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Kumar Birla wants Debu Bhattacharya to stay on as Hindalco managing director

MUMBAI: Debnarayan 'Debu' Bhattacharya, who turns 66 on Friday, works seven days a week. Clearly, this is not a man who believes in the concept of a lazy Sunday. 

Although past the 62-year retirement age for senior directors at the Aditya Birla group, chairman 
Kumar Mangalam Birla wants Bhattacharya to stay on as HindalcoBSE 0.54 % managing director and vice chairman of Novelis as the companies undertake a massive expansion plan. 

The chemical engineer from IIT Kharagpur will lead Hindalco for another five years with shareholders and the board approving his reappointment on Tuesday. The board had given him a five-year extension in 2008, which will come to an end on September 30. 

Birla wants Bhattacharya to stay on as this will ensure continuity in leadership as Hindalco
implementsBSE -4.65 % its biggest capital expenditure programme, having spent close to $2.6 billion in the last financial year. 

"Given the intensive leadership style of 
Debu Bhattacharya and his ability to lead from the front, backed by his enormous capacity to work long hours, he presents the most optimal choice to head Hindalco as it goes through a transformational process," said Vimal Bhandari, MD and CEO, Indo Star Capital Finance, and an expert on family-managed conglomerates. 

Hindalco turned itself into a global corporation with a steep jump in turnover to Rs79,705 crore from Rs6,400 crore over the last 10 years under Bhattacharya's leadership, during which it also made a large acquisition. Net profit rose to Rs3,026.2 in 2012-13 from Rs670.5 crore a decade ago. Net profit rose by a compounded annual growth rate of 16.4%. 

Armed with a deep understanding of the metals business which he learnt through the painstaking route of managing operations after joining the group from 
Hindustan UnileverBSE -0.82 % in 1998, Bhattacharya's strategies have all been aimed at preparing Hindalco to be a future-ready, global company. Hindalco's ongoing investment plan, for example, is aimed at creating a production base that can withstand the vagaries of business cycles. 

Bhattacharya joined the $40-billion group as he felt Unilever was not giving him enough opportunities for risk taking. During his early years in the Aditya Birla group, he took chances that paid off handsomely. 

One such instance related to the captive jetty in Dahej the core strategy group had decided to sell in 2004. It had even appointed an investment banker to manage the sale. Outsourcing to a third party was seen as being more profitable than operating a captive jetty. Bhattacharya asked Birla and the strategy team to give him a chance to turn things around even though the group had received many proposals from buyers. Two years later, the captive jetty became profitable and was later expanded to meet the larger needs of the group. But Bhattacharya doesn't believe in taking risks that aren't backed by business instinct. 

When the group was considering the takeover of Novelis for $6 billion in 2007, Bhattacharya feared that a buyout funded by debt will bog down the parent's growth in India just as rival Sterlite was racing ahead with its expansion. 

He extracted a promise from Birla that the Novelis purchase wouldn't compromise the Indian unit's plans. Birla agreed and gave the green signal to Bhattacharya's core team to go ahead with the Novelis acquisition. 

Though the acquisition of Novelis initially turned out to be a big drag on Hindalco's bottomline, Bhattacharya showed unwavering composure to restructure operations and make it profitable. 

Bhattacharya spends 15 hours at work everyday and prefers a hands-on approach. "l have my finger on the pulse of every major job," he said in an interview to the group's management journal. 

He's also passionate about details, said 
Sumant Sinha, former Aditya Birla group CFO. "In one of their trips to Kazhakhstan to purchase a copper mine, Bhattacharya went down almost one metre under the ground in one of the wells. We did not know what safety standards they had,'' said Sinha.