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SpiceJet chief the man of the moment at Modi-Trump meet

Starting a week before Trump’s inauguration in January, SpiceJet has placed orders for 225 planes with Boeing, which is worth more than $22 billion.

business Updated: Jun 28, 2017 15:27 IST
Yashwant Raj
FILE PHOTO: A SpiceJet Boeing 737-800 aircraft taxis on the tarmac after landing at Chhatrapati Shivaji international airport in Mumbai November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A SpiceJet Boeing 737-800 aircraft taxis on the tarmac after landing at Chhatrapati Shivaji international airport in Mumbai November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo(Reuters File)

He is the man you didn’t see at the Rose Garden presser by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, but heard about there. And his company’s big deal with an American company has the whole town from the White House to US congress talking.

He is the man Vice-President Mike Pence sought out on Tuesday from a hall full of  top business executives from India and the US at the annual summit of US India Business Council and met him backstage before taking the podium.

“He greeted me by my name and said, ‘Look. I know about the company and I know about the order that’s been placed by your company,” Ajay Singh, the soft-spoken chairman and managing director of SpiceJet, who got a shout-out from Trump at the Rose Garden presser, said in an interview to Hindustan Times.

“I was pleased to learn about an Indian airline’s recent order of 100 new American planes, one of the largest orders of its kind, which will support thousands and thousands of American jobs, the president had said, with the prime minister by his side, without naming either Singh or SpiceJet.

Starting a week before Trump’s inauguration in January, SpiceJet has placed orders for 225 planes with Boeing, which is worth more than $22 billion and which will, according to a US government certification, create 132,000 jobs. The first planes will start arriving in 2018, with the last in 2024.

In Singh’s telling, it was Boeing’s idea to let the US government know of the deal once work go under way on Modi’s visit. It seemed like a good idea, and as it wound around the corridors of power in New Delhi and DC, it got even better, picked up backers and, finally, the PM’s office asked for a note.

Singh says he never expected this kind of attention when he placed those orders turning around a company he had built and left and came back to rebuild, from near bankruptcy — “when I took over the company (in 2015) its stocks were at Rs 12 each, and they are now at Rs 125; (we have) done well”.

Sure, well enough to be cited as an example of opportunities for American companies in the Indian growth story and find mention in the Fact Sheet issued by the White House after the meeting of the two leaders listing the highlights of the cooperation between the two countries.

In their short meeting backstage at the USIBC event, Singh said Pence expressed the desire to visit SpiceJet offices when he travels to India — on Prime Minister Modi’s invitation, which he said he has accepted —  at a date to be determined. 

Later on Tuesday, Singh was on Capitol Hill to meet lawmakers.

So how does it feel? “It’s great, fantastic,” Singh said, leaning forward in his seat in the coffee shop of a hotel in downtown DC, “It’s a great testament to what SpiceJet has achieved…and we are glad were a part of his whole .. important meeting.”