At first they laughed at Columbus. They sneered at Galileo. They never believed the Wright brothers. Now, recently, they laughed at Purnendu Chatterjee. They usually laugh, at risk-takers that is, especially when risk-taking can be a hazardous occupation.
It was mid-2005, and a consortium powered by PC was trying to buy out Basell, the global petrochemical giant and a spin off from Shell and BASF. The price the man with the marked middle-class Kolkata moorings but with the genius of a world-class entrepreneur was willing to pay was Mittalesque in many ways. At U. S. $ 5.7 billion it seemed unreal. Worse, to some it even seemed silly. For till then no Indian, not even Mittal, another Kolkatan with a predilection for taking the road less travelled, had ever made a take-over bid so high.
In the end, it was Chatterjee, whose firm TCG has 60 per cent stake at the Haldia Petrochemicals (H.P.L.) project in Bengal, who was doing the laughing. The deal, well thought out along with Russia-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik was the high-point of PC’s career that had moved in a way alien to West Bengal, a state with few entrepreneurs of repute in its recent history. And with even fewer heroes to gloat over, Chatterjee, paradoxically a revered capitalist in a Marxist regime, was in many ways filling the gap between Satyajit Ray, and a certain cricket (now former) captain of India in the eastern state.
They say that everyone is born with genius, but most people only keep it a few minutes. If you track his career, and its golf club-like upward swing, it is clear that Chatterjee has kept it for more than just a few. And now, 10 years after he moved in to save H.P.L. from slipping into absolute sickness by investing over U.S. $ 200 million, PC is all set to buy in another 36.87 per cent, stakes that are currently with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. It is geared towards making the once-limping outfit into one that is healthy, viable and vibrant. Just the kind of story top business schools across the world, and management gurus, can use to drive home instances of complete turnarounds in the corporate world.
The state Government and TCG are locked in a bit of a stalemate over the price, and also the issue of transfer of 7.5 per cent of the share-holding to the public sector Indian Oil Corporation. A resolution might be hammered out during the January 12 meeting of the Company Law Board.