Catch me if you can

Gfiles - - COVER STORY -

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

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