Essar Group Ltd.
Essar Group Ltd.
Sales: INR 100 billion ($2.2 billion) (2005)
NAIC: 331111 Iron and Steel Mills; 213111 Drilling Oil and Gas Wells; 211111 Crude Petroleum and Natural Gas Extraction; 213112 Support Activities for Oil and Gas Field Exploration; 334220 Radio and Television Broadcasting and Wireless Communications Equipment Manufacturing; 532412 Construction, Mining and Forestry Machinery and Equipment Rental and Leasing; 483113 Coastal and Great Lakes Freight Transportation; 483111 Deep Sea Freight Transportation
Essar Group Ltd. is one of India's leading privately owned, diversified conglomerates, with a total asset base of more than $5 billion and annual revenues of INR 100 billion ($2.2 billion). Whereas Essar Group itself is controlled by the founding Ruia family, much of the company's diversified holdings fall under its publicly listed subsidiaries. The company's subsidiaries include Essar Steel, the second largest private sector steel company in India; Essar Oil, a fully integrated oil and gas producer, and the first private sector Indian company to enter the market since its liberalization in the early 1990s; Essar Power, which operates a 515 megawatt (MW) natural gas power plant in Hazira, with plans to increase its total output to 2,500 MW by the end of the 2000s; Essar Shipping, the group's original activity, the leading shipping group in India, with 30 vessels, including India's first Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) tanker, representing some 14 percent of the country's total fleet; Essar Teleholding, which, through its joint venture Hutchison Essar is the second largest cellular telephone provider in India; and Essar Construction, a leading construction company in India. Other Essar holdings include subsidiaries involved in magazine publishing, business process outsourcing, information technology, and flower and vegetable production. Essar Group is led by Shashi and Ravi Ruia, sons of the company's founder.
FROM EARLY 19TH-CENTURY TRADER TO LATE 20TH-CENTURY CONGLOMERATE
The Ruia family originated in the Rajasthan region of northwestern India. As members of the powerful Marwari trading community, which also produced such Indian financial dynasties as the Birla and Mittal families, the Ruia family's background in trading reached back to the early 19th century. The development of the modern Essar Group began in the 1950s, however, when Nand Kishore Ruia left Rajasthan to establish his own business in Chennai (also known as Madras), in the Tamil Nadu region. Ruia stuck to his trading roots, setting up an export business for the region's iron ore mining industry. By 1966, the group added stevedoring services, transporting the iron ore from the mines to the region's ports. By the end of the decade, the Ruia family had also entered the construction contracting market. Among Essar Group's first major construction contracts were the construction of an outer breakwater in Madras Port in order to support large tankers, completed in 1971, and the construction of a wharf and berth complex at Tuticorn port, completed in 1972.
By then, however, the family business had been placed under the control of Shashi and Ravi Ruia, after their father's sudden death in 1969. Both in their early 20s, the Ruia brothers set out to expand the family business, and develop it into one of India's most successful and most diversified conglomerates. Already at the end of the 1960s, the brothers targeted the shipping market, starting with the launch of Essar-Bulk Cargo Carriers in 1969. That operation originally served to transport the group's iron ore exports; by the mid-1970s, however, the company had begun providing a wider range of ship chartering and transport services. The shipping company grew strongly in the 1980s, notably through the 1983 acquisition of Karnataka Shipping Corporation. The enlarged operation was renamed as Essar Shipping Limited (ESL) in 1984.
The next phase of the shipping company's growth came in 1992, when ESL acquired South India Shipping Corporation (SISCO), adding that company's 14 vessels. The two companies were gradually merged, a process that was completed by 1996. At its height, Essar's shipping operations counted nearly 60 vessels; at the end of the 1990s, however, the company began trimming its fleet, back to 42 ships at decade's end.
Essar Construction continued to grow strongly through this period as well. The company completed a number of new major projects through the 1980s and into the 1990s. These included the construction of several new oil and ore berths at Mormugao Port, completed in 1977; the construction of two 7.2-kilometer pipelines near Bombay Port in 1983; a new 18-kilometer pipeline connecting a Bombay offshore facility to the Hazira Gujarat plant in 1985; and the dredging of the Mazgaon Docks in 1986. Pipelines and related construction became something of a company specialty as it completed a number of new projects into the 1990s, such as an order for 12 submarine pipelines for the Oil and Natural Gas Commission in Bombay, completed in 1989, and a one-kilometer ethylene pipeline crossing Panvel Creek, in Bombay, for Polyolefins Industries Ltd., completed in 1990. The following year, Essar Construction completed a new pipeline for Hindustan Petroleum Corp. in Baroda.
Essar also entered the steel industry, setting up Essar Gujarat, in the Gujarat region near Rajasthan, to take advantage of a new gas pipeline there. The company built a successful business producing sponge iron through the 1970s and into the 1980s. By the end of that decade, the company had added hot briquetting capacity, with the installation of two new sponge iron production modules imported from Germany in 1989. These modules began commercial production in 1990. A third module was then added the following year, and launched its commercial production in 1993.
By then, however, Essar, with the encouragement of the Indian government, was determined to enter the global steel business and become a vertically integrated steel producer. In 1989, Essar Gujarat, which later changed its name to Essar Steel Limited, began construction on a new $90 million cold-rolled steel mill. Originally slated for completion in 1992, the launch of the new plant was delayed when the group decided to expand the plant's production capacity. Commercial production at the plant finally took place only in 1997; by then, however, global steel prices had fallen sharply, and, amid the economic crises sweeping the Asian region, the company found itself in its own financial difficulties. In 1999, the group made headlines when it was forced to default on some $250 million in eurobond loans.
We insist on setting and surpassing world-class benchmarks in everything we do. No wonder we have the largest gas-based sponge iron plant and are one of the world's largest integrated sea logistics companies that owns India's largest double hull, double bottom VLCC. All our businesses are highly integrated across the value chain and use the latest technology to stay strong and agile. We have invested several billion dollars on exclusive state-of-the-art technology because we believe that it confers strong strategic advantages.
RENEWED GROWTH INTO THE 21ST CENTURY
Part of Essar Group's troubles came from its rapid diversification. As Ravi Ruia described the company's strategy to reporters in 1994, "We will get into any new business that will make us more money…. Today the canvas is wide open. We must have an open mind. We should have basic synergies with what we do, but we must not miss a major opportunity just because it does not fit in with our basic operations."
Essar attempted to enter the financial market in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1989, the company set up a new subsidiary, India Securities Limited, which began providing a range of financial services, including lease financing, bill discounting, capital management, and money market services. Essar also attempted to enter the banking market, making a bid to acquire Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank, based in Tuticorin and serving, in large part, the Nadar community in the region. By 1994, Essar had gained control of more than 70 percent of the bank, but was ultimately forced to sell off its shareholding due to protests from the bank's Nadar clientele.
Essar took advantage of the liberalization of India's economy, carried out in 1991, by entering the oil and gas market. The company established Essar Oil & Exploration in 1989 with the aim of operating in three areas, those of energy production, offshore exploration, and petroleum refining. In 1993, the company became one of the first to bid for the country's first private sector exploration contracts. The company won its bid for the two onshore blocks in Rajasthan, as well as an offshore field near Mumbai. In that year, as well, Essar established its energy production division, Essar Power, with the construction of a 510 MW plant in Hazira, in the Gujarat region.
- Nand Kishore Ruia moves to Chennai and establishes the Essar Group as a trading company.
- The company enters the stevedoring market for the region's iron ore mining industry.
- After Ruia's death, his sons Shashi and Ravi become heads of the company and launch a long diversification drive, starting with an entry into the construction market, through Essar Construction, and the shipping industry, through Essar Bulk Cargo Carriers.
- The company establishes Essar Gujarat (later Essar Steel) to produce sponge iron ore.
- The company establishes Essar Investment as a holding for the Ruia family's diversified investments.
- The company acquires Karnataka Shipping Corporation.
- Essar Bulk Cargo Carriers is renamed as Essar Shipping Limited (ESL) in 1984.
- The company establishes Essar Oil & Exploration with plans to develop integrated oil services.
- The South India Shipping Corporation is acquired.
- The company wins exploration bids for fields in Rajasthan and offshore Bombay; construction of a 510 megawatt (MW) power plant is launched in Hazira.
- The company enters the mobile telecommunications market.
- The company creates an alliance with Sterling Cellular Limited and rolls out the Essar Cell-phone brand.
- Essar Group is forced to default on loan payments.
- Essar Oil begins developing its own service station network; Essar Steel forms a partnership to build a cold-rolled steel plant in Indonesia.
- The company merges cellphone operations into the Hutchison Essar joint venture.
- Hutchison Essar acquires BPL's cellular phone operations in India.
- Essar buys a new Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) tanker.
Through the 1990s, Essar also joined the race to capture India's telecommunications sector, which was liberalized in 1994. Essar formed a bidding partnership with Bell Atlantic to bid for cellular licenses in 1995. At the same time, Essar Gujurat formed a partnership with Sterling Cellular Limited to roll out the Essar Cellphone service in Delhi. The Essar Cellphone brand was later extended to the Rajasthan, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh regions. The company added cellular stakes in the Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka regions through an alliance with JT Mobile Telecom Ltd.; the company also won a fixed line license in Punjab in the mid-1990s. By the early 2000s, Essar had found a new partner, Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, and in 2002, the two companies agreed to merge their cellular businesses in India into a new joint venture, Hutchison Essar. That company, with revenues of more than $2 billion, became one of India's leading mobile telecommunications groups, with operations in 26 of the country's main markets. In 2005, Hutchison Essar grew again, paying $1 billion to acquire the wireless operations of BPL Mobile.
In the meantime, Essar Group had emerged from its financial crisis at the beginning of the decade. Although its reputation had been somewhat tarnished, the company's foundations had proven financially solid. During the first half of the decade, the company moved to focus its diversified operations more closely around its core businesses in steel, oil, energy production, shipping, and construction.
The company expanded its oil business in 2001, with the opening of its first service stations. The company hoped to become a major player in that market, announcing its aim to open as many as 2,000 service stations in India. At the same time, the company expanded its exploration operations, focusing on the Rajasthan region. The company's construction wing also continued to grow. In 2003, for example, Essar won a $29 million contract to build a water supply system in the Rajasthan region.
By then, Essar had launched its first foreign operation, building a $35 million cold-rolling mill in Indonesia as part of a joint venture. Completed in 2003, the new facility's full-scale capacity was expected to top 400,000 tons per year. Closer to home, Essar also targeted its power generation operation for growth into the second half of the decade. By the beginning of 2006, Essar Group had announced its intention to expand its power generation capacity to 2,500 MW by 2010. The company also remained a heavyweight player in India's shipping industry; in 2006, the company announced that it was buying a new VLCC, solidifying the group as the country's leading private sector fleet operator. With total assets of more than $5 billion, and annual revenues of more than $2.2 billion, Essar Group had become one of India's leading and most diversified private sector conglomerates.
Essar Investments Ltd.; Essar Oil Ltd.; Essar Power Ltd.; Essar Shipping Ltd.; Essar Steel Ltd.; Essar Teleholdings Ltd.; PT Essar Dhananjaya (Indonesia).
RPG Enterprises; Tata Sons Ltd.; Murugappa Group; Jaypee Group; SKG Solvex Ltd.; Amalgamations Ltd.; Dabur India Ltd.; Balmer Lawrie and Company Ltd.; Escorts Ltd.; HMT Ltd.; Greaves Cotton Ltd.; Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation.
"Essar Doubles Indonesian Venture," Steel Times International, October 2001, p. 17.
"Essar Group," Oil and Gas Journal, October 22, 2001, p. 45.
"Essar Group Eyes Power Sector in Eastern Region," Business Line, November 6, 2003.
"Essar Inks $1.1 bn Deal with Trinidad," Financial Express, December 8, 2005.
"Essar to Go for DRI in Orissa," Steel Times International, May-June 2005, p. 6.
"Essar to Have 37% in Essar-Hutch Entity," IPR Strategic Business Information Database, March 11, 2002.
Guha, Krishna, "Payback Time for Essar Steel," Financial Times, July 21, 1999, p. 25.
Karmali, Naazneen, "When 13 Is Lucky," Financial Times, September 30, 1993, p. FTS16.
"Larger Lessons from the Essar Episode," Hindu, July 26, 1999.
Ruia, Ravi, "Where Modern India Stands," American Metal Market, August 15, 1994, p. 14.
"Shashi and Ravi Ruia," India Business Insight, November 30, 2005.