M&A Strategy: Things To Keep In Mind

A second panel saw panellists throw light on how they are developing a rigorous M&A (mergers and acquisitions) strategy while also touching upon finer details like how different a beast digital M&A is compared with traditional M&A and what are the considerations associated with buying innovation.

The panellists included Nishant Verman, vice-president and head (corporate development and strategic partnerships), Flipkart; Chandru Chawla, head (corporate strategy, M&A and new ventures), Cipla; Sundareswaran S., executive director, Morgan Stanley; Saugata Bhattacharya, senior vice-president and chief economist, Axis Bank Ltd; Makarand Padalkar, chief financial officer, Oracle Financial Services Software Ltd; Vivek Gupta, partner and head (tax M&A team), KPMG; and Sridhar Gorthi, partner, Trilegal. The discussion was moderated by Shrija Agrawal, national deals editor at Mint. Edited excerpts:

How does India’s top consumer internet firm think about M&A? You just raised a huge round of funding from SoftBank, are you preparing a war chest for acquisitions?

Verman: We are in an industry which is arguably 10 years old. E-commerce interest is just 2% right now but we believe that at some point this 2% will become 20. We have to think as to how should we accelerate innovation and this innovation can take the shape of some core capabilities or consumers. We work backwards from saying what a customer needs, what innovation will be required. Today when I look back, between the three group companies, we have about 65-70% market share. If you see how many consumers are buying online today and if I were to increase the number of customers that are buying online then I have to work in a way to make them buy more things online. There is an infrastructure layer, which makes the buying behaviour of a customer smoother and faster or quicker whether it is category expansion like grocery.

I need to think how we work in these areas (category expansion), and what are the capabilities that I might need. As to new customers, we are looking at both urban and semi-urban market. Eventually, all of India should buy from us. There are people who have access to customers and have a relationship with customers that we don’t have and we need to be faster to do something about that. When it comes to infrastructure and logistics, we continue to look at what others are doing and maybe partner with them. Wherever we see innovation in infrastructure and core capabilities, we will continue to buy.

What about Cipla’s M&A strategy? You recently stepped up your game with acquisitions in the US?

Chawla: Cipla has been transforming itself to become more innovation-oriented, more geographically diversified and also to take a jump in the US market where unlike our peers we were a bit late to enter. So it called for a bold and large inorganic move which we have completed. The external world seems to be positive as we took the right move. We are not in the fashion industry where we should be looking at what we do every other day. Firms like us, based on the old world of brick-and-mortar model, we have to think long-term and stay focused. The focus has to be our key mantra for the coming five-seven years.

For us, the US will still remain a big growth driver. There are tidal waves in the US at the moment. The timing was a little bit surprising. There is a lot more consolidation to happen. Health budgets are under serious pressure. The kind of mercenary and credit pricing that was quite phenomenal in the US won’t be possible in the future. But for companies like us, there are ample opportunities to climb up the value curve in a more innovation-oriented model without relying on the business models of the past. For companies like us, the basic model was copying the generic medicines. It had a copy-cat mindset which is different from an innovator’s mindset. You cannot incubate a company like Google or Facebook in a company like Infosys. Five years ago we created New Ventures which was like an internal incubator. The new things that we want to do require a completely new ecosystem. We started doing that in a unique way by sequestering it from the mainstream. Consumer health is a great example and we realised that it is not a pharmaceutical game, but rather a fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) game. Pharma company is more front-ended in a way that it gives returns on investment. An FMCG company, on the other hand, is more back-ended. We invited private equity to invest; that went well. Consumer health, creating an innovation-oriented business in the US and consolidation in India in a big-bang emerging markets are our key growth driving factors.

Consumer health, creating innovation oriented business in the US and consolidation in India in a big-bang emerging markets are our key growth driving factors.– Chandru Chawla, head (corporate strategy, M&A and new ventures), Cipla.

Could you break down the good, the bad and the ugly for us and what corporates should factor in when making investment decisions?

Bhattacharya: We are going through a mess due to the goods and services tax (GST) system. That’s a short-term pain which is the ugly pain. But there are lots of goods. As for macros, we are the darling of foreign investors. Global investors are all very bullish on India. The infrastructure is getting better, the government has a vision and they are willing to execute it. The legislative system is improving with the infrastructure, insolvency and bankruptcy laws, GST in particular and Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA).

The best parts are some structural shifts that are happening in the system like homogenization and financialization of the system. This includes people moving from cash to digital platforms. The tax revenues of the government have increased as a lot of people are complying with the tax regime and the government has become efficient in spending this money. Our payment systems are the best in the world. There is nothing better in the world than the unified payments interface (UPI)s. However, sooner or later one downside of this digitization is that you will lose on the regular salaried job market. It will be more of a sharing economy but with this comes the marketplace. There are three characteristics of this market-driven economy. One, this is very information-centric, particularly information with a lot of asymmetries. Secondly, more the number of customers you acquire, the more valuable the company is which is the key to the economy. What comes from combining these two is the stickiness that you can induce in your customer base. This can bring changes in the business model that the companies can begin to use to acquire scale. The key focus on short-term profits will slowly begin to dissolve and move further. The focus will now be a long-term capital strategy. That are the key changes you are likely to see in the next 10 years.

There is so much capital available out there. We have SoftBank Vision Fund, Canada’s CDPQ, CPPIB and other private equity players investing too much capital in too few assets. Is Canada the new Japan? What is your take on this?

Sundareswaran: There are new pools of assets. There is a diversification of assets. Sovereigns funds come from all parts of the world. The pools of capital have become large from what it was. People are no longer really dependent on asset managers. People are willing to take direct investments. In terms of chasing the sectors, there will be a moment at times where one set of sectors will be more attractive than the others. In general, we feel that we are in a zone where growth is going to be strong.

Give us a sense of what you are seeing in the information technology (IT) sector right now? Oracle has been a very prolific acquirer globally but not in India?

Padalkar: IT sector as of now is full of M&As both of shape and size. In this particular sector, a lot of intangibles are needed and this is one of the challenges in this sector. There are expectations of growth as we move forward. The second problem in IT is to determine a good valuation model for innovation. The third problem in IT is with people because while we all say that we make IT independent of people but in practice, it is not true. People suffer structural change when an asset is acquired. Ability to assimilate new talent and not let them go is another key factor which is taken into consideration. Fourth thing which happens in IT is that most of the acquisitions are done at a slightly green field or an advanced stage and therefore the capital required to make it successful is a difficult game. The challenge comes when there is not so much appetite for capital funding in an organization for an M&A. At a firm level, the decision of M&A, we take at a global level. We look for global footprint and not region specific. In India, there are no core IT assets available.

IT sector as of now is full of M&As both of shape and size. In this particular sector, a lot of intangibles are needed and this is one of the challenges in this sector.– Makarand Padalkar, CFO, Oracle Financial Services Software Ltd.

As a tax expert, if you could give us a sense of evolving tax laws in M&As which corporates should be cognizant of in the near future?

Gupta: Historically, we have been in a tax environment where largely we have followed a rule-based approach as to how we structure our taxes. Fundamentally, over the last three or four years, an overlay of substance norm is coming in. Ten years ago, lots of firms migrated ownership from India to overseas and to do that now under the current tax regime is far more challenging. Externalization was very simple 10 years ago but now the rules have been changed. We are now in a regime, where we are transitioning perhaps from a rule-based law to a substance-based law.

Give us a sense of how deal-making has evolved in the country. There is so much of talk around consolidation, tomorrow if Uber were to acquire or merge with Ola, which is not far or a distant possibility, will that be considered monopolistic by Competition Commission of India (CCI)? How are they looking at these transactions? We saw CCI setting the stage for Lafarge to sell some of its India assets to consummate its merger with Holcim?

Gorthi: From a legal adviser’s perspective, deal-making has evolved structurally almost unrecognisable from a decade ago. The environment is in a stage of transition. Structural changes like bankruptcy code, RERA, all these changes how they will play out is yet to be seen. The answer to your question of Uber acquiring Ola is little surprising. If this thing happens it will have a monopoly in the market and will have a massive market share but some of the mega-mergers, the experience has shown that the CCI is the most pro-active and facilitative regulator. The competition regime when first came in through and CCI was put into play, merger control became a thing. The first concern for many of us had that it is going to be a bottleneck and will slow down the pace of M&A. The actual experience, however, is different. So often if you see large transactions which require approvals from a number of different regulators, CCI has become an interactive facilitator in giving guidance. They have the power to disallow the transactions and internationally this happens very often. They have been facilitative in a few transactions. So Ola-Uber merger or an acquisition is likely to run more into difficulties on government policies for aggregators rather than monopolistic.

Vivek, if you can throw some light on how the present dispensation is trying to create a positive environment for investors? Has abolition of foreign investment promotion board (FIPB) proven to be a good move or a bad move?

Gupta: The intention is all correct and in the right direction. The government has come out with the guidelines for e-commerce and foreign direct investments (FDI). A lot of sectors have been opened up for investment. It is too soon to say whether clearances will become easier or not. Many applauded the abolition of FIPB. As per our interaction with FIPB for the past five to seven years, it was actually a body that got together with various parts of government. FIPB provided a forum where the government could take a decision together. They acted as a mechanism whereby the government was forced to respond to the meeting which was held every alternate week and there was a committee which would then take a joint call. I don’t quite know whether putting this power back in the hands of the administrative ministry will hasten approvals or it wouldn’t. I am holding my judgement on whether abolition of FIPB is a good or bad move, although from an intention standpoint, it was a good intent and we should remove bureaucracy wherever we can.

What we are seeing now is domestic consolidation, industry leaders coming together; it is no longer about who is controlling the business.– Sundareswaran S., executive director, Morgan Stanley.

Sundareswaran, as an investment bank, how are the deals in your pipeline looking like; where do you see most of the deals coming from?

Sundareswaran: Historically, we have always done inbound transactions which used to constitute 50% of the overall deal value, but that is changing a bit. What we are seeing now is domestic consolidation, industry leaders coming together; it is no longer about who is controlling the business. We are also seeing inbound interest coming back. Outbound transactions have been selective and therefore mega or large outbound deals would be fewer compared to inbound deals.

What is at the heart of e-commerce M&A which is largely a winner-takes-all market?

Verman: We acquire companies for people. One of the things which we keep in mind is thinking of who will continue to stay with us. We have hundreds of millions of customers and we don’t spend on marketing anymore. So if we acquire someone it makes sense on making them continue. Myntra is a good example. We let them build their own brand. One of the core areas for our M&A strategy is ‘category’, where we think what are those categories which we have tried to build or where do we get acceleration in six-nine months. Today, we do have a strong customer base and we would acquire for core capabilities and not for customers. The capital which we have today allows us to be very aggressive. The second area of focus for M&A would be around thinking of how to accelerate profitability.

How are you using Big Data for your M&A decisions?

Verman: Data is at the heart of what we do. As a digital platform, we have the ability to see a customer’s behaviour. With data, we can keep a track of customer behaviour changing over time and that builds into a firm’s strategy. We acquire in areas where we see a gap in the product roadmap.

This article originally appeared in Live Mint.

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Innoventia – Search For Disruptive Innovation in Healthcare

Keeping up with Cipla’s innovation-driven credo, happy to share one of our big initiatives towards the same. Check out Innoventia.Cipla.Com to participate & reinvent the way we deliver healthcare.

I take this opportunity to also write my thoughts on why an initiative like Innoventia is much needed in our times.

They say when data is tortured enough, it will confess to anything! This couldn’t ring truer than now- when ‘sharing’ has become a way of life, thanks to the digital takeover of our lives. Everything is under the impact of the fastest moving phenomenon in recent times: CHANGE. In fact, change is the new technology, permeating everything, especially healthcare.

We are already witnessing applications for blockchain and more uses for AI, especially in diagnosis. Analytics has become the new buzzword. In the broad sweep of AI’s current worldly ambitions, machine learning healthcare applications seem to top the list for funding. Clearly, healthcare is no longer about the passive delivery of diagnostics, drugs and infrastructure. Guess why?

Along with the diseases, patients are changing too – across the spectrum of understanding, knowledge, and management of diseases given the emerging technology canvas.

So what’s next? Innovation is the only answer – to tide this wave of life-altering times to transform the delivery of care.

Therefore, is it healthcare or tech care? A question that will perhaps be answered through the lens of innovation.

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#WorldBookDay: Books That Have Influenced My Life

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Meet Challenges Head On – Dr Ranjana Pathak To Women Leaders In The Making

My journey has been a roller coaster ride, filled with laughter and some tears. The challenges were numerous, since I started at the very bottom, this forces you to learn, understand the nuances of the job, the expectations of the organisation, and the regulators.

This job soon became a career and now a calling. I have always been driven, spent hours reading trade journals, studying books on key topics such as chromatography, the USP etc. By the way, the USP is a great book to learn from if you are in the lab. When I started my career, I was the only girl in the QC lab, it was daunting because I had zero experience, this was a challenge to overcome. For me it was a new country, working for the first time in my life, so I suppose the survival instinct kicked in. I have always been very focused. I have the drive to be the best in what I do. These two traits have enabled me to be a perennial student, keeping me in the learning mode. I never liked the status quo and always opted for harder tasks, taught courses because it would force me to learn and be challenged by pharma executives. The need to excel has been with me literally all my life which drives me to take challenges head-on.

In summary, it is my purpose, drive, doggedness, persistence and courage that have enabled me to overcome the numerous challenges that faced me and I know I am not alone! I have also been blessed with having a very supportive family, bosses and colleagues.

Challenges for women leaders

Time is the biggest challenge, the pharma industry is competitive and by nature, timeline bound. There is seldom tomorrow, everything seems to be needed yesterday, a very fast paced, exacting and demanding industry, full of challenges, some anticipated and others binding. For women, to play their classical roles in society and families becomes difficult, because of their innate nature.
Women from time immemorial have been jugglers, they must juggle the needs of their families, children, work, friends, communities etc…the list goes on and on.
Given that the number of hours is limited for all, women need to be able to prioritise the ‘must dos’, and let go of those tasks that cannot be done and will not matter in the long run, ‘take help’ from family members, friends, neighbours to be able to juggle everything on their plate.

Creating a conducive growth environment

The government can and should execute laws that are conducive for women to work, the organisations then must follow through to make the workplace environment safe. School and universities should promote science and maths so children join science rather than hanker for business degrees alone, don’t get me wrong we need those as well but I think I see a tip towards business. If there is no product, there will be no business to manage. Today’s generation wants instant gratification, the millennials are different from the baby boomer generation, their needs and tolerances are not the same. Careers in disciplines other science seem to be more popular. The pharma industry needs sharp scientists, engineers, biologists, microbiologists, physicists, computer science etc. to ensure that new drugs/devices are developed, existing drugs are made more affordable, the quality is uncompromised. This is a daunting task where the government can help in ensuring the platforms exist. The government can do a lot to make this feasible for women/ girls in urban and rural schools.

Need for regular campus placement

There are more number of science graduates coming out of universities who want to join the pharma sector. However, due to lack of job opportunities, they have to change their career goal. To address this, the pharma industry needs to be present on the campus to educate the graduates of tomorrow about the needs of humanity (need for medicines) and the need of society.

Success Mantra

To my newcomers and those that are stalwarts: Always do the right thing, be courageous, know your subject, believe in yourself, look at yourself in the mirror each morning and say—Wow, I am looking at a great piece of art that is going to make a huge difference today!!! If I can do it…You can do it better!!

This article originally appeared in Express Pharma.

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Books: A Cerebral Affair

“A Reader lives a thousand lives before dying. Those who never read live only once!”

All of us enter youth and the corporate world with the quiet confidence that we can change the world. Alas, this lasts only “until the coarse necessities of physical existence drag us from the height of thought into the mart of economic strife and gain”. Our everyday challenges – finding and then doing well in a good job, keeping up with an often fragile relationship, the heavy load of expectations from our parents and ourselves, lack of clarity on what we really want to do in life, the rat race and constant comparison with our peers – often pull us down into mediocrity. And the grand idea of being the very best we can gets quietly put aside.

So Why Read Books?

If we agree that good counsel can help us become much better, what better guide than books? Mentors and teachers can come and go and may turn out to be false Gods. Why not drink from the ageless wisdom of good books, learning from the myriad experiences of some of the best of our species?

As Durant said, “When life is bitter, or friendship slips away, or perhaps our children leave us for their own haunts and home, let us come and sit at the table with Shakespeare and Goethe…”

But What Exactly To Read?

There is a book for every mood and occasion. Choosing few recommendations is not easy (±130 million books have been written!), so let’s decide how we will choose:

  • Life-changing: Will make us wiser. That can bring fundamental changes in our thinking and attitude, answer the big Why questions.
  • Engaging and Fun: We want to grow, but also enjoy the journey. We may not have the patience (yet!) to go through deep but boring books.

Let me start with a few recommendations from my side (click each link for more recommendations and a short summary)…

(If you want more, see my blog on 100 Books To Make Us Wise).

Part of what makes a book memorable is our own life experiences that can relate to it. So look out for what appeals to you. Obviously, choose the books very carefully. Good books can be an everlasting love affair, just as bad books can be more enervating than a date gone horribly wrong.


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