Business Today

Raghuram Rajan and Nikesh Arora: A tale of two exits

So, Raghuram Rajan didn't get a second term (rather, a 2 year extension) and Nikesh Arora didn't get the top job at Softbank. Both exits remind you of the adage: there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip.

twitter-logo Rajeev Dubey        Last Updated: January 23, 2017  | 16:03 IST

Rajeev Dubey, Managing Editor, Business Today
So, Raghuram Rajan didn't get a second term (rather, a 2 year extension) and Nikesh Arora didn't get the top job at Softbank. Both exits remind you of the adage: there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. But look at the subtle similarities.

Rajan would have been put off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting he would take a call on his extension in August. Mind you, for the term ending on September 4! It was enough indication he wasn't required. After all, even the labour law mandates a notice period of 1-3 months; Arora was clearly upset his boss Masayoshi Son had a change of heart about elevating him to the CEO's post. Son instead said he was too young to retire at 60, and that he needed 5, maybe 10, years to cement what he set out to do at Softbank. And he didn't want to keep Arora a CEO-in-waiting for an indefinite period of time.

When Governor Rajan joined the RBI, the industry wondered whether the accomplished academician would lose his way or will make any impact on the bureaucratic, monolithic RBI. When Arora joined Softbank in a surprise announcement, many wondered whether his brash, no-nonsense demeanour would go down well in the polite, quiet and compliant Japanese boardrooms.

Governor Rajan had a trial by fire fending off barbs by maverick politician and economist Subramanian Swamy who constantly attacked his economic policies and his US Green Card, alleging he didn't have allegiance to India (Rajan clarified he was an Indian passport holder and an Indian citizen); Arora had his own set of trials and tribulations when a body of Softbank investors asked for his removal as Softbank's president and heir apparent for alleged conflict of interest in investments, underperformance and "poor business decisions" (though an internal committee of Softbank exonerated Arora of any wrongdoing).

Rajan may have endeared himself to the masses with his plainspeak, but didn't go down well with his political masters. Arora endeared himself to a host of investee companies with his insightful interventions, his ability to connect the dots and his globe-trotting networking and deal-making, but couldn't convince Son to let go of the top job in his favour.

Rajan leaves RBI when WPI inflation is at 0.8 per cent against 7 per cent when he took over, CPI at 5.8 per cent versus 10.5 per cent; forex reserves are at $363 billion against $276 billion; and Sensex is near 26,000 versus 20,000 when he joined; and his reform measures have left an indelible mark on India's banking sector. Ironically, Arora also leaves in the month in which Softbank has garnered a cash pile of $20 billion - the biggest ever in its history - by encashing a part of its holding in Chinese e-tailer Alibaba and exiting Finnish game developer Supercell by selling it to China's Tencent (the deal was announced alongside the announcement of Arora's exit).

Governor Rajan leaves the job with a broken heart and a hard lesson about the fabled Indian bureaucracy and its twisted politics. Arora - who has made no bones about his aspiration for the top job - leaves Softbank with a broken heart as well as a "minor loss" in exiting his $482 million investment in Softbank shares by selling them over to Son. There's a lot to be unearthed about the circumstances of the two high-profile exits.

But as they say, there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip.

 

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