Catch me if you can
Ravi Ramaswamy Parthasarathy perfected the art of networking and science of logical persuasion. He carefully built contacts in financial, political, bureaucratic and business circles, both at the national and state levels. When the opportune time came, he used them to bag lucrative and large projects and gold-plate costs. His model helped him to recover group’s investments before the projects were completed. He left before the overleveraged and bloated castle caved in. His story began in the 1980s. Despite the global stock market crash of 1987, the 1980s was the decade of the financiers, i.e. those who understood the subtleties, dynamics, and volatility of money. Global bankers, who were laughed and scoffed at for massive aid to the Third World, which found its way into the pockets and assets of the ruling families and dictators, sought ways to earn profits. They found willing takers, who promised them the moon. Brokers and merchant bankers wanted cash to fuel the stock market boom. Easy money, according to them, could easily lead to easy and lucrative profits. Predators, prowlers, arbitrageurs, and professional managements wanted the money to fund their ambitious and audacious leveraged buyouts, in which bank finance was used to bank roll takeovers, largely at outrageous prices. Even the retail investors were hungry for loans, as they witnessed the upward and upward trajectory of stocks, almost on a daily basis. In India, three banker-financiers made their mark in the 1980s. The foremost among them was the late MJ Pherwani of UTI. He could swing stocks any way he wished to. Armed with huge cache of cash, he was the original Harshad Mehta, the ‘Big Bull’. A few steps behind Pherwani was Deepak Parekh, who made a name through HDFC, which was involved in the infrastructure lending sector. They were joined by KV Kamath, who later became the banker of bankers, and was the head of ICICI. The trio knew everyone there was to know in Mumbai’s financial and Delhi’s political circuits. Ravi Ramaswamy Parthasarathy, the suave and intelligent banker, a former Citibanker, entered this financial milieu in a big way in 1987. Aided and supported by Pherwani and Parekh, he launched the Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), which aimed to finance and operate mega infrastructure projects. UTI and HDFC, along with Central Bank of India, were the original promoters, the initial backers of Parthasarathy. Over the three decades that he remained at IL&FS – he resigned as the Executive Chairman in October 2017, and then as Non-Executive Chairman in July 2018, due to health reasons – Parthasarathy grew his empire. The business expanded across the country – from Gujarat to Odisha, Haryana to Tamil Nadu. His companies were present in several other countries, and his was a known name in cities from New York to Tokyo, London to Hong Kong, with stopovers at Dubai and Abu Dhabi. With over 350 subsidiaries, associate companies, and joint ventures, the ILFS
group managed global assets worth ` 1,16,000 crore. The companies ranged from those that earned either an annual profit or incurred a yearly loss of ` 5001,000 crore to dozens of smaller ones that earned or lost ` 100,000-200,000 per annum. The group was into highways, expressways, tunnelways, power plants, waste management, advisory, investment funding, non-renewable energy, and townships. Nothing was taboo for Parthasarathy.
No one new Parthasarathy well. But he seemed to knew everyone in Delhi, Mumbai, states’ capitals, and global power hubs. He was influential and powerful, the mover and shaker in the world of finance and infrastructure
Art of the possible
People who knew him said that the IL&FS head was a master of the art of networking, and science of persuasion. Over time, he got to know the powerful and influential, the movers and shakers in Mumbai and Delhi. Says a Delhibased business lobbyist: “I didn’t know Parthasarathy well, but he seemed to know everyone. In the past, he used to refer to the former Finance Minister as ‘Chettiar’, as though he was a family member.” Although he was publicity-shy, and rarely spoke to the media, at least onrecord, one could still catch potent