The names behind Air India flight’s back to the Bombay House

The names behind Air India flight's back to the Bombay House thumbnail

Tata Group’s successful bid for Air India follows almost two years of dogged due diligence and negotiations.

A team of nearly 50 people from Tata Group and Air India, 14 advisors belonging to consultants such as EY, Alvarez and Marsal, and RBSA Advisors, along with legal advisor AZB & Partners, pored over the numbers and finer details and discussed various factors and possibilities for many days to decide on each and every aspect of the bid. The past year itself saw close to 50 meetings in an exercise that Tata dubbed Project Alpha, multiple people aware of the matter told ET.

The decision on Air India acquisition was taken by N Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons, in late 2019 after seeking the advice of group patriarch and aviator Ratan Tata. Since then, both have made several trips to the power centre of New Delhi. In tow was AirAsia India CEO Sunil Bhaskaran, a veteran at such negotiations.

The bid for the national carrier gathered pace six months back when a virtual data room (VDR) was opened for bidders to access any additional information on Air India, Air India Express and AISATS to do pre-bidding due diligence. Several top M&A executives from TCS, Tata Steel, Vistara (Tata’s joint venture with Singapore Airlines) and Tata Housing & Realty were part of the talks.

Vistara chairman Bhaskar Bhat was an integral part. “This is not just another acquisition for the group. Air India is a national asset and the trust that 1.4 billion Indian consumers are now placed on Tata Group,” he said.

ET spoke to people behind the deal and put together a list of 10 key executives and officials who spent hours in meeting rooms and went through each number with a fine-toothed comb before the deal was consummated.

Tata Group

1. Saurabh Agrawal: Tata Group’s aggressive CFO is the second-highest paid executive after chairman N Chandrasekaran, apart from being his closest lieutenant. A management post graduate from IIM Calcutta, Agrawal has been a deal maker for the conglomerate since his days as India head of investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. A fitness enthusiast, and badminton and squash player, Agrawal has a lot on his plate, handling several Tata businesses and overseeing the push into sectors such as digital, ecommerce, fintech and defence among others. Agrawal headed Project Alpha and had the last word on matters.

2. Nipun Aggarwal: A senior vice president at Tata Sons, Aggarwal was the second in command during the due diligence process at Air India. An alumnus of IIM Calcutta and a former director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, he was among several investment bankers handpicked by Chandrasekaran in 2017 to reconfigure operations at the conglomerate. He was then an executive director at Standard Chartered Bank in India, who specialised in metals, mining and energy. Aggarwal is a director of Talace Pvt Ltd, the company formed in August 2020 to bid for Air India, along with Saurabh Agrawal and Eruch Noshir Kapadia.

3. Ambareesh Mandelia: A vice president at Tata Sons for more than four years, he too is an investment banker. Mandelia was at Lehman Brothers, Nomura Capital, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Arpwood Capital before joining Tata.

4. Gaurav Shimpi: An assistant vice president and part of the group CFO team, Shimpi assists Saurabh Agrawal on mergers and acquisitions, partnerships and capital allocation. He has more than decade’s experience in investment banking across power, infrastructure, transport, logistics, industrials, financial services and energy. Like Agrawal and Aggarwal, Shimpi, too, is a former investment banker and was with HSBC Global before joining Tata.

5. Yogesh Agarwal: An assistant vice president at Tata Sons, Agarwal has been with the conglomerate for at least 20 years. Part of the Tata Administrative Service since 2008, he has been with Tata Sons and Tata Power for about three years.

Air India

6. Vinod Hejmadi: The head of finance at the airline was a key interface between Tata and Air India, providing access to the balance sheet, accounts and contracts. Hejmadi has been with the national carrier for more than 33 years, starting as its finance manager in Switzerland and North Africa in 1992 and rising through the management ranks.

7. Meenakshi Malik: Currently director, commercial, at Air India, Malik has also been with the carrier for more than three decades. She joined the airline as a management trainee in 1989. She was in the news some years back for leading a bid by more than 200 employees during the previous unsuccessful attempt at selling Air India in 2018.


8. Pradeep Singh Kharola: As aviation secretary, making a success of the Air India divestment plan was one of Kharola’s most challenging tasks, particularly at a time when airlines across the world have been struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He retired on the last day of September after 37 years of service. Before joining as aviation secretary, Kharola was chairman of Air India. He is a 1985 batch Indian Administrative Service officer from the Karnataka cadre.

9. Tuhin Kanta Pandey: As secretary, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM), Pandey is in charge of the government’s divestment programme.

10. Rajiv Bansal: Having served as chairman of Air India, Bansal succeeded Kharola as the new aviation secretary on October 1. He was at the helm during the time the divestment process was on and was another key link between Air India and the government.

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