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April 12, 2005

Why ICICI Venture's Renuka Ramnath is smitten by the retail sector

Economic Times has a profile of ICICI Ventures CEO Renuka Ramnath with a special focus on her fondness for the retail sector.
Definitely the first and one of the few private-equity funds to put its money on the organised retail sector, the $400 million fund has pumped in close to $49 million through its flagship, the $240 million India Advantage Fund, and even
more through other funds.

And it’s reaping benefits beyond the financial. ICICI Venture is now seen as a crucial industry player. Its year-on-year returns are close to 25%, and according to the company’s managing director and CEO Renuka Ramnath, are expected to reach 40%.

From pushing a multi-state expansion plan for Subhiksha, to finding prospective second-round investors at PVR Cinemas, Ramnath is driving growth in the sector. If some ICICI Venture officials play a pivotal role in real-estate negotiations on behalf of companies they have invested in, others are leading financial restructuring and often forcing mergers and acquisitions to achieve economies of scale.

Pantaloon recently picked up the 68% stake that ICICI Venture held in Indus League, and Subhiksha almost acquired Trinethra, a Hyderabad-based retail chain in which ICICI Venture owned 40%...

...But there have also been setbacks. Its investment in Sanjay Narang’s Mars Restaurant has turned sour and while it wants to exit, the company’s IPO plans
don’t seem to be going anywhere. In the last six-months, the fund has liquidated its investments in low-performing companies like Indus League and Trinethra.

Some observers believe that exiting Pantaloon last year was a mistake, but Renuka Ramnath points out that the investment was made in ‘90s and the tenure of the fund was getting over. “The bullishness in retail is not a short-term trend; it’s going to continue for at least another 20 years” says Ramnath and adds, “The Indian consumer is taking to organised retail like fish to water and the lifestyle of young India will undergo a dramatic change”...

However, Ramnath points out that the fund’s focus on the retail sector also stems from the fact that the sector is fairly insulated from external developments and international trends like geopolitical stability, oil shocks etc. “Investors like retail because of its insular nature. It’s ‘the’ India story,” she says. Ramnath believes that the country is in the midst of a consumption boom with almost half of its population migrating from one income level to another every year and the rate of expenditure growth is outstripping savings.

Arun Natarajan is the Editor of TSJ Media, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of TSJ Media's Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.