Sometimes the end determines the means. Ask 86-year-old Devendra Jain. Five decades ago, he set a simple goal for himself: Like many others in the Marwari community, he was intent on becoming an industrialist. That decided, he just had to figure out the ‘how’.
This was in the early 1960s—the Licence Raj was still upon India. The young Jain, a freshly-minted history honours graduate from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, did not see himself joining his father Siddhomal’s successful paper trading business. Instead, he scouted for big business and landed upon the idea of extracting, liquefying and selling gases from air through a friend’s relative who worked at British Oxygen (now called BOC). Industrial gases were widely used in steel and manufacturing industries as well as in the health care sector and, more significantly, yielded high margins. He was sold. All he needed to do was understand the business from close quarters. He teamed up with his brother Lalit, travelled to Germany and the US, visited companies already in the business and bought an oxygen plant from Germany for its first unit at Pune in 1963.
It was the beginning of Industrial Oxygen, which, as the name suggests, focussed on producing oxygen. More than five decades later, it is clear that Devendra Jain’s ambitions with gases have been built on solid foundation. His family’s over two billion dollar-Inox Group today runs six different businesses—and owes much of it to natural air. (He ranks 71 on the 2014 Forbes India Rich List and at last count, had a fortune of $1.41 billion.)
In April 2009, Inox Wind inked a deal to buy technology know-how and design for wind turbines and blades from AMSC Windtec (in Massachusetts) and Germany’s WINDnovation GmbH. Soon the company built its first turbine at its Rohika plant. “We made initial prototypes of our own turbines and blades, installed them, underwent the entire certifications cycle and in 2011, we got certified (by authorised agencies). Our first wind farm was ready, and from the middle of 2012, we entered the market to sell turbines and complete turnkey projects,” says Devansh, who points out that he learnt the ropes of the business with each setback.
Apart from manufacturing turbines—Inox Wind has plants in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh—the company also builds wind farms, generates power and sells completed projects to customers. It had an installed capacity of 330 MW of wind energy last year, and key clients included the Goldman Sachs-funded ReNew Power, the Morgan Stanley-backed Continuum Wind Energy and Tata Power. With an order book of about 1,258 MW, it is slated to earn revenues of over Rs 6,000 crore by March 2016, that is, once the projects are commissioned. It is estimated to end 2015 at Rs 3,200 crore.
Says Ravi Shenoy, VP (research analyst–midcap) at Motilal Oswal Securities: “Inox Wind has a healthy order book. It has executed some projects well, so the momentum is with them. The IPO fared well because Suzlon Energy, at present, is not in the best state. People want something on the alternative energy side and this is the best bet.” That said, Inox Wind is still a new player when compared with market leader Suzlon Energy, which recently sold a 23 percent stake to Sun Pharmaceutical’s Dilip Shanghvi for Rs 1800 crore.
Shenoy believes that wind is a significant space given the government’s recent focus on the renewable energy sector. Earlier this year, the government of India set a target of installing 60 Gigawatts of wind energy plants by 2022. “Historically renewable energy has been more used for tax breaks due to the AD (accelerated depreciation) policy and depreciation of 100 percent in the first year. However, now companies want to be seen as going green and the easiest way to do that is to set up wind farms, to meet the requirement,” Shenoy says.
Not all are buying into this new bullishness, though. Energy expert Amit Bhandari has his reservations about the wind energy sector, especially because there is a dearth of wind-efficient land needed to install wind farms. “The best sites would have been taken, and new wind farms won’t come up on a very large scale in the near future,” says Bhandari, who is a fellow (energy & environment studies) at the Mumbai-based non-profit think tank, Gateway House. There is another reason for his cautiousness: Most wind farms don’t operate at more than 20 percent of their capacity due to intermittent wind conditions. “So the capital cost of wind energy is about four times that of coal for generating the same amount of energy. So it’s a fairly expensive form of energy,” he says.
For now though, it is full steam ahead for Inox Wind. It is already the group’s largest company (by topline), with Rs 1,575 crore worth of sales and profits of Rs 132 crore as of March 2014. But as wind energy gets touted as the future of this group, its success has roots in the past.
The partnership between the two companies was further strengthened when Pavan’s son Siddharth, a mechanical engineer from the University of Michigan, did a stint at Air Products in the US. He returned to India and joined Inox Air Products in 2002, and has been instrumental in its growth. Revenues have risen by 257 percent from Rs 255 crore in 2004 to Rs 911 crore by 2014.
Industry analysts estimate a turnover of Rs 1,150 crore, and Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) of about Rs 495 crore by the end of March 2015. “It is a steady business with good Ebitda margins. Increasing use of gases in the food and health care sectors and the fact that manufacturing will pick up pace with the ‘Make in India’ campaign… means the business has great scope ahead,” says Pavan.
His son Siddharth (36), who is whole-time director at Inox Air Products, espouses the family’s motto of slow, steady and safe growth. “Mindless expansion is not part of the plan. My grandfather (Devendra Jain) always says that safe growth is better than leapfrogging into debt. We don’t believe in overleveraging ourselves,” says Siddharth. Pavan and Vivek may be conservative players when it comes to debt, but the brothers have never been wary of taking bets on new businesses if they spot an opportunity. “We have the ability to take risks, but never to the point of absurdity. We have never shied away from entering unchartered waters,” says Pavan.
This work ethic held the family in good stead during the trying years at the turn of the century, when one of their key businesses was under threat.
Profit in travesty
In the ’80s, the two brothers helped lay the foundation for Inox India, now one of the largest manufacturers of cryogenic tanks in the country. But even as they were doing that, Vivek and Pavan realised that they were in a good position to expand into the refrigerants business. Sales of refrigerators were already increasing, and the Jains rightly predicted that air-conditioners would follow soon. Manufacturing refrigerants like chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) was a logical extension to their existing gas businesses. Vivek took the lead and set up GFL in 1989 at Panchmahal, Gujarat. (He is currently GFL’s managing director.)
By leveraging the manufacturing and technical skills of Inox India, they used disposable cylinders to export refrigerant gases. “At the time, we were the only company in India to not just make refrigerant gas but also produce the required cylinders. Our competitors had to import cylinders so they did not have the logistical and cost advantage that we had,” says Deepak Asher, director and group head of corporate finance at GFL.
But ten years later, GFL’s future was bleak: In 2000, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer mandated that developed countries reduce the consumption and usage of CFC, eliminating it completely by 2010. Vivek and Pavan had to figure out how to grow a business when its core product was being banned internationally. They quickly began moving CFC production to HCFC-22, a refrigerant gas, which was on the permissible list back then. But its production resulted in the generation of a byproduct, HFC-23, later identified as a greenhouse gas that contributed to climate change. Though this gas is benign at the ground level, it causes global warming when released into the atmosphere. In the air, the impact of a tonne of HFC-23 is said to be equivalent to that of 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. GFL’s factory in Gujarat had a capacity of producing 25,000 tonnes of HCFC-22 and releasing 750 tonnes of HFC-23 into the air.
By 2005, the Kyoto Protocol, which mandated that developed nations reduce the production of greenhouse gases like HFC-23, came into effect. Emerging economies like India did not have to comply with these stringent norms, but it was only a matter of time, and the Jains were well aware of that. Under the Kyoto Protocol, companies can earn carbon credits by voluntarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which they can trade with corporations and businesses that are unable to meet the new norms.
The management at GFL recognised the potential of a windfall here. They did not hesitate to invest in a new technology to incinerate HFC-23 instead of releasing it in the air and earned carbon credits in the bargain. In 2006, GFL was the first Indian company to get approval from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
By reducing its HFC-23 emissions drastically, GFL earned a total of 55 million carbon credits by 2012, earning about Rs 3,400 crore, according to a June 2014 analyst report by Anand Rathi Research. The profit earned was used to strengthen the chemical business at GFL, and of course, invest in new sectors. “We have also been lucky, in all modesty, and fortunate to be in the fluorochemical business, which led to the carbon credits benefit,” says Pavan.
(This story appears in the 01 May, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)