JSPL MD Naveen Jindal: A value creator and man of many passions
Published in The Economic Times | August 24th
Naveen Jindal has been playing polo, a team sport, for a quarter of a century and is darn good at it. The sitting Congress MP from Kurukshetra and Managing Director of Jindal Steel & Power Limited (JSPL) has also represented India in skeet shooting, an individual sport.
But the 42-year-old says polo “is much easier because in a team sport, you can get other people who complement your skills and cover your weaknesses. In skeet shooting, you have to perform individually all the time.” Jindal uses this horse sense in business and politics too.
“In business, I address my weak areas by putting in charge people who possess the relevant strengths. Individual sports do not allow you to do that. You need to have a good mix of people so that different ideas get thrown in all the time and allows for a balanced approach.”
That Jindal is a man of many passions is evident from his schedule that wife Shallu shared with CD at their Delhi bungalow. A 6:30 wake-up alarm sends him rushing to the gym, followed by an hour of riding. On the odd day, he heads to his personal range off the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway to hone his marksmanship.
Then he often calls people over for breakfast meetings before leaving for Parliament when it is in session. When Parliament is not in session, Jindal attends office and is back home by 8:30 pm, come what may. The balance he strikes across his many roles is unusual, considering the many hats he so cheerfully dons.
AGAINST THE GRAIN
The JSPL Group Council, set up a year-and-a-half ago, is a good starting point to observe that balanced approach. It brings out the contrarian in Jindal. The 10-member council comprising his trusted lieutenants meets every fortnight to discuss a range of issues.
“Meetings don’t end without a decision,” says VR Sharma, CEO of Jindal Steel. About six months back, an agenda for the expansion of JSPL’s steel plant at Angul in Odisha came up before the council. While the members backed the plan up with facts and figures showing internal rates of return alongside the presentation, a majority of them were reluctant to put up a second DRI (direct reduced iron or sponge iron) plant in Angul for fear of lesser yield.
Jindal, on the other hand, thought this could be a huge opportunity for utilising coke oven gas to produce sponge iron for the first time in the world. A discussion with technology suppliers followed and “we are now setting up a 4.2 million tonne capacity plant in Angul,” says Sharma. Ask Jindal, and he’s modesty personified. “It wasn’t my idea; I read a great deal of articles from which I borrowed those thoughts. Only a person who implements a good idea benefits from it,” he says.
Clad in politically-sensible khadi kurta-pyjama whites, Jindal is quick to use acumen as an opportunity to clear the air on his company’s involvement in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s ( CAG) report that has slammed the government over coal block allocations to private companies without competitive bidding, resulting in a huge loss to the exchequer. “The whole idea of coal-based gas is to produce steel using indigenous raw material. But with coal becoming so expensive in our country and its availability becoming suspect, it is a challenge. How will someone set up a steel plant in India if mining is made so complicated?” he asks.
Perched animatedly on a black chair in the visitors’ room of his second-floor office in South Delhi’s Bhikaji Cama Place, the young MDcum-MP clearly has a lot on his plate. But perhaps it is his ability to deal with adversity that sets him apart, even from his three older brothers, Rattan, Sajjan and Prithviraj, each with his own steel empire, bequeathed by their father, the late Om Prakash Jindal. The youngest son is always “prepared for the worst when things started looking better.”