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The man behind India’s biggest automotive deal

business Updated: Mar 26, 2008 10:29 IST
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In less than a day, Ravi Kant (63), the managing director of Tata Motors, will be known as the man who sealed India’s claim on the iconic British brands — Land Rover and Jaguar.

When the reticent IIT-Kharagpur alumnus joined Tata Motors nine years ago as executive director, few would have predicted that one day he would become instrumental in clinching the biggest automobile acquisition by an Indian company.

At the time of going to press, Kant, the man Ratan Tata trusted to win the ownership of these auto jewels, is leading the final leg of negotiations that has lasted for almost eight months. “It’s almost done; the deal value is around $2.6 billion (Rs 11,000 crore),” said a senior Tata executive who is part of the negotiating team currently in London.

Despite repeated attempts, Kant was unavailable for comments. “I cannot disclose details connected with the deal,” Debasis Ray Tata Motors spokesperson told the Hindustan Times.

The Tatas have been negotiating terms and conditions of 18 agreements, not usually part of buyouts. It is Kant’s experience in global acquisitions that has proved handy. In 2004, Kant brought Tata Motors to the global platform by acquiring the ailing Daewoo Commercial Vehicles.

“He has learnt to get the final product right the first time,” said S.K. Gupta, former chairman and managing director of VSNL.

His colleagues at Tata Motors describe him as a people’s man who would not accept the word ‘impossible’. “He would come to sales meetings and double the existing targets. He would not take no for an answer, but he would provide all the help to achieve the target,” said a senior executive from the marketing team.

After Tata’s takeover, Daewoo’s commercial vehicle division has turned around. Kant was also instrumental in Tata Motors’ joint ventures, including bus-body makers Marco Polo from Brazil and Hispano Carrocera of Spain.

It was not surprising then that Ratan Tata chose Kant as the company’s managing director — a post he was filling after a gap of 10 years, since J. E. Talaulekar stepped down in 1994. “Dr.V. Sumantran, who launched Tata Motors’ passenger car division, was perceived to be the frontrunner for the post,” said a source.

At the helm of Tata Motors, Kant has overseen the group’s emergence into a global car company. A man with an ear to the ground, Kant makes it a point to visit the dealership channel frequently, a habit from his days at the consumer durables major Philips India, where he was director of consumer electronics before joining Tata Motors.

“Let us remove all obstacles in our path,” has been his motto, say all his colleagues.

He has done just that.