Companies

A man for all things Tata

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on September 20, 2013 Published on September 20, 2013

Tata Group’s Prasad Menon

Prasad Menon, Chairman-nominee of the proposed joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, is no stranger to challenging assignments.

He has already come through on tough tasks in two other group companies, Tata Chemicals and Tata Power. And now, he has been entrusted with the job of giving wing to the group’s proposed full-service carrier.

A chemical engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, Menon has worked with some of the best companies in the Indian chemicals industry.

After 20 years with chemical giant ICI, Menon went on to become director, technical, of Nagarjuna Fertilisers and Chemicals Limited, where he oversaw the construction and commissioning of the company’s urea fertiliser project in Kakinada.

In 2000, he took over as Managing Director of Tata Chemicals, and in 2006, he stepped outside the chemicals field to become Managing Director of Tata Power, from where he eventually retired in January 2011. When he took over the reins of Tata Chemicals in 2000, the urea fertiliser and soda ash maker was in decline.

The firm had posted a 35 per cent drop in net profit in fiscal year 1999-2000, at Rs 117.3 crore, though sales had increased marginally to Rs 1,521 crore from Rs 1,464 crore the previous year. Menon was instrumental in doubling net profit to Rs 340 crore in 2004-05.

Foreign acquisitions

It was also during his tenure that Tata Chemicals got into the $1 billion club, with its acquisition of UK-based Brunner Mond Group in December 2005.

Tata Chemicals agreed to buy 63.5 per cent of Brunner Mond from Wayland Investments and Barclays Bank for Rs 508 crore.

The acquisition established the Indian company as the world's third-largest soda ash producer, with a total capacity of three million tonnes. Prior to the acquisition, Tata Chemicals, the largest soda ash maker in India, had a total capacity of 0.9 million tonnes. Brunner Mond was Tata Chemicals’ second move overseas. The first was a 33 per cent stake in IMACID, Morocco, a manufacturer of phosphoric acid, earlier that year. That acquisition was sealed for Rs 166 crore in March 2005. IMACID was a joint venture between a state-owned company incorporated in Morocco and Chambal Fertilisers and Chemicals.

IMACID produced 373,895 tonnes of phosphoric acid in 2004. The deal assured the company a good supply of phosphoric acid, as well as a footprint in international geographies.

Menon also played an integral role in the merger of Hind Lever Chemicals with Tata Chemicals in 2004, and is credited with having steered the company from a relatively sheltered environment to a whole new world of market determinants.

Sustainability focus

At Tata Power, too, Menon had the mandate to revive the company’s fortunes. Tata Power was facing challenges similar to those confronting Tata Chemicals: regulatory pressures, lack of growth and narrowing operating margins.

But while Menon had a year or two to consolidate and restructure Tata Chemicals before looking at growth, at Tata Power, he did not have the luxury of time.

During his tenure, Tata Power, the second oldest company in the Tata Group, and the oldest power-generating company in the country, reached a new milestone with its consumer base in Mumbai crossing the one lakh mark.

Given Menon's 40 years of diverse experience, he decided to focus on energy efficiency, and attempted to convince industry stakeholders and business owners about the long-term benefits of addressing sustainability.

Facilitating new beginnings has been the hallmark of Menon, and it is this quality that will aid him in helping the Tatas establish a new airline in India.

amritanair.ghaswalla@thehindu.co.in

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Published on September 20, 2013
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