Home » CEO Interviews » UBS India Chairperson Manisha Girotra: Scaling India’s M&A Peak

UBS India Chairperson Manisha Girotra: Scaling India’s M&A Peak

Move over Zoe Cruz. The former co-president of Morgan Stanley, who is or perhaps was the bestknown woman investment banker, …

Move over Zoe Cruz. The former co-president of Morgan Stanley, who is or perhaps was the bestknown woman investment banker, will need to make way for Manisha Girotra, 38, managing director and chairperson of UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland) India. The Chandigarh-born Girotra received a master’s degree from the Delhi School of Economics, joined UBS in 1998 and infiltrated India‘s female-dominated preserve of investment banking by scoring some of the biggest cross-border M&A deals in the country. These include such deals as the $12 billion Vodafone-Hutch, the $6 billion Novelis-Hindalco, and the $1.2 billion Whyte & Mackey-UB (United Breweries), all of which contributed to her listing as one of the top 50 Global Women to Watch by The Wall Street Journal.

Also touted as the most talked about woman in investment banking circles, industry analysts identify Manisha Girotra’s name as synonymous with M&A deals in India. “If it’s a major M&A deal, it’s got to be from Girotra’s turf. And if it’s investment banking in general, it’s Manisha Girotra again,” says a senior executive with United Breweries Group who preferred not to be named. Her popularity ratings have been soaring ever since she sealed two high-profile deals: one with Kumar Mangalam Birla, the reserved and conservative CEO of Hindalco, and another with UB’s Vijay Mallya, considered the most flamboyant, wealth-flaunting CEO in India. After a year at the London Business School, Girotra worked at several UK-based banks, including Grindlays and Barclays, before joining UBS. Banking is a family affair for Girotra. Her father, Satish Girotra, ran western India and later northern India operations for the UCO Bank in the 1980s. Her brother works with ABN Amro in Singapore. And her husband, Sanjay Agarwal, is the managing director and head of global corporate finance of Deutsche Bank India.

At UBS, Girotra is pursuing two objectives: raising the profile of UBS in India by transforming UBS into one of the top three investment banks in the country, and making UBS the best place for people to work.

In 2007, with growing corporate activity and a booming market, UBS leapfrogged rivals such as Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, CitiGroup and Merrill Lynch to join the top ranks in M&A market share in India, up from the seventh position in 2006. (According to a Thomson Financial research report, UBS takes the lead in the M&A table in India with a market share of 23.04 percent in terms of the volume of transactions during the first six months of 2007. (However, a report from IndiQuest research, a firm providing research and analyses of the market, puts the UBS market share at 54 percent.)

Describing her initial years at UBS as tough, Girotra says she had her hands full winding up some long-pending deals. Her toughest, she says, was the disinvestments of the state-owned petrochemicals firm IPCL, which earned the down-to-earth CEO the reputation as “an unrelenting tough deal maker” from her opponents in India.

“The IPCL transaction was languishing for more than two years, and by then many bidders like Dow Chemical had gone away,” Girotra recounts. “A lot of ministries were involved, a lot of changes happened in government and a lot of justification had to be provided on the valuation, bidders, processes and methodology. Though it took five years, eventually we emerged victorious and never did we lose our cool.”

Today she brushes aside talk of being a woman in the old boys’ club of banking. “You are only as good as what you produce,” she observes. “Twelve years ago, nobody would shake my hand; they would just wish me a hello, much in line with etiquettes of the Indian tradition, where men would greet a woman with words rather than offering their hand.” She laughs and adds: “Most took me as someone’s secretary who is there to take notes. When they asked me when they would get to see my boss, I would tell them there was no boss.” She says that most of her colleagues now are women; be it the HSBC Bank, JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley.

Girotra thinks UBS has been lucky in identifying cross-border M&A trends at an early stage in India. She worries, however, that the days of smooth sailing may be over. “Now competition is getting fierce with more and more global banks making a foray into the Indian market. If we are to survive, we need to be more innovative and present ourselves in a unique way,” Girotra points out.

Nevertheless, she says, India Inc. is poised for more of the crossborder deals now than before. For Indian companies there is a manifold increase in their desire to become the next major multinational out of the country. “The thinking among the Indian CEOs is, ��why should all the MNCs be from some-where else? If a small country like Finland could produce a multinational company such as Nokia, why can’t India have the next financial powerhouse?’ This thinking underlines the fact that we have lots of business potential in the future.” Talent scarcity and retention are her biggest challenges now, as she looks to double the company’s workforce in India from 1,600 employees to about 3,000 this year. Her other big job includes integrating the assetmanagement business UBS recently acquired from Standard Chartered and expanding the company’s wealthmanagement business in India.

So how does she plan to meet these challenges? UBS is treating its Indian employees as global workers. “If an Indian employee desires to work abroad, it shall be perfectly OK, given a vacancy exists there,” she says. The company is also striving to project itself as a family-oriented work place on par with the entire service sector in the country. “Opportunities for global exposure, alongside a homey atmosphere, are our USP [unique selling proposition]. Besides, compensation and wage bills have also gone up in India, in line with the global wage bills, which is a significant development,” she explains.

Girotra sees robust M&A activity in the coming years and calls upon CEOs across the globe to be a part of this growth. The credit crunch affecting the U.S., she thinks, will be a boon for emerging markets such as India and China.

“Companies have a higher risk appetite for emerging markets, so there will be a redirection of funds to India and China, as was the case earlier with Korea and Taiwan,” she says, adding, “If a company wants to be a dominant player in the next 10 or 20 years, India is the market, and just as we’ve seen huge growth in the equity sector, the same will be seen in the debt markets as well.”

About fayazuddin a. shirazi