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A purchase of passion

Sanjiv Goenka tells t2oS about bagging the new Lucknow franchise of IPL, what spurred him to take a second chance after Pune and his connections with Uttar Pradesh

Saionee Chakraborty | Published 31.10.21, 02:30 AM

There is always a lot to learn from Sanjiv Goenka. A super business achiever, Goenka’s conviction is as inspirational as his gut instinct — enviable. A couple of days after his RPSG Ventures Ltd successfully bid for the Lucknow franchise of the Indian Premier League (IPL) for Rs 7,090 crore, Goenka chatted with t2oS on coming back to the IPL fold, the desire to build a successful franchise and why the team will not be an emotional decision.

Congratulations! This is a big bang to end the year with...

As I have said before, the number was based on an economic calculation and we worked on a net present value of the net amount that we will pay to the BCCI (the Board of Control for Cricket in India). So, we arrived at that number and that’s what we bid. Yes, it feels good to be back in the IPL, but I think winning the bid was one part. Now comes the real part... building a team and a franchise that is capable of performing over successive years.

It’s been the mother of all comebacks... 

That I don’t know! (Laughs)

It’s also a happy coincidence that Sourav Ganguly with whom you’ve had a long association, is now the BCCI president and he is known for his famous comeback...

Firstly, Sourav is Sourav. He is a legend and his achievements are huge. My companies have done well, but Sourav is in a different league. Let’s get that straight and put that on record.

I don’t know whether it is a comeback or not, but we had a club franchise for two years (Rising Pune Supergiant). We had another opportunity and we won the bid. We are of course happy about it, but I think the real task begins now.

And, we are ecstatic because anything you do is so much Calcutta that we too feel a part of the team now...

Yes, absolutely. I hope Calcutta supports me as much as it always has. Calcutta has been phenomenally supportive of everything I have done. All I can say is, I am blessed to be in the city.

What has been the build-up to the decision?

When the tenders were floated for inviting two new franchises, we looked at it very seriously and we felt there was an economic opportunity, and the more we studied the more we realised that the value creation opportunity here is tremendous. So, it appeared to be a fairly good business opportunity and then the deeper we went into it, the more convinced we got of the business case. We do believe that the IPL franchises would be worth at least (Rs) 10,000 crore fairly quickly.

Back in 2015, when you had won the Pune franchise, you had said: “I did not buy a team just for vanity. It makes perfect business sense.... The benefit to the group will be both tangible and intangible.” Is it the same this time?

This time even more so (laughs). Frankly, we are excited about the opportunity it offers in terms of value creation and building a national connect, in terms of getting into a market where we have a presence, but UP (Uttar Pradesh) is a state of 25 crore (people) and we have power distribution in Greater Noida and a large number of Spencer’s stores. It is a very big market for us. It is a state from where we source a lot of our goods for Spencer’s. A lot of our music is consumed in UP. We do believe that it is an opportunity to create a different level of connect.

There has been so much speculation after the news broke and we remember chatting with you at JW Marriott, Pune, right before Rising Pune Supergiant was about to start its IPL 2017 journey where you told us, “The sporting ventures have given me more experience in dealing with celebrities and egos. It also reaffirms what my father had told me when I was a kid: ‘Eventually the decision has to be made by you’.” Was it the same this time? You are so seasoned, but it does look like a bit of a risk...

No business decision is foolproof and not all of them go right. As long as the majority of your decisions go right, you are okay. And you take the decision at that point in time because you are confident of it going right. However, having said that, I’d like to reiterate that I actually believe this is as foolproof a decision or case as they come because the revenues are fairly clear from what the BCCI will give you.... It is a relatively more secure decision and the numbers are more predictable than they would be in any other situation.

What are the thoughts in your mind right now?

At my age, you don’t react ecstatically or euphorically to any victory or in an extremely disappointed manner to any failure. No question of it sinking in or not.... I think it happens when you are 25-30 (laughs)... at the age of 60... (laughs). You bid to win, of course, and we expected to win because we knew what our bid was and so we won. It’s like we won the bid for Chandigarh power distribution.

Sport is a passion, for those 30 or 60 seconds, you say you’ll have a business which is aligned to your passion. But, at the end of the day, every business becomes a passion. When I bought into CESC 32-33 years ago, the whole city wrote me off. The company was in a complete shambles. There used to be 12-hour power cuts every day, the efficiencies were abysmally low and everyone thought it was a bad decision, including my father. He didn’t eat his food for two days and then my mother had to really work hard on him to bring him around....

So, on my first day at Victoria House as it was then called, my father did not come with me. He was angry. It was only Barun Sengupta who said: “Achcha aami jabo aapnar shonge. Dada jachhen na, raag korchhen... achcha aami jabo.” And, here I was a 29-year-old trembling with the intimidation of that Victoria House, and P.B. Ghosh was the managing director. His son used to be in school with me. So, for me, he was my friend’s father. And Bhaskar Mitter and all these distinguished, successful people, and I went alone.

All I am saying is yes, it was an instinct that told me that it could work and it was a tough grind. It took several years but I am happy to say that today CESC is amongst the best utility services in the country. In those days you didn’t have financial modelling. So, it was difficult. And no financial modelling would have justified an investment in CESC at that point in time.

We know it might be too early, but can you tell us about what to expect? Have you thought about a name for the team?

No, nothing yet. Our CEO and his team are speaking to various agencies and I think work has begun because for us this is a business venture and I have been fairly clear about it. It’s like a project and work has begun the same way like it would for any other project.

Do you have a wish list?

I run a music company. It is India’s number one music company and has been so for several years, but I may have a particular star who is my favourite, but that doesn’t mean I would bid higher.... All these are business decisions and not personal emotional decisions. I may want X,Y, Z, but all the top players are already contracted with the various franchises. So, a Virat Kohli or a Mahendra Singh Dhoni or a Rohit Sharma and a Jasprit Bumrah are with different franchises and they would continue to be with them.

My grandson may have a preference, a very strong one, for who should be in the team and who should not, he is seven, but you don’t take decisions based on that, na. My M&A team (mergers and acquisitions) worked on it and this was a financial decision. Now comes the cricketing part.

What are you expecting?

There are two aspects. One is the financial aspect. So, we clearly have financial targets and goals. So, we would at least aspire to meet our own targets. Point number two is that you have to be successful. Winning and losing is part of the game, but you have to be a success. And, success delivers in different ways. It is not only about winning a cup, but also about being viewed as a being a success because then you get more sponsorships. Look at ATK Mohun Bagan. Out of seven ISL seasons, our team has won three titles, has been in four finals and has been in five play-offs. That is what is a successful team. Look at Mumbai Indians.

So, consistency...

Consistency. So, you may have a couple of bad seasons here and there, but it is eventually building a good franchise and one that is reliable in its performance.

Talking about Lucknow, do you have any favourites?

I have been to Lucknow many times, but I have literally gone there for work and left (laughs). I mean from UP, yes (favourites). Preeti (wife) is from Muzaffarnagar. My great-grandmother was from Farrukhabad. It has something which they only sell for four-six weeks in the winter and they call it sem ka beej... it’s like fried edamame seeds. The first day you get it is on the day of Dhanteras. Everyone in the family and a few generations up and down are addicted to that. There is this one particular shop from where it comes. So, a man takes a bus from Delhi to Farrukhabad and gets it on Dhanteras day. It’s a ritual till date.

I am looking forward to visiting Lucknow for sure and I will be there more than I have been in the past and I am looking forward to the opportunity of building a good franchise there.

What has life been like in these two years?

Well, life has changed. It was like being confined to your home for several months at a row and working on Zoom and Webex. So, initially, I didn’t even know how to operate the buttons, also! (Laughs) Over a period of time, this has become a way of life. There are two-three things I have definitely learnt during this period. One is you can manage your time better. If you are physically meeting people, for the first 10 minutes of a half-an-hour chat, you are talking about this, that and the other. This way (virtually), the meetings were a little more clinical. So, they are more efficient. It was a time to reflect and we were able to do a lot more cost-cutting and cost saving in our companies and also inculcate a greater efficiency than what we had.

From a personal angle, I had much more time. So, I spent a lot of time thinking and reflecting and it has changed my approach a bit. I have become a little more philosophical about life I think. And honestly, I am much happier for it.

There has been a new addition to the family as Shashwat and Shivika (son and daughter-in-law) became parents...

Oh, she is a complete delight. The first thing I do when I wake up is go and see her and before she sleeps, the last thing she does is be with us. Much of her waking hours when I am at home and not in the office, is spent with her. Having a child at home is God’s biggest blessing.

What is your message for Calcuttans?

Please continue to love me the way you have always done.

Pictures: Rashbehari Das

Last updated on 31.10.21, 02:30 AM

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