There are a few business groups in India which are often shrouded in mystery and controversy. Their dealings, activities, plans, political affiliations are often discussed in a hush – hush tone by the press. Not a lot is often known about them. A few of such famous business houses include the Sahara Group headed by the often mysterious Subrata Roy, the Adani Group headed by the its reclusive Chairman Gautam Adani, the UB Group headed by the flamboyant Vijay Mallaya, and the real estate giant DLF headed by KP Singh.

What is also common among the groups mentioned above is often their poor corporate governance record. Several accusations have been levied against these groups in the past. However, each of these groups have emerged unscathed from these controversies. The Iceman will in a series of posts, discuss his views about each of these business groups starting with the Sahara Group.

I have always been intrigued by the background of the Sahara Group. Not a lot is know about their business especially in the South India. The Group biggest claim to fame is in being the Indian Cricket team’s sponsor for the last decade. The inspiration to write about the Sahara Group was due to this article in Outlook Business. The article is quite well researched and it accuses the Sahara Group’s real estate arm of duping its customers, poor corporate governance practices including shady related party dealings intended to short-change prospective investors in its IPO. I must admit that, it is quite rare to find such an article against a business house in the Indian media which has shown no hesitation in being used as tools of promotion by business groups quite often in the past. My contacts in the media industry inform me that this phenomenon of “paid news articles” is quite rampant. So, I set about doing my bit of research on the Sahara Group which forms the basis for this post.

The Sahara Group (or) the Sahara India Parivar is headed by Mr. Subrata Roy Sahara whose official title, believe it or not, is “Managing Worker and Chairman”. Mr. Roy holds a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. The Group claims that the Sahara India Pariwar has an all India presence with over 9.1 lacs workers and assets over Rs.50,000 crores. However, none of the Group’s ventures are publicly acknowledged successes. In fact, several ventures other than the RNBC are believed to have accumulated huge losses over the years. The Group sold its failed airline venture to Jet Airways. Despite this, the Group finds spare cash to splurge on the sponsorship of the Indian cricket team as well as the humongous bid to acquire the Pune IPL team early this year. The Group was also in the news recently in a rumored bid to acquire Liverpool FC as well as its bid to become the main shirt sponsor of the Manchester United FC. The Group’s official website lists its various business interests as follows:
a) Finance
b) Infrastructure and Housing
c) Media & Entertainment
d) Consumer Products
e) Manufacturing
f) Services & Trading

However, what is striking when one goes through the Group’s official website is the obvious attempt to appear as a socially conscious business group. The Group has always tried to lend its name to social causes, patriotic causes and sporting ventures to build a image of trust amongst the Indian population. A case in point is the corporate presentation available on the Group’s website which indulges in a shameful promotion of the Group’s so-called CSR and other social initiatives, pushing the details of the Group’s various business ventures to the background. What one gets to see several times are trumpeting about the “World’s largest family”, and patriotic odes to India including one that simply stumped me – “The swirl of the tricolour never fails to move a Sahara worker”. The Group’s philosophy is apparently “Collective Materialism”. What this exactly means is anybody’s guess. The Group’s profit sharing philosophy is claimed to be “40% towards welfare of kartavyayogi workers, 35% towards Company net-owned funds and 25% towards social development activities”. The Group also claims that it treats its employees so well that there is no need for any trade unions in its organisations. The Group’s various sporting initiatives are trumpeted in many places. Photos of Mr. Roy with famous personalities like Atal Behari Vajpayee, Bal Thackeray, Dalai Lama, Baba Ramdev, Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, Pratibha Patil, APJ Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Dhirubhai Ambani, Lord Swaraj Paul, Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej, Bill Clinton, Goldie Hawn and Michael Douglas (I have no clue why? Probably Mr. Roy was a big fan) find a part in the corporate presentation for some inexplicable reason. The presentation ends with a photograph of the Indian Cricket team.

Sahara’s finance business is supposed to be the Group’s cash cow and its claim to fame. Sahara India Financial Corporation Limited (SIFO) is a “Residuary non-banking Company“. SIFO is also the sponsor of Sahara Mutual Fund and the co-promoter of Sahara India Life Insurance Company Limited. Not much information is publically available about SIFO other than information made available by the Company itself. There have been random articles in the press about actions taken by RBI against SIFO for several alleged non-compliances. To the credit of the Sahara Group, none of these allegations have been substantiated, and the RBI has not publicly questioned the way SIFO operates. However, the whispers don’t seem to die and come up quite frequently. Interestingly, the 4 member board of the SIFO includes Mr. TN Manoharan a former president of the ICAI and a recipient of the Padma Shri award. Mr. Manoharan is also the chairman of the audit committee of SIFO.

Sahara Life Insurance is claimed to be first wholly Indian-Owned private life insurance company. However, precious little is know about the size and nature of portfolio and clients of this Company. Based on the audited financial statements of for FY 08-09, Sahara Life Insurance made a loss of Rs. 18.15 crores on total income of Rs. 183 crores. The accumulated losses piled up by the life insurance venture of the Sahara Group aggregates to Rs. 28.74 crores, on a capital base of Rs. 232 crores. The data for FY 09-10 is not available on the Company’s website. It is apparent that the size of this Life Insurance Company of the Sahara Group is quite minuscule when compared to its peers in India. Sahara Mutual Fund’s website lists 18 funds administered by it. However, the profitability of this venture is not known.

To be continued.


Manchester United – European Classics

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Football

I’ve been busy with quite a bit of work over the past month. Still got lots on my plate till the end of September. Meanwhile, the football season has already started. The Iceman’s review of the season to date will be out in the first week of October.

Until then, I am sharing a few videos featured in the Man U official website as part of their Old Trafford European Classics feature. Happy Viewing!!

1) Champions League quarter final second leg (10 April 2007) : Man U vs. AS Roma 7-1

United had slipped to defeat in Rome but claimed a crucial away goal. With a semi-final place at stake, the Giallorossi travelled to OT hoping to defend their lead and extend the Reds five-year wait for a last four berth. Sir Alex’s men had other ideas…

“It was a fantastic performance, the scoring tells you that. You would have never expected anything like that; it’s got to be the best European performance in my time at United.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“One of those magical nights when it seems every United touch turned to gold, when every move brought a goal, a remarkable hour and a half of relentless attacking. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Roma’s defence was destroyed in 90 minutes.” – Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

2) Champions League Group Stage (1 October 1997) : Man U vs. Juventus 3-2

United come of age in perhaps the defining European game under Sir Alex, overcoming early setbacks to beat a team regarded as the finest in Europe…

“I am delighted at the result and the performance. We played some excellent football and deserved our victory. My players were ready for this, it was a challenge for them. This showed their capability. It was a measure of how far we’ve come.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“What style, what passion, what a wonderful performance. There is still a long, long way to go but Manchester United last night earned the right to dream of the European glory they crave. In front of a rapturous Old Trafford they gained a victory to cherish, one forged out of adversity and steeped in character.” – Glenn Moore, The Independent

3) Champions League Group Stage (19 October 1994) : Man U vs. Barcelona 2-2

Old Trafford buzzed with anticipation at the return of a true European giant – and the first-ever Champions League game between these two sides didn’t disappoint…

“We gave away two bad goals and we can’t be happy with that, because we started the game tremendously well and created several chances. But I was pleased with the way we fought back. In the end we went for the throat and it paid off. And at one point after we’d equalised I thought we could have won the match.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“The 2-2 draw with Barcelona was just about everything we had been told it would be and it ended with a goal of the very highest quality scored by an Englishman.” – Daily Mail

4) Champions League semi-final first leg (24 April 2007) : Man U vs. AC Milan 3-2

A late, late strike from Wayne Rooney gave United a memorable win in this semi-final first-leg. Let’s not mention the second…

“I told the players at half-time to persevere with their football and to keep playing with speed because that would be the difference. Once we got the equaliser there was only going to be one winner.” – Sir Alex

“That famous never-say-die attitude has got Manchester United a famous victory.” – Mark Lawrenson, BBC

5) Champions League semi final second leg (29 April 2008) : Man U vs. Barcelona 1-0

United have had a fair share of Champions League semi final disappointments; but 2008 was our year. And the fact Paul Scholes, who missed out in 1999’s final, settled this tie in such stunning fashion made it all the sweeter…

“The atmosphere was absolutely incredible, I have never seen or heard anything like it ever before. The fans were brilliant and gave us extra power.” – Ji-sung Park

“For Sir Alex Ferguson the wait is at long last over. A second Champions League final for the finest manager of a generation awaits.” – Daily Mail

Disclaimer: These videos are courtesy of the Man U Official Website. The Iceman does not claim any copyrights on them. Lets hope that the guys at Man U don’t take these videos down!!

I have not blogged for a while, but Usain Bolt’s stunning sprint on sunday meant that I had to write something about this. BBC’s Tom Fordyce has written a brilliant piece on this record breaking feat. I particularily liked tom’s comment ‘When Bolt ran 9.69 secs last summer in Beijing, even that seemed an impossible time. To take another 11 hundredths of a second off that defies logic, history and everyone else’s biology‘ Make sure you also read the comments below the blog.

Gareth Davies of the Telegraph asks whether Usain Bolt is the Muhammed Ali of our times. The Economist too gives its take on the fastest human being (Or is he actually from another planet??).

Bolt’s logic-defying sprints have stunned experts who are simply dumb-folded. Former champions like Maurice Greene are simple in awe of Bolt. Already, several columnists have started to speculate on how fast he can go in the future, considering that he still very young and has huge scope for improvement, especially in his starts.

Usain Bolt is simply a freak of nature! Human body has its limitations. But, Bolt is stretching these boundaries beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. The world of Athletics has suffered from a host of doping scandals in the past. With every record that he breaks, the bogey of doping will hang above Bolt’s head. Let’s just hope he is clean as the world needs a hero like Bolt.

In case you have missed the race or it’s highlights, enjoy the clip below!

The pictures of the race are also available here!

Bolt has now set his sights on the 200m finals on Tuesday. I am eagerly looking forward to another record-breaking performance.

Go Bolt!!!!

I’ve never liked Narayana Moorthy of Infosys. I feel that he is a big hypocrite who gives big sermons on propriety and nationalism while doing nothing concrete for the country. On one hand he portrays a holier than thou image through clever interviews to a naive media, while on the other hand he secretly lobbies for tax breaks for the IT industry. His only shot at doing something concrete in public life ended disastrously when he unceremoniously resigned as the chairman of the Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL).

His Infosys mate Nandan Nilekani on the other hand, is his complete opposite. He is a genuinely nice guy wanting to make a difference. He does not give preachy interviews, but focuses on his job instead. Making him the Chairman of the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIA) is one of PM Manmohan Singh’s best moves so far. Nandan Nilekani’s interview to the Economic Times shows his earnestness and passion to the huge task on hand.

If successful, this initiative could transform the delivery system for the public service initiatives of the Government, plugging the existing leakages. The project would also benefit our national security immensely. But, this is no mean task. Mr. Nilekani will have to deal with the bureaucracy and politicians whose life support system will be plugged if the existing delivery system is replaced. They will do everything in their power to throw a spanner in the works of the UIA. I hope the PM gives Mr. Nilekani and his team his full support and complete freedom.

This will be the greatest challenge that Mr. Nilekani has faced so far in his career. Far greater than anything he would have encountered at Infosys. The Iceman wishes Mr. Nandan Nilekani the very best for his humongous task on hand. I just hope he succeeds for my country’s sake….

I had planned to write on the Dr. Manmohan Singh’s selection of his cabinet to run the country for the next 5 years. But, TVR Shenoy’s article in rediff has brilliantly captured the muddle that is the new Indian Cabinet.

The Congress has won a surprising, yet decisive mandate. After a decade dominated by coalition governments and compromise politics, the current government has a great opportunity to set things right in India. However, the early indications are definitely not good. Dr. Singh and Sonia Gandhi have selected the same old uninspiring characters from the Congress party to man several key portfolios. Further, they have tried to balance regional, sectarian and caste aspirations of several groups. This has led to a large and unwieldy cabinet as well as sub-division of several ministries into smaller ones. This could turn out to be counter-productive as ministers are sure to step onto the toes of their counterparts quite frequently. We may encounter cold wars between ministers eager to protect their fiefdoms from encroachment by fellow ministers.

Manmohan Singh has not started his 2nd term on the right note. History will never forgive him if he squanders this golden opportunity to govern India the right way despite such a decisive mandate. Dr. Singh are you listening? Please pull up your socks and get going!!

It has been exactly 37 days since I started blogging again. I have got lots of work lined up for me the next 2 weeks, so I thought I could review my blogging effort so far today as I might not get the time later.

14 posts in the last 37 days, 31 comments not counting 8 spam comments and a total of 306 hits at the time of writing this post. Not bad I guess. I have written a lot on football but the season has come to an end now. I will have to think of something different to write. The T20 World Cup could come in handy. I also wanted to write about the elections and what the results mean to India as well as Manmohan Singh’s jumbo ministry but couldn’t do so for lack of time. I could probably ramble about those things too…

My post on the things I shouldn’t do when I am drunk has been the most popular so far. WordPress gives you really cool stats on visitors to your blog and how they reached there. For example, the visitors to my blog so far have used the following search strings: “things i did when i was drunk”, “when to apologize for behavior+drunk+work”, “i am drunk what should i do”, “make up things when you’re drunk”, “what do you do after a drunk night”, “i was drunk and made a complete fool of myself”, “don’t blame me i was drunk”, “i shouldn’t do this to my friend”, “apologize for throwing up drunk”, “5 things to not do while drunk”, “what to do when you drunk?”.

Well, I am simply amazed at the things people search on the net. I mean, why would anybody want to find what to do when drunk on the internet? This post also created quite a bit of controversy too. There was this bit where I had said that I shouldn’t try hitting on my friends sister or cousin when drunk. Well, this represents two incidents which happened 2.5 years apart. One friend found out about me hitting on his sister the same night and gave me a real dressing down. The other guy found out about his cousin from this blog!! My aunt also stumbled onto my blog from my Facebook profile and found this post to be really interesting. I have always tried to maintain the “samathu paiyan” squeaky-clean reputation at home and now atleast one person from my family knows more about me now thanks to this blog. Well they had to know someday!

Personally, I have liked only a couple of my posts. Got to improve a lot in the coming months. I also need to increase the range and depth of my writing. But for that, my personal life needs to get more interesting to get the creative juices flowing. I have been stuck in my monotonous work routine for too long. I should try to break out of it and indulge in more creative pursuits.

But things don’t look good on the work front. I either need a long break or should try doing something different. I feel that I am stagnating in my current job. I am barely hanging in there. In fact, I have been summoning all my patience in the last couple of months at work just to survive. Things are sure to reach a tipping point when the pressure season starts with all the deadlines, un-cooperative clients who piss you off, stupid juniors, quality reviews and bosses who demand documentation from you for the work they had never bothered to see. I am sure to lose my famed temper some point of time.

Until such time, I hope I would be able to churn out some sporadic posts. One can only hope for the best!!

As the dust settles in Rome a day after the UCL finals, the Catalan country is still celebrating a remarkable treble-winning season while Manchester contemplates on just what went wrong. The world eagerly looked forward to the contest between two of Europe’s very best in the lead up to the finals. I was also keyed up to witness my two favorite team’s battle it out for the biggest prize in Europe. Although I wanted Man U to win, I had tipped Barca to win on the night. However, what was billed by the pundits to be a potential master class turned out to be terribly anti-climatic. Barca gave United a real football lesson as Messi & Co ran riot after starting tentatively.

United stared brightly as Ronaldo looked very sharp, testing a nervy Valdes a couple of times. However, against the run of play, Samuel Eto’ latched on to a through ball from Iniesta and scored the 1st goal completely out-foxing Vidic. This un-expected setback started the slide for Man U as they looked strangely disoriented making several mistakes and loosing the ball in the midfield at crucial times. The magnificent Barca duo of Xavi and Iniesta bossed the midfield area as Barca passed the ball to death around the Olympic stadium. Every time United lost the ball, it took ages for them to get it back again.

United’s midfield trio were woeful to say the least. Anderson was no where to be seen in the 1st half before being replaced. I don’t remember him getting more than 5 decent touches. Giggs in a make-shift central midfield role struggled to impose himself, though he did have his moments. Carrick was left alone to tackle the menace of Xavi and Iniesta by himself and he failed miserably. He was also profligate in attack miss-hitting several passes. Carrick always goes for the breath-taking through ball to the forward line which rarely comes off when retention of the ball through simple passes would have been enough. Consequently, United kept loosing the ball in crucial areas and there was no rhythm in the attack.

Barca’s tremendous passing game frustrated the united team which was desperate to get the ball back. Ferguson went for broke as he brought on both Tevez and Berbatov in the 2nd half in search of the elusive goal. This was always going to be a gamble as Man U left gaps at the back which could be exposed.

Right on cue, Messi beautifully headed in a Xavi cross in the 70th minute and it was all over. In the remainder of time, Barca came close to scoring 2 more goals while all Man U could manage were hopeful long balls which were easily handled by a 2nd string Barca defense ably marshaled by Gerad Pique an old united hand. Despite pre-match talk about a weakened Barca defense, the 2nd string easily snuffed out whatever little attack that United could muster on the night.

The final whistle was a relief for many Man U players who had suffered one of their worst hidings of their careers. There have been worse defeats in terms of the score line. But this was a match in which several superstars of Man U were made to feel inadequate by a classy Barca team led by their impressive manager Pep Guardiola. It was like slow death. The likes of Rooney and Ronaldo were helpless as the rest of their team was strangely flat in such a big game. Critics have questioned Alex Ferguson’s team selection and tactics. But, the same team and tactics had brought Man U till the final. It was just that the team was collectively poor on the night in Rome.

Alex Ferguson was magnanimous in defeat, admitting that his team was thoroughly out-classed on the night. He offered no excuses for the defeat and claimed that Barca were simply the better team by a mile. It is not often that Fergie’s team is humiliated like this and he must surely be smarting from this defeat. He later remarked that he missed Fletcher. He could have probably made the difference, breaking up the rhythm of the smooth Barca midfield. Probably a fully fit Owen Hargreaves could have also been the difference. But, there is no point in reflecting on those things. Alex Ferguson has a long summer ahead of him to ponder over this defeat. Right now, it is time to celebrate a magnificent Barcelona team which has conquered Spain and Europe playing a delightful, free-flowing brand of football which is truly a joy to watch. They have shown that despite playing in a simple uncomplicated style one can still reap rewards in football.

The newspapers have gone gaga over Messi showering him with all sorts of praises after the triumph. Many claim that he has now upstaged Ronaldo as the world’s best player. While the jury is still out on that claim, I personally feel that Andres Iniesta was the best player on display yesterday. Along with Xavi, he took United out of the game by winning the crucial midfield battle. True, Messi’s bewitching runs with the ball are a treat to watch. But, Iniesta is the engine of this Barca team. It’s heart and soul. He sets the tone for the rest of the team to follow.

After the match, Wayne Rooney hailed the Albacete-born midfielder, as the “best in the world.” Until, the arrival of Pep Guardiola, Iniesta has always burned brightly with unfulfilled promise, struggling on the fringes of one of the world’s greatest teams. The story goes that when Guardiola first saw Iniesta train for Barcelona’s youth team, he commented to Xavi, his own nominated heir: “You’re going to retire me, but this kid’s going to retire us all.” He presented Iniesta, wide-eyed and shy, with a signed picture dedicated “to the best player I ever saw.” No doubt Guardiola must have watched mortified as Frank Rijkaard continually overlooked the youngster’s claims, shunting him left and right, but rarely giving him the centre stage. When his idol took over his club immediately afterwards, Iniesta was finally presented with the responsibility and trust he needed. He is, surely, the first name on Guardiola’s team-sheet.

After last night, he would be the first name on almost any team-sheet, and is a shoo-in to appear on stage in Zurich when FIFA holds its world player of the year gala. Let’s hope he finally gets the plaudits that he deserves.