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Face to Face: It’s business as usual

Business

Despite the recent terrorist attacks on the country’s commercial capital, Eredene Capital continues to believe in the Indian investment story. Alastair King, CEO and founder of the firm explains the reasons to Niranjan Mudholkar

You have recently committed an investment of £5 million (Rs363 million) in the new container freight station at Ennore port, Tamil Nadu. It seems there has been little or no impact of the ongoing financial crisis on your plans.

No sector of the economy can remain immune from a major global downturn. We are confident that India’s infrastructure will continue to provide solid opportunities for growth. There will be a continuing need for the type of projects in which Eredene is investing.

Your firm has been primarily investing in infrastructure projects in India. What is the thought-process behind this strategy?

There is still a lot to build to bring infrastructure to standards that match India’s economic potential and ambitions. We see infrastructure as a sustainable growth sector.

Moreover, we have been concentrating particularly on port services, such as container freight stations, because our Mumbai team has considerable expertise in ports.

That is why we are part of the international consortia bidding to build and operate two container terminals at Ennore Port and at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai.

Eredene has also been considering becoming an investment advisor to third party funds. Any progress on this front?

The group has identified further investment opportunities, and one of the options is to raise a second fund to finance these investments. We have appointed an international investment bank to advise us on this matter.

How is the affordable housing project at Karjat near Mumbai coming up? Was it a conscious decision to go in for a low cost housing project?

The project is going very well. We have built the prototype and have now started mass production of the first 5,000 units. We have also started the sales process. The initial demand from 65,000 people was high for us. We had to organise a lottery to give everyone an equal chance.

We took a strategic decision to enter affordable housing at an early stage when we made our original investment in July 2007, long before the sector became fashionable. We are fortunate in having an exclusive agreement with Sterling Construction, who is building the units for us.

They have developed a low-cost and efficient way of constructing buildings that are built well and relatively cheap.

Sterling uses James Hardie fibre cement boards which are slotted together in a modular fashion and are then, after wiring and ducting, grouted with ready mix cement.

The finish is good – there is no need for plaster – and the walls are robust and durable. The technology has been successfully used in the Philippines, the Middle East and now in India.

Is your role in your projects limited only to investing or are you actively involved beyond that?

Our role is that of a value-added financial investor. We protect our shareholders’ interests in our investments through certain rights in our shareholder agreements. We also give the benefit of our expertise to our investee companies and sit on various boards.

Do you have a mechanism to check/ensure that the projects you have invested in are on the right track?

This is done through a Board overview and other checks and balances such as internal auditors. We are represented on the boards of investee companies.

With huge funds required to build the country’s infrastructure, investment firms like yours will be playing a key role. Please comment. Also, in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, do you think India will continue to remain attractive to investors?

We are proud to be part of an exciting story – helping to put in place the infrastructure that will transform and modernise India in the 21st century.

As for the recent attacks on Mumbai, they make absolutely no difference to the Indian investment story. Many cities around the world have experience similar events. For Eredene the message is simple: it’s business as usual.

Eredene’s latest investment

The group has committed up to £5 million for an initial 85% equity stake in a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for a new container freight station (CFS) at Ennore port, Tamil Nadu.

The investment is a joint venture with the Sattva Business Group. The land will be purchased in phases, with an initial acquisition of around 35 acres.

The site will be developed initially as a large-scale warehousing operation and will be converted into a full-fledged CFS for the opening of the new Ennore Container Terminal scheduled for 2011.

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