Business Today

On the Birla bandwagon

Few can boast a career graph that’s been as meteoric and at the same time as unpredictable as that of Ajay Srinivasan. Close to a decade ago he took charge of Prudential Plc’s Indian asset management company.

twitter-logo Anand Adhikari        Print Edition: December 30, 2007

Few can boast a career graph that’s been as meteoric and at the same time as unpredictable as that of Ajay Srinivasan. Close to a decade ago he took charge of Prudential Plc’s Indian asset management company (a joint venture with ICICI Bank called Prudential ICICI). When the UK financial services power house decided to cast its net across Asia (India was its first port of call in the region), it roped in Srinivasan, 43, to lead the charge. Result? The 13th floor of One International Finance Centre near Harbour View Street, Hong Kong, was Srinivasan’s work place address for almost the last five years. As Chief Executive (Asia) of Prudential Plc, Srinivasan was in charge of assets under management of $60 billion (Rs 2.4 lakh crore).

Ajay Srinivasan
Ajay Srinivasan
Then, just when speculation began to gain ground that the St Stephen’s and IIM-A alumnus would be called up to Prudential’s UK headquarters, Srinivasan took a rather surprising about turn and returned home. “There’s opportunity in India. These are exciting times,” he gushes, in his first media interaction since landing in India. “Once I made up my mind, it was about finding the right platform,” says Srinivasan.

Srinivasan has taken charge of the $24-billion (Rs 96,000 crore) Aditya Birla Group’s ample financial services portfolio as Chief Executive (Financial Services) and Director (Corporate Strategy and Business Development). Srinivasan, who joined in mid-July, will sit on the boards of Aditya Birla Management Corporation (the group’s core strategy team) and of the financial services companies (insurance, mutual funds and distribution).

The group has some aggressive plans in financial services. Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, when announcing Srinivasan’s appointment, had said: “He will continuously identify emerging opportunities in the financial services sector and lead the Group’s entry into these new segments.” Srinivasan is in sync with that statement. “There are a lot of opportunities in other nondeposit kind of activities,” he says, albeit a bit guardedly. The group has already announced a private equity foray. When asked about the other new businesses, Srinivasan smiles: “They won’t surprise you.” A few of the activities being considered are general insurance and stock broking. And perhaps banking. “Our intention is to set up a bank if regulations permit industrial houses in the banking area,” says Srinivasan, but quickly adds: “Today it’s a hypothetical question.”

What’s pretty certain, however, is that Srinivasan will have his hands full consolidating and scaling up the existing businesses.

The six-year-old life insurance firm and the 13-year-old mutual fund are currently languishing at the 6th position in their respective industries. Srinivasan prefers to look at the strong base that’s been created. “These businesses are well established and we have seen momentum building up there. There is huge headroom for growth in just these four lines of businesses,” he points out.

Srinivasan will also be busy putting in place a new team. Some of the veterans have already headed out. S.V. Prasad, who headed Birla Sun Life Mutual Fund, left in early 2006; he was followed by Nani Jhaveri, CEO, Birla Sun Life Insurance in August 2006; and more recently the 59-year-old S.K. Mitra, Director, Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group, called it a day. Enter Pankaj Razdan, who was earlier managing ICICI Prudential AMC’s Rs 40,000-crore assets, as Deputy CEO, Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group. More high-fliers are expected to join. “We have a team that is looking to win,” says Srinivasan. He’ll need all hands on deck, for sure.

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