Finance: a profile of young star Nikhil Kaushik
His sober demeanour and staid office might mask the excitement of what he does, but Nikhil Kaushik is actually a bit like a hunter stalking game. Armed with a slew of degrees, an analytical mind and a nose for which investment will fly, he scours the virgin jungle that is corporate India, looking for companies to pour funds into - before anyone else gets to them.
Kaushik, 28, works for BTS Investment Advisors, a Swiss private equity firm. Unlike small shareholders, these firms look to buy a significant stake in companies and use their financial might to influence the company's management with a view to making it more profitable. They then wait for the right to time to sell out, a stage when they think they will get the best returns on their initial investment. This is equity that is not traded on a public stock exchange.
Conversely, many companies and individual entrepreneurs in need of capital for expansion might themselves approach private equity firms, either directly or through investment banks. Then the private equity firm evaluates the company, and if it thinks the business will be lucrative, offers its funds in return for a stake.
"It is one of the few fields that gives one a chance to meet entrepreneurs and people from different backgrounds," said Kaushik, who has an engineering degree from Bangalore, a masters degree in the same subject from the US, and an MBA from Hyderabad's Indian School of Business. "Mumbai has a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurship. And what really got me interested was the fact that it is quite a lucrative field."
And how. Kaushik earns upwards of Rs 18 lakhs as associate vice president at his company, which he joined four months ago. (See News You Can Use at the left for career ladder and salaries).
The spoils will only increase as private equity expands in India. With the Indian economy expected to continue galloping, despite temporary setbacks, private equity players are flocking here. Already the country has 400-odd equity firms, 80 per cent of which are based in Mumbai.
In 2007, the total value of all deals in India was the highest in Asia at nearly $10 billion. For the first time, India edged out China, which came in second ahead of Taiwan.
In the 1990s most private equity deals in India took place in the IT sector, but today private equity deals abound in diverse fields, with manufacturing, retail, education, telecom, infrastructure, media and entertainment the current favourites.
Kaushik, who grew up and studied in Bangalore, Chennai and Pondicherry, returned from the US in 2003 because he saw that India was changing and felt it was the place to be in. So he worked with US giant GE in Bangalore for about two years, then helped with his father-in-law's pharmaceuticals business for a year, before moving on to get his business degree. (His wife now takes care of the business) At the end of his stint at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, he knew he wanted to be in the private equity field. So there was only one place to go.
"If you want to be in private equity, you have to be in Mumbai," he said.
So that's where he landed up in mid-2007, and then got a job with BTS last September.
Today, he's just where he wants to be.
He enjoys all the number crunching that he has to do, which is one-third of working time, and scouting for opportunities for his firm. "You get to learn a lot from the many enthusiastic and diverse entrepreneurs coming up with interesting ideas," he said. "You also get to travel a lot."
But not everything about the job is hunky-dory. The working day is long, and even longer when a deal is about to be clinched, and, when so much money is at stake, the job can be stressful.
Once, for example, all the details for a deal that Kaushik was working on had been finalised. Then his firm transferred the money from its Mauritius branch to India. But on sending it to the client after that, the firm could not trace the money for quite some time.
"It finally got sorted out, but it was quite worrying," said Kaushik. One can well imagine it was: the money that temporarily went missing was Rs 20 crore.
To manage his stress levels, Kaushik does not miss his daily round of jogging. Moreover, it helps that unlike many Mumbaikars, he does not have to commute far: he lives and works in Bandra. He likes to relax on weekends by playing Scrabble and watching movies. Occasionally, he hangs out at pubs with his friends.
But one thing continues to nag him: although there are a lot of opportunities in his field in India, there is not enough talent.
The flipside, of course, is that this presents a huge opportunity for young people looking for adventure in the Wild West of private equity.