When Wilbur L. Ross Jr decided to invest in distressed Delhi-based low-cost carrier SpiceJet that has been bleeding due to skyrocketing fuel prices, he was once again betting on something that defied the prevailing logic: he sees the sharp spike in oil prices reverting to sub-100 dollar levels in a year from now. But then, it is contrarian bets like these that have made Ross, 71, a hugely successful investor.An old Wall Street hat, Ross was one of corporate America’s top bankruptcy advisers while working for Rothschild Investments LLC, before he and his firm WL Ross & Co. became famous for turning around distressed companies. His greatest asset, people who know him say, is his ability to sniff out a deal.
He is helped in this by his powerful connections, his own insight and the American bankruptcy laws that help those who attempt to rebuild a company.
When, in 2001, Ross bought into a host of mills in and around Pennsylvania and formed International Steel Group (ISG), his game plan was based on the US government imposing import tariffs and a turnaround in the global steel industry. Ross made a hefty profit when he sold ISG (then a public company) to Lakshmi Mittal in 2005 for more than $4.5 billion. Today, Ross is seeking to revive the American textile and auto parts industries the same way.
But his Rs 345-crore investment in SpiceJet may not give the returns he expects. SpiceJet, like others in the battered Indian aviation industry, is bleeding, and government policies seem unlikely to change. Higher airfares might help to an extent, but Ross will need all his skill to turn around this airline.