The Pilot of Profit: Vishnu Raju

An engineer by qualification, who later went on to do the Owner/President Management course at The Harvard Business School, meet Vishnu Raju – now the Chairman and CEO of Exciga Group. His primary business is of an investor in equity markets and real estate, while he is also the Director at Amara Raja Batteries, Vice President of the Olympic Association of Telangana and President of the Squash Rackets Association  of Telangana. The man has also been featured as a Young Turk on CNBC TV.

Following his passion towards cycling, Vishnu has cycled across three states from Hyderabad to Goa’s Candolim beach and also across nine countries in Europe (Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands – while doing which, he cycled across the Italian, Swiss and Austrian Alps).

We caught up with Vishnu Raju in a candid conversation, where offered us a peek into the world of investing in Indian markets, what drives him and his passion for the outdoors.

Text: Anahita Ahuja

Photography: Akshay Rao
Hair and Makeup: Emraan
Wardrobe: Rare Rabbit

First things first, what triggered you to start investing…

I come from a family that is into the cement business, but I had always been fascinated with investing. It really caught my interest when I was in school, the passion started around my 12th grade and it was during my degree years that that it kept growing. That is when I was pretty certain that this was what I wanted to do.

What are some of the portfolios you have invested in?

In 1997, I invested in a lot of the IT companies which were at that time in the very early stages of growth. I later went on to investing in steel companies and such. This was around 1999-2000 when they were going through a downturn.

What do you think is the current scenario of investment in India?

With the way our country has been growing over the years, the investment scenario here is really in a great place right now. Equity Markets are actually at record highs!

How do you judge a good investment opportunity?

There are a couple of things one needs to keep a check on. I first look at the sector opportunity, company track record, capability and management. After which one should look at the ability and capability of that company to capture and dominate the opportunities of a promising sector.

“Follow your conviction, do what you are passionate about, if you have the choice and work hard towards a goal – it is all you need to be set”

How often do you keep a track of the equity markets?

7 days a week, 365 days a year!

What is your mechanism to keep a track of the companies that you have invested in?

Follow the macros, and look at sector specific information and the company.

Is investing in equity markets risky? What are your views on the same?

Like any business, if you do not do your homework and put in the right amount of work, it can end up being very risky. I would say that it is no more risky than any other business if you know what you’re doing.

What are you more passionate about? Investments or cycling?

Investing was a passion in my college days, now it is work and business. Cycling has now actually become the passion.

What is one message you would want to impart to the young breed of entrepreneurs ?

Follow your conviction, do what you are passionate about, if you have the choice and work hard towards a goal – it is all you need to be set.

Whether real estate or equity markets, which asset class do you expect to perform better than the other, assuming enough diversification in portfolio?

Looking at it – I would say that real estate has done well over the years. Going forward, I think equity markets will end up performing better if you stay invested in the right companies. It is about making the right choices.

While cycling has had its own Lance Armstrong, even Indian corporate sector is saddled with bad loans/bad promoters. How do you approach corporate governance as an equity investor?

Corporate governance has become far better than what it was even five years ago – it has come a long way and is getting better with time. It is about a lot of checks and balances. As for bad loans etc, every economy in the world has that problem. At the end of the day it is a package, after all, with growth there is also a lot of risk, so there will be some success stories and then there will be some failures. One has to learn to deal with both.

“LIKE WITH ANYTHING IN LIFE, LUCK HAS AN IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY. THE HARDER YOU WORK, THE LUCKIER YOU GET”

How much of luck is involved when you invest in equity markets?

Like with anything in life, luck has an important role to play. The harder you work, the luckier you get.  It is possible that there are times when you invest with a decent expectation and that stock ends up going sky high and then there are times you have really high expectations and that stock goes nowhere.

What are some of the things that you kept in mind while investing, irrespective of the size of investment?

I like to call it common sense investing- the basics, fundamentals of the company, the management integrity, capability, focus. The ability to capture the opportunity in a promising sector is critical.

Cycling seems to be your passion – tell us how that started?

I stopped cycling in school, and never really got a chance to touch a cycle after that, until the time came to take my son riding. That is when I started again and somewhere along the way I really started to enjoy long distance road cycling. It is something I became really passionate about.

How did the bend towards sports happen?

The outdoors, fresh air, fitness is what attracted me, and what better way to do it than getting on to a cycle.

What is more challenging, wearing the corporate hat or wearing the cycling gear and traversing across countries?

Each has its own set of challenges at different points.
Our nine country-Europe Ride was extremely challenging with the strong headwind, unpredictable weather and steep mountain climbs! And the corporate world has its own challenges that one needs to face every day, too.

What have you learnt while being out there cycling that you can apply in your boardroom?

There are times when you think you are done and out, but if you hang in there and stick it out, you come out a winner! That is the beauty of being into any sport – it teaches you that, and it is that sportsman spirit that really helps in every walk of life.

Which one do you enjoy more?

It is difficult to really pick, I enjoy both!

What made you start at such a young age?

I started investing and spending a lot of time at the Physical Hyderabad Stock Exchange back in my college days. Although in hindsight I was clueless about what was happening there, it still helped.

What were the challenges you faced then?

I think the main challenge that I faced at that time was limited capital.

You did move abroad for some time, too. What made you come back to your country?

I only went for three years to get exposure at an Investment Bank in the US, to understand how things work there and come back. The plan from the very beginning was to always be in India. At the end of the day, there is no place like home.

“Happiness according to me is a state of mind, in life, there will always be challenges, irritants and many other factors, some that we can exercise control over and do something about and some which are beyond our control. However the one thing that is in our hands is our own response to every situation”

If you had to pick between your cycling and the corporate world – what would you pick?

That is a difficult choice but if I really had to pick, I would go with the corporate world, as it is my work and business that feeds me.

How would you define perfect happiness?

Happiness according to me is a state of mind, in life, there will always be challenges, irritants and many other factors, some that we can exercise control over and do something about and some which are beyond our control. However the one thing that is in our hands is our own response to every situation. So why not try and work towards being happy and calm? Now when it comes to defining what perfect happiness is – it differs for each person, doesn’t it?

What is your life mantra?

Life is too short to not do what you want to. I truly believe in the “Live and let live” policy.

If you had one super power – what would it be?

I would want to most certainly fly – that way I can go anywhere I want. (smiles)

If you could swap your life with someone for a day – who would it be?

That would have to be Elon Musk- his genius lies in being able to revolutionise so many industries.