Business Today

The newsmaker

Starring: Rupert Murdoch, Chairman, News Corp; DMRC’s E. Sreedharan; Mohan Sekar, President and COO, Collabera; Unilever’s Vindi Banga; HUL’s Harish Manwani; NDTV’s Rohini Nilekani; and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

     Print Edition: August 24, 2008

The newsmaker

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch
On his sixth visit to India, the 77-year-old media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of News Corp, created quite a flutter in the Capital, and with good reason. Each of his visits has been followed by some important development: his first visit in 1994 was in the wake of his acquisition of Star Asia from a Hong Kong-based tycoon; his last in 2005 was followed by the government opening up the skies further, for foreign equity participation in DTH. And this time too, he has met both the Prime Minister and Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi. Though media circles are buzzing with talks of a possible joint venture with a leading print publication (his group’s The Wall Street Journal already has an exclusive content relationship with Mint of HT Media), there has only been denial from official sources. Nonetheless, it helps to keep the communication channels open as it’s a matter of time before foreign investment norms in media are further relaxed.

Delhi metro’s miracle man

E. Sreedharan
E. Sreedharan
E. Sreedharan, New Delhi’s “Metro man”, has been given a 16-month extension to his position as head of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). The 74-year-old engineer, the brain behind the Capital’s rapid deployment of a mass transit system, made his name building the challenging Konkan line of the Indian Railways. His extension is being seen as a reward for performing what several still see as a miracle in a country, where public projects often take several decades to complete. The second phase of the DMRC project is slated to finish in 2010, the year Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games. But Sreedharan’s work is far from over. Almost every other metropolitan city in India, building a mass transit system—Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore—wants him on board. This technocrat is unlikely to retire any time soon.

In top deck

Harish Manwani
Harish Manwani
An Indian might just end up running the Euro 40-billion Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company, Unilever. Manvinder Singh (Vindi) Banga, 53, Head of the Foods, Home and Personal Care arm across the world for Unilever, and Harish Manwani, 54, non-executive Chairman, HUL and also Unilever’s President for Asia, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe regions, are in the reckoning for the post of the Group CEO at Unilever after the current CEO Patrick Cescau, 59, steps down in May 2009.

Manvinder Singh (Vindi) Banga
Manvinder Singh (Vindi) Banga
Other contenders for the top job are James A. Lawrence, CFO, and Michael B. Folk, President, Unilever Americas. Unilever is likely to look for someone from within the company as its culture and the need to retain top talent is seen as critical.

Banga and Manwani have over three decades of experience with Unilever Group. When contacted, a spokesperson for HUL refused to comment saying this was speculation at the global level.

Trudging uncommon ground

Rohini Nilekani
Rohini Nilekani
She’s a published author, supports and runs two philanthropic outfits (Arghyamm and Akshara Foundation), works with several non-profit organisations and even manages Pratham Books, a publishing house. Rohini Nilekani, 48, wife of Infosys Co-Chairman Nandan Nilekani, has added another role to this plateful of responsibilities. She has turned anchor for a show called “Uncommon Ground” on NDTV. The show will see a face-off between leading corporate bigwigs such as Mukesh Ambani and Anand Mahindra on one side, and prominent social activists like Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy on the other, with completely different perspectives on developmental issues. While Rohini wouldn’t speak to BT on her new role, we’re guessing she’s busy getting ready to mediate in this no-holds-barred battle.

Balancing act

Mohan Sekar
Mohan Sekar
Over the last decade and more, Mohan Sekar, 45, has seen the rise, fall and re-emergence of the Indian IT industry from close quarters. He has worked with Infosys, then with iGate and has witnessed the emergence of India’s disruptive offshore IT industry. While he quit his last job with iGate earlier this year and sharpened his golf skills by hitting the course four times a week, he could not stay away from action for long. So, three months ago, Sekar opted to jump back into the IT industry, as President and COO of Collabera, a $300-million (Rs 1,290 crore) IT services outfit. “We will invest in expanding our consulting prowess and want to move away from the preoccupation with onshore and offsite ratios,” he says. While Collabera has made three acquisitions in three years (Planet Asia, IBL and Blue Hammock), Sekar believes there is “ample headroom for a profitable mid-tier player.”

Power play

Kamal Nath
Kamal Nath
The spotlight was firmly on Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, 61, during the WTO mini-ministerial conference in Geneva in late July. Nath was seen as the main culprit by the developed world, including the United States, for the failure to evolve a consensus on the thorny issue of farm subsidies. A defiant Nath, in turn, blamed the US for the collapse of the talks, highlighting its stubborn reluctance over allowing the developing countries to apply special safeguards mechanism in agriculture. While cynics put Nath’s stonewalling at the meet to impending general elections next year, he himself has maintained that his stance was dictated by the need to protect the interests of Indian farmers. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that Nath means business and looks set to drive a hard bargain at the WTO.

Contributed by Rishi Joshi, Kushan Mitra, Shamni Pandey, Rahul Sachitanand and Anusha Subramanian

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