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February 16, 2010

Fund Manager Interview: Sanjiv Singhal of BanyanTree

Extracts from the interview with Sanjiv Singhal, Managing Director of BanyanTree Finance (the advisor to the BanyanTree Growth Capital fund) that appeared in the Venture Intelligence India Roundup-2009 report (that provides a synopsis of Private Equity investments during the year). BanyanTree is a $125 million Private Equity fund that provides capital to middle-market companies in India with promising growth prospects. It was among the most active investors in 2009.

Venture Intelligence: What is BanyanTree's investment strategy?

Sanjiv Singhal: We like to focus on the underserved spaces. The manufacturing sector gets a disproportionately small share of PE investments in India – especially when you consider that we are the seventh largest industrial economy in the world. For most people, doing a deal in manufacturing is time consuming and maybe not as glamorous as doing a telecom tower deal, etc. But this sector is our happy hunting ground.

At a company level, we try to provide capital to those who have difficulty raising it from other sources. This could be for a reason as basic as the inability of the management to effectively communicate with prospective financiers as why they should invest in the company. And that’s why we use “fallen angels” or “hidden gems” to describe our strategy. Basically our strategy is not to follow the crowd. We would like to look at a deal on an exclusive basis and not be in competition with anybody else.

VI: You have worked for a long time as a banker (with Citi and Standard Chartered Bank). How are you finding your current role different?

SS: The PE fund job is really very exciting especially since you get to be an investment banker, management consultant and a fund manager all at the same time. You are a fund manager when you are making the investment and post that, a management consultant and investment banker.

We find that promoters/sponsors in India have what we call the “post natal” depression. Just after the equity investment is made, they start feeling that they have sold the company too cheap. We find that by actively engaging with the companies post investment not only helps us improve value but also helps us improve the relationship with the sponsors. So a lot of our time goes in being an investment banker and consultant to our investee companies and that I find far more interesting than being a pure banker.

VI: What do you think are some of the key issues before PE investors in India today?

SS: A lot of it is about being differentiated and avoiding the herd mentality. Funds which are just $250-300 million in size should not be trying to compete for deals which larger competitors like KKR and Blackstone can also do. I think they have a risk of being eliminated as they have nothing differentiated about them.

The second big thing for the PE industry is that we need to be more creative in the way we look at deals and where we look for deals. There is too much of a “this never worked in the past and so this can’t work in the future either” kind of view. It might indeed be that it is difficult to make investments in small- and mid-cap companies due to lack of liquidity, some promoters not being straightforward, etc., but all of these issues are addressable. The point is to be able to successfully challenge the status quo.