Business Today

Aditya Birla Nuvo: First man forward

Rakesh Jain and Sushil Agarwal         Print Edition: Aug 5, 2012

The financial year 2008/09 was marked by the advent of a worldwide economic recession in tandem with a liquidity and credit crisis. This spilled into 2009/10 and slowed the growth momentum.

The crisis affected Aditya Birla Nuvo's (ABNL) profitability. We had invested over Rs 800 crore to fund growth in the life insurance business and for the acquisition of the retail broking outfit. Expansion of stores in the Fashion and Lifestyle business also impaired profitability. Our exportoriented IT-ITeS and apparel contract manufacturing businesses were hit.

Subsequently, we reported a consolidated net loss of Rs 436 crore in 2008/09 against a profit of Rs 151 crore the previous year. Investments and working capital requirements strained ABNL's standalone balance sheet, with net debt-EBITDA reaching 5.8, and gross debt touching Rs 4,500 crore. Cash conservation was a big challenge.

THE CASE
ABNL needed to bounce back after being pushed into the red by the 2008 economic crisis
THE STRATEGY
Rationalised costs. Infused capital. Reduced debt. Restructured some businesses.

To tackle the situation, we took a number of proactive costrationalisation initiatives across our businesses. Cash generation by manufacturing businesses and capital infusion of Rs 1,000 crore by our promoters helped de-leverage the balance sheet and reduce the interest burden. These measures also ensured availability of growth capital, enabling our businesses to outperform the industry even in an extremely challenging environment.

Garments subsidiaries were merged into the company for optimisation of costs and resources and to derive synergies. Innovative structuring of debt instruments helped pare the interest outgo in our subsidiaries. The results are evident. Today, all of our businesses are profitable and growing. Led by strong growth in renewal premium, Birla Sun Life Insurance has turned profitable. Once a capital guzzler, the financial services business has become the largest contributor to ABNL's profitability. Today, Aditya Birla Financial Services is the fifth-largest fund manager in India, excluding banks and LIC.

The Fashion and Lifestyle and IT-ITeS businesses have turned profitable. Our manufacturing businesses continue to yield strong cash flows. Aditya Birla Minacs, the IT-ITeS arm, crossed the Rs 2,000 crore revenue mark in 2011/12.

And despite the regulatory challenges surrounding the sector, our telecom business - Idea Cellular - has been the biggest revenue share gainer in the past two years. All our businesses are today well placed and contributing to growth. Today, ABNL is generating 50 per cent more revenue than in 2008/09. EBITDA has grown almost four times. Net profit has risen multifold. Standalone net-debt/equity at 0.66 and net debt/EBITDA, at 3.6, are quite reasonable considering that 60 per cent of capital employed is deployed in longterm investments.

Our Chairman, Kumar Mangalam Birla, has summed up our survival instincts well: "Over the years, we have through determined and deliberate effort come to be in this position of being the 'Last Man Standing', almost across each of our businesses. And when we do face a downturn today, from our position of strength, the message I want to convey is that, the last man standing has the best chance at being the first man forward."

Rakesh Jain is MD and Sushil Agarwal is Whole-time Director & CFO, Aditya Birla Nuvo

 Stories of other companies that faced tough times and emerged stronger, told by the people who were in the thick of things.
 Nitin Paranjpe on HUL Himanshu Kapania on IDEA
 Mahendra Mohan Gupta on Jagran Prakashan Rakesh Jain and Sushil Agarwal on Aditya Birla Nuvo
 Sanjay Lalbhai on Arvind Mills Peter Mukerjea on Star India
 Sanjiv Goenka on CESC Bhavarlal H. Jain on Jain Irrigation Systems
 Govind Shrikhande on Shoppers Stop Sunil Pahilajani on Greaves Cotton
 Anu Aga on Thermax
 Sunil Duggal on Dabur India
 N. Srinivasan on India Cements Arvind Uppal on Whirlpool

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