Saurabh Agrawal: The investment banker who has helped Birlas and Tatas

saurabh-agrawalSaurabh Agrawal has pounded the path leading up to Aditya Birla group’s Mumbai headquarters plenty. The investment banker has helped the Birlas cut many significant deals – restructuring cement business, purchase of UltraTech, acquisition of Spice Telecom by Idea Cellular and later an investment from Axiata in Idea.

It was on one such trip that Agrawal, 44, a graduate from IIM, Kolkata, posed a simple, humble question to Kumar Mangalam Birla: “Can I be helpful?”

Agrawal, managing director, regional head of corporate finance, South Asia, Standard Chartered Bank, was referring to the stalled discussions by Birla’s cement company UltraTech to purchase JP Associates’ cement plant in Gujarat. The two sides had engaged in many spurts of negotiations for almost two years, but couldn’t agree on a deal. Several rival investment banks had already unsuccessfully tried ‘cooking up a deal.’ “It wasn’t completely marinated…some ingredients were missing,” recalls Agrawal who has more than a passing interest in cooking.

“In any negotiations, deals get stuck on a rigid stance,” says Agrawal. Besides his proximity to Birla, Agrawal had also developed a warm relationship with Manoj Gaur, executive chairman and CEO, JP Associates. He had earlier advised JP on its fund-raising plans.

Armed with consent from both Birla and Gaur, Agrawal set out to break the deadlock.

He did it in 13 weeks. On September 11, Birla announced a Rs 3,800-crore deal to buy out JP Associates’ cement plant in Gujarat.

Agrawal had excellent persuasive skills in college, his classmates say. “Saurabh was comfortable with numbers, had a sharp sense of commerce and excellent persuasive skills,” recalls Venkat Viswanathan, Saurabh’s classmate at IIM, and now chief executive of Latent View Analytics, a data analyser for many multinational companies.

It’s not just the Birlas, Agrawal enjoys a good rapport with the Tatas too. “He never sells anything to you; he only brings value propositions with the best insights to the table,” says Natarajan Chandrasekaran, chief executive and managing director, Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest software services exporter. “He is extremely dependable, trusted and brings in high quality advice.” Agrawal advised TCS on its public offer in 2004 and also on a string of acquisitions.

“He helped me with how and what to present to investors during our road shows for the TCS IPO,” recalls Chandrasekaran. (Source:ET)