Every few weeks somebody circulates an SMS claiming that ICICI Bank and Reliance Capital of the Anil Ambani group are set to merge—or that ICICI Bank plans to take over the finance company. The rumour is invariably dismissed as far fetched, but its persistent circulation is rather perplexing. Market circles point out that Reliance Capital wants to become a bank while ICICI has an application pending with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to purchase a finance company. This means that even if there are any wedding plans, it will not happen until RBI gives the green signal. Sources say that the RBI may not be in a hurry to clear the acquisition since ICICI’s spot of trouble with the regulator at Hong Kong for selling banking products without a proper license; there are also some murmurs about trouble at Dubai, where it opened a branch last December.
Kumar Mangalam Birla has denied any dispute with the Wadias of Bombay Dyeing over a 10 acre piece of land (of the 30 acres that house Century Textile operations) leased to the Birla-controlled Century Textiles on a 999-year lease. The alleged feud was reported by a pink paper recently, and only time will tell whether Birla’s denial is in fact correct. Meanwhile, the tiny land makes for an interesting situation. If developed by Century Textiles, the property could be worth Rs 1,000 crore, but the newspaper report quotes Ness Wadia as saying, ‘‘Whatever else they do on that land, they can only do it with our permission’’. This suggests that the Wadias would object to any non-textile related development planned by the Birlas or seek compensation although there are several years to go before the lease expires and a 999-year lease is as good as a sale. But shouldn’t the same rule apply to all the textile mills in Mumbai where land was not only leased by the municipal corporation, but the terms were so stringent that any change in activity or even a decision to put up advertisement hoardings had to be cleared by the corporation. Yet, Mumbai’s Mill Owners hired expensive lawyers and won themselves the right to retain most of the land (barring a tiny scrap to returned to the city for development) and squeeze every last rupee of value by developing it into shopping malls and expensive residential apartments. If the Wadias decide to object to any development by Century, it will rake up the issue of whether different rules would apply to private contracts.
India’s cricket-crazy corporate honchos were suddenly rushing off to Germany to watch the World Cup matches this year along with politicians (who are more like corporate czars) and those like Vijay Mallya and Rahul Bajaj who are both. Mukesh Ambani went in his private jet along with family and friends. Unconfirmed reports suggest that his co-passengers included the aviation minister, HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh and DSP Merrill Lynch Chairman Hemendra Kothari. However, Kothari was invited by Merrill Lynch and Deepak Parekh by Deutsche Bank. Incidentally, Aditya Puri, Managing Director of HDFC Bank was also in Berlin for the finals, but obviously not at Deutsche Bank’s invitation. The number of Indians from the corporate and advertising and corporate world who went to Germany to watch football would suggest that the national passion for cricket may be in for serious competition in the coming years. That will happen only if corporate India supports football in India by sponsoring tournaments and helping to set up training academies. We will find out soon enough if being in Berlin was the latest in one-upmanship and an event to preen at, or is backed by genuine interest in the game.
Deutsche Bank, one of the official sponsors of the World Cup had its own exclusive box and used the occasion for some heavy-duty public relations and business promotion. The bank is being highly secretive about its invitees, probably because it doesn’t want to upset clients who did not get the coveted invites. We learn that Deutsche Bank’s special guests included top corporate treasury chiefs, including those from HDFC and Bharti, who attended some of the quarter final and semi-final matches—while select CEOs were flown to Berlin for the final. Gunit Chhada, the bank’s country head also invited Sebi Chairman M. Damodaran, a well-known football aficionado. But he said, ‘‘I would have accepted if I were retired’’. He then laughs and adds that he probably would not have been invited if he were retired. After all, that is how the corporate world works. Damodaran followed the tournament on TV and was inundated with calls and messages for the excellent round-up that he wrote for The Indian Express last week. We hear that the Finance Minister also followed the World Cup very closely and even critiqued Damodaran’s analysis.