Business Today

New York state of mind

Murari Rajan misses the melting pot, but he is at home with the action on The Street.

Saumya Bhattacharya | Print Edition: Jan 9, 2011

After cutting deals on Wall Street for 20 years, Murari Rajan decided it was time to head back to the land of his birth. Two factors were responsible for that decision. One, the only child wanted to get back to be with his parents - after all, he was away from home for 25 years. Two, Wall Street had lost its charm and reverence, and was increasingly beginning to resemble a disaster area. In September 2008, the month Lehman Brothers collapsed, Rajan joined Piramal Enterprises as Executive Director, heading mergers & acquisitions, or M&As, and corporate development out of Mumbai. "Having been in the United States for such a long time, I wanted to try something new and participate in a more vibrant environment," says Rajan.

Murari Rajan
Executive Director, Piramal Enterprises

Previous employer Egon Zehnder International, New York

Why I came back India is too exciting a market to ignore. And for the proximity to parents

If I was not in India I had planned to be only in India

High point in India Getting a large number of transactions to the finishing line

Low point in India Dealing with infrastructure or perhaps the way things get done in terms of day-to-day life beyond work
He has worked with McKinsey, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan and was Managing Director at financial advisory Harmon & Co. in New York, which was founded by a former EXIM Bank chairman. Rajan has also worked for several years at Wolfensohn & Company, an M&A boutique founded by a former president of the World Bank. In an unusual shift, he worked as a consultant with headhunting company Egon Zehnder International in New York, his last stint before returning to India.

Clearly, Rajan had observed that billion dollar transactions - outbound and inbound - were no longer novelties in India, and that Indian promoters were less emotional about selling businesses and more aggressive about developing a global footprint than before. "I was definitely looking for a platform that had an M&A-driven environment." A senior manager at an executive search firm says that Rajan was wooed into his current role simply because he has a reputation for stitching highend deals. Ajay Piramal, who has built an empire largely via inorganic growth, knows a thing or two about buying and selling businesses.

As far as perfect fits go, it cannot get much better than Piramal and Rajan. It is not as if Rajan was not wary of what could be in store for him. From Wall Street to a promoter-run family business could result in more than a few awkward situations. More than two years later, Rajan has few regrets. "The speed of decision making is a pleasant surprise," he says.

The environment, too, was pretty alien. "I was not even coming back to the city I had grown up in (Chennai)," says Rajan. After living in the West, there is a certain level of efficiency that you begin to expect that you may or may not get in India. "At the end of the day, one has to try and adapt to the local environment," says Rajan, who is single. What helped was the sense of acceptance within the organisation.

In the last three years, a sizeable number of people of Indian origin who have worked abroad have approached Rajan wanting to come back. A confident Rajan predicts that this reverse brain drain will continue for at least the next seven years. Rajan will probably dole out the same advice to those on the way back that a number of his mentors gave him when he came to India. Which is to "act locally and think globally". "That is the best advice I could have got," he says.

There are times when Rajan misses the "melting pot called New York," and the multicultural environment in investment banking there. But then he also plans to explore the various cultures of India. That will keep him busy for a long time to come, but with deal-making taking all of his time, the ace deal-maker has saved those activities for another day.

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