­tra glam F1 to In­dia.

India Today - - INSIDE - By Dhi­raj Nayyar

What it took for the Jaypee scion to bring the ul­tra glam For­mula One to In­dia.

It’s 2.30 p.m. on Thurs­day, Novem­ber 2, when Sameer Gaur, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and CEO of Jaypee Sports In­ter­na­tional ( JPSI) and the man be­hind In­dia’s first For­mula One Grand Prix race wel­comes us into his of­fice at the Buddh In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit in Greater Noida, out­side Delhi. Sameer, 40, looks noth­ing like the cor­po­rate big­wig that he is. Dressed ca­su­ally in navy blue jeans and a black shirt and sport­ing a two-day-old stub­ble, he greets us by bow­ing gen­tly with his hand on his heart. He seems to pre­fer this to the con­ven­tional shak­ing of hands.

An­other CEO might have taken a va­ca­tion af­ter the 16 to 18-hour work­ing days in the run-up to the race week­end of Oc­to­ber 29-30, but Sameer is hard at work. He has just resched­uled a meet­ing to talk to us. Though mes­sages con­grat­u­lat­ing him on the suc­cess of the race con­tinue to pour in, he has his feet firmly on the ground.

He in­sists on at­tribut­ing the suc­cess to the Jaypee Group rather than take credit him­self. “For this event, the en­tire or­gan­i­sa­tion pooled to­gether,” he says. He goes on to elab­o­rate on the roles played by his two el­der broth­ers, Manoj and Sunny Gaur, and his cousins, all of whom have im­por­tant roles across the Jaypee Group. “Imag­ine, my el­der brother Sunny Gau­rji (he al­ways suf­fixes the names of all el­ders in the fam­ily with a ji), man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Jaypee Ce­ment, was look­ing af­ter lifts and elec­tri­cal work. Su­nil Gau­rji, ex­ec­u­tive vicechair­man of the Group, was in charge of build­ings and roads. Pankaj Gaur, joint man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, hy­dropower, was look­ing af­ter waste man­age­ment, and Manoj Gau­rji, my eldest brother and Group chair­man, was su­per­vis­ing their ac­tiv­i­ties.” He adds with a smile,

“That is why all of ups should be giv­ing this in­ter­view. In Jaypee, it’s never about an in­di­vid­ual. This isn’t Sameer’s suc­cess. It is the suc­cess of our unity.”

The Jaypee Group’s Rs 18,000 crore turnover and in­ter­ests in real es­tate, civil en­gi­neer­ing, power and ho­tels, says Sameer, makes it the per­fect part­ner for For­mula One in In­dia. “There are a few things you need to be in the busi­ness of For­mula One. The most im­por­tant is a proper or­gan­i­sa­tion which Jaypee is. Then you need to have land which Jaypee has; you need fi­nances and civil en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise which we have and lastly, you need hos­pi­tal­ity ex­per­tise, which we pos­sess,” he says.

Asked about his role, Sameer sim­ply says he does what he is told to by the Group’s pa­tri­arch and his fa­ther, Jai Prakash Gaur. When JPSI was set up in 2007, the se­nior Gaur sent him to meet For­mula One boss Bernie Ec­cle­stone who was on the look­out for other Asian venues af­ter the suc­cess of Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia. Sameer sold him the dream. In­dia lapped it up.

Sameer in­sists that he knew noth­ing about For­mula One be­fore 2007. What made him be­lieve that Grand Prix rac­ing would be a com­mer­cial suc­cess? Says Sameer, “All of us are lovers of cricket. But there is no one big event or one big sport which can chal­lenge cricket. Af­ter much re­search we found that mo­tor­sport, if backed by a pri­vate de­vel­oper, had po­ten­tial. We were en­cour­aged by the suc­cess of F1 in Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia.” Judg­ing by the turnout on race day, Sameer hit bull’s-eye.

The suc­cess of For­mula One, Sameer tells us, is the third turn­ing point in his life. The first was in the early 1990s when he went to do an MBA at the Univer­sity of Wales in Cardiff af­ter grad­u­at­ing with hon­ours in eco­nomics from Bha­gat Singh Col­lege in Delhi. “That ex­pe­ri­ence taught me how to do things on my own.” Among other things, Sameer learnt how to cook in Cardiff. Till date, he cooks daal, chawal and subzi for his veg­e­tar­ian fam­ily when­ever he wants to de-stress. The sec­ond mile­stone came in 1997 when he was sent to work on a hy­del project in Jammu and Kash­mir. “That’s when I learnt to deal with peo­ple,” he says

Sameer has big plans for the track. He has in­vested $400 mil­lion (Rs 1,800 crore) in build­ing it and ex­pects to break even in five years. For­mula One yields lim­ited rev­enue. “We only have rights over ticket sales. The rest goes to FIA (Fédéra­tion In­ter­na­tionale de l'au­to­mo­bile, the sport’s gov­ern­ing body),” he says. JPSI net­ted Rs 100 crore from ticket sales. The real money-spin­ner, ac­cord­ing to Sameer, will be events like Mo­togp and V8 Su­per­cars, where he will have more rev­enue rights. Many com­pa­nies are al­ready in touch with him. “We will sit with them af­ter Novem­ber 15 and plan our cal­en­dar for 2012.” Now that Greater Noida has ac­quired a high pro­file, his real es­tate plans in the area get a boost. “Many for- eign­ers were im­pressed. Greater Noida has bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture than Delhi and Gur­gaon.” Sameer him­self has shifted out of Vas­ant Vihar to Greater Noida.

Asked about the com­mon per­cep­tion that the Jaypee Group is close to Ut­tar Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter Mayawati, he sim­ply says, “The Jaypee Group is very close to gov­ern­ments wher­ever we work. We work in 11 states in the coun­try and we need to have pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships with all gov­ern­ments.”

What’s next? Point­ing out of his win­dow to a space next to the track, Sameer says, “Two months from now we start build­ing a cricket sta­dium for one lakh. I want to host a World Cup fi­nal.” Given his record, that day isn’t too far.

Pho­tographs by CHANDRADEEP Ku­mar/www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com, AFP

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