India has become an enthusiastic participant in both international and domestic M&A (mergers and acquisitions) over the past several years.
The value of outbound deals has increased almost 10-fold in the last decade, from $1.1 billion in 1999 to $11.5 billion in 2008. If the deals over the past decade or so are analysed, they could be categorised into several themes.
An early theme, driven by information technology and pharma companies, was to acquire mid-sized US and European companies. They would leverage the targets customer base to sell products and services in which the Indian company had an intrinsic cost advantage.
Indian companies were literally buying customer access. I would argue that although this wave lasted for several years, the actual numbers of such deals done were small.
Examples would be Wipros acquisition of MPower, Newlogic, Nervewire and Saraware, Ranbaxys acquisition of Allen, Terapia and Mundogen.
These deals were relatively cheap, and more than paid for themselves in terms of incremental business flows they generated.
Access to tech
The next theme was of Indian engineering/auto component companies buying plants (again, in Europe and the US), and shifting some parts of the production process into India.
The acquisitions were typically of distressed assets, and yet gave the Indian companies access to technology and customers.
Also, by transferring some processes back into India, these companies were able to generate significant cost savings. Bharat Forge, Mahindra and Mahindra, and Amtek Auto, amongst others, have built highly successful global-scale businesses on the back of such a strategy.
It was towards the middle or end-2007, that a number of large Indian business houses, led by the Tatas and the Birlas, made some very big moves in terms of global acquisitions.
Tata Motors purchase of Jaguar-Land Rover, Tata Steels purchase of Corus, and Hindalcos purchase of Novelis, were some multi-billion dollar deals financed substantially by leverage, and have been sometimes criticised as hasty and overambitious.
It is easy to look at any of these deals in hindsight and argue that they have been unsuccessful.
But how does one measure success? Surely, each of these acquisitions has resulted in great learnings for the acquirers, in terms of how to handle post-merger integration.
Union relationships have been smoothly transitioned, giving great confidence to Indian entrepreneurs that they can run global labour forces. Perhaps the best anecdotal evidence of success dawned upon me when, on a recent visit to Beijing, my tour guide told me that he admired Mr Tata, the Indian who has launched the Nano, and who owns Jaguar.
I will dwell on this for another moment while the financial success of this acquisition may take several years (and I hope that it does finally succeed financially), think of the immediate success achieved in being able to position these two products, in the mind of a potential customer in China, as coming from the same company.