Vedanta intends to strengthen the activities in India, Africa



MUMBAI: Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan, the new CEO of Vedanta Resources Plc, would like to reinforce the activities in India and Africa to help the mining and metal conglomerate overcome the existing challenges and build a platform that can support sustainable value creation.

In an interview by telephone, Venkatakrishnan, known among his colleagues as Venkat, had his boss Anil Agarwal, chairman of Vedanta Resources, at his side when he spoke to ET. Metal maven Agarwal was categorical that the reins were transferred to Venkat. Since Tom Albanese stepped down as CEO in 2017, the company has tried to fill the vacant position. The board of Vedanta had appointed industrial veteran Kuldip Kaura as interim CEO.

"He will consult me ​​for strategy, mergers and acquisitions and large growth plans, but the buck will stop with him, the balance, profit and loss, safety aspects …, he will design and think about how we have to continue," Agarwal told ET .

Venkat spent 18 years in Anglo-Gold, the last five years as chief executive. He took over as CEO in 2013 when commodity prices collapsed and the debtor threatened to bury the gold digger. Venkat made a turnaround, reducing debts and costs and overcoming investors.

Of course there are doubts: does Venkat have the experience of dealing with Vedanta Resources, a company that is much larger than AngloGold?

Vedanta

"The group is so diverse … with huge potential and growth opportunities … and with some of the best natural resources," he said. "So the position of the CEO is very similar to the conductor of an orchestra.In short, give the entrepreneurial power to each of these teams to get the best out of it, so I see my role as a consultant of a catalyst, in building a strong team. "

Venkat, the 53-year-old third-generation accountant born in Chennai, is known for his ability to solve problems and earns a reputation for successfully solving differences in difficult mining areas in Ghana and South Africa. His skills will be tested on Tuticorin, where his only advantage would be speaking Tamil fluently.

During the interaction with ET, Venkat revealed how in an informal meeting with Agarwal a few years ago in Johannesburg in the canteen of his ex-employer AngloGold Ashanti a few years ago the idea to become a member of Vedanta. And although his research into the company's growth path and a desire to do something new after using his stint on his AngloGold helped him think, it was Agarwal's natural charm that confirmed his decision.

"I met the chairman once in our office and he came across as a modest man," Venkat recalls. "He is a very good" charmer "of people and therefore I could not resist the charm to come on board and join the group," he says.

As chief executive of Anglo-Gold Ashanti since 2013, Venkat is credited with reducing the company's total cost by 30%, except for a 60% reduction in overhead costs and almost halving total debt. Will he apply the same strategy here to help Vedanta with the lowest quartile on the cost front?

Venkat answers with a subdued confidence. "The group already has good cost-saving measures and ambitious cost goals, I believe that with the experience I have, I can add an extra catalyst to the party … not that the group can not achieve this without me" he says.

However, Chairman Anil Agarwal has more than just tangible financial benefits to look for. "He is a huge brand for safety around the world and it will be one of his priorities to ensure our awareness of the environment", said Agarwal during the same call. "People will think twice before putting a finger on the farm in terms of environment and safety," he said.

Vedanta has had quite a few contacts with the government and local communities for its business activities, largely about the claim that the company has little respect for the natural environment in and around its facilities. In May of this year, protests in Tuticorin claimed 13 lives with a copper smelter of 400,000 tons.

The South African experience of Venkat will also help the group to use the power of its copper mines there. Agarwal is now also the largest shareholder of Anglo American with Volcan Investments, with a 20% stake: there is also a possible acquisition of the South African assets of the company.

For now, Venkat will spend the next 90 days at the company. When asked if he would spend more time in India and Africa, Venkat replied that he will go where work takes him. "I am quite happy to be able to work out of a suitcase, if necessary," he said.

Venkat says that in the long term he is committed to Vedanta and "wants to spend time until his retirement", leaving behind a "legacy that is strong".


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