W Power 2024

KKR India's Simrun Mehta: Challenging the status quo

KKR India's Simrun Mehta leads some of its most valued private equity investments. She advises potential entrepreneurs to build the right moats with good governance and sustainable unit economics

Salil Panchal
Published: Apr 1, 2024 01:17:31 PM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2024 01:59:51 PM IST

KKR India's Simrun Mehta: Challenging the status quo Simrun Mehta, Director, KKR Image: Bajirao Pawar for Forbes India

Few in the world of business and finance face trial by fire in their initiation period and come out unscathed. Simrun Mehta, now a director at KKR—who leads the company’s investments in consumer, retail and hospital sectors—was a 21-year-old hired by Lehman Brothers as an analyst to work in India and Singapore. A couple of months into the job, Lehman collapsed and filed for bankruptcy.

“The first lesson I learnt [from the Lehman Brothers event] was that things you don’t think are transient actually are. It taught me to build resilience early on and understand that rebuilding and change are a part of life,” Mehta recounts, sitting at the boardroom of the KKR India office in Lower Parel, Mumbai.

Nomura later acquired the Asia-Pacific business of Lehman Brothers and Mehta was pulled in to join Nomura’s commodities team, only to see that a few months later, in a rethink, Nomura decided against a foray into this business. Mehta, a mathematics graduate, then joined Nomura’s fixed income sales group, where she worked till 2012.

KKR became her next posting, where she was called in to first work with the credit team and later with the private equity team in 2017, where she has found her mojo.

Mehta now leads investments into consumer, technology, retail and health care companies. She is responsible for the investments in Lighthouse Learning (education services), Avendus Capital (investment bank) and Vini Cosmetics (personal care), being on the board of these three companies, besides Re Sustainability (waste management), Serentica Renewables and Ness Digital Engineering.  

KKR India has assets under management in excess of $10 billion, where the majority, over 70 percent, is in private equity and the balance in infrastructure. The team in India is about 50 people, led by CEO Gaurav Trehan.

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Building Value

“Given the importance of education in our country, our vision was to create a comprehensive education services platform, spanning different brands across geographies, to deliver high-quality learning outcomes for students,” says Mehta. Lighthouse operates over 50 K-12 schools/over 1,400 pre-schools across eight brands, educating over 175,000 students.

KKR India's Simrun Mehta: Challenging the status quoAs the pandemic struck and schools were shut, Lighthouse had to be nimble and pivot to deliver uninterrupted learning to its students by building a digital offering, while continuing to enter into strategic partnerships/acquisitions to keep to KKR’s original vision of creating a high-quality platform.

KKR India did not disclose the current value of the Lighthouse investment, but industry analysts say it has grown substantially since.

Mehta finds the space that Vini Cosmetics operates in equally exciting. The main brand Fogg is the market leader with a 25 percent market share, displacing all incumbents despite being a late entrant. “The opportunities are there to continue to improve market leadership, launch new brands (beyond Fogg, White Tone, Ossum and Real Man) and create a women’s portfolio,” Mehta says.

With challenges for entrepreneurs and startups stiff, Mehta says it is important to “build the right moats with good governance and sustainable unit economics, while delivering high-quality outcomes for the end-user customer”.

She says India used to be a more minority-focussed, growth capital market which has pivoted over the last few years to a buyout market, giving us the opportunity to partner with high-quality founders and management teams to further scale businesses.

KKR India's Simrun Mehta: Challenging the status quo

What is the message Mehta, now with over 16 years of experience in the financial world, has for young women entrepreneurs? “Chart your path, and chase your goals not thinking of constraints just because you are a woman. Challenge the status quo and have faith in your own ability and skill set, to drive impact.”

These are the very skills that have helped Mehta create value for the companies she manages as part of her portfolio. Prajodh Rajan, co-founder and Group CEO of Lighthouse Learning Group, calls Mehta an “invaluable and trusted collaborator” for his company. “Her strategic foresight, calm presence in challenging situations and commitment to our collective goals has been instrumental in propelling us forward.” 

(This story appears in the 22 March, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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