Mumbai: A successful exit from a banking venture, a failed asset management business, and a so far uneventful private equity business—Rana Talwar has had a chequered investment record since he resigned as global CEO of Standard Chartered Plc. in 2001 and set up Sabre Capital Worldwide a year later with Rajiv Maliwal and two other former colleagues.
The investment company has now set its sights on health care services.
Sabre has set up Spring Healthcare Pvt. Ltd to invest primarily in hospitals and pathology labs, with a smaller portion earmarked for research and development in health care as well as specialist medical devices. “There is a huge opportunity here. The number of hospital beds per 1,000 people in India is abysmally low compared with other developing markets,” said Maliwal, co-founder and managing partner of Sabre, on Tuesday.
Huge opportunities: Rana Talwar (left - Santosh Verma / Bloomberg) and Rajiv Maliwal.
The new company has an initial capital of Rs65 crore. Maliwal added: “As we build and buy hospital assets, we will commensurately increase equity and debt in the company.”
Spring Healthcare has made its first investment of $13 million (Rs63.4 crore) in Pune-based Oyster and Pearl Hospital, a specialist in child and woman care and in vitro fertilization.
The hospital operates and manages 138 beds from two facilities in Pune, and Spring Healtchare has helped it set up a branch extension in Oman. The next step is to set up two units in Nashik, Aurangabad or Thane.
Rajat Gupta, senior partner emeritus at global consulting firm McKinsey and Co., wrote in an article for Business Today in January 2008 that India had 1.5 beds per 1,000 people.
“That is much lower than the average—three to four beds per 1,000 people—in developing economies such as Brazil, China, South Africa and Thailand and way behind developed areas (such as the US and Western Europe), which have four to eight beds per 1,000 people,” Gupta wrote.
With disposable incomes on the rise, lifestyles have changed and there’s more demand on medical services, said Maliwal. “Earlier, you were happy wearing glasses, then you wanted contact lenses, and now you want lasics (laser surgeries).”
Besides, Indians are genetically prone to diseases such as diabetes and cardiac problems, which further boosts demand for health care services, he added.
“As a market, the opportunity on the demand side continues to be very strong and is expected to grow further with rising incomes and growing awareness about health insurance. Health care and education are supposed to be recession-proof, but significant challenges exist for hospital owners to convert these opportunities into profitable, scalable business models,” said Rahul Saikia, an investment banker who has been involved with health care-related transactions over the last four years.
As businesses, he says, hospitals are inherently a collection of single assets. “So for a hospital group in multiple locations, there are limited cost-rationalization opportunities across the hospitals owned,” he said.
Does this mean Sabre Capital is bidding adieu to its core expertise in banking and financial services?
In 2003, when Sabre bought into an ailing Centurion Bank Ltd, Talwar had expressed his intent to take over, restructure and turn around more such banks. “I wouldn’t say we’re completely out of that. But where are the distressed banks these days?” Maliwal said. “Banks have been doing well in the past five years. But if opportunities emerge, we’ll be more than glad to step in.”
After a series of acquisitions to grow its balance sheet, Centurion Bank was bought by HDFC Bank Ltd last February. Sabre Capital says it made eight times its investment from the sale.
Sabre’s entry into the asset management business in 2005 did not turn out as successful.
Lotus India Asset Management Co. Pvt. Ltd, Sabre’s joint venture with Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd, the Singapore government’s investment arm, saw both its debt and equity chief investment officers quit even before a scheme could be launched. The fund house was subsequently acquired by Religare Enterprises Ltd in November, following the liquidity crunch that hit Indian mutual fund houses.
Maliwal did?not disclose how much Lotus India was sold for.
While The Times of India had said in a 4 November report that Lotus would pay Religare Rs100 crore as the acquirer would have to take on any future losses arising from liquidation of Lotus assets, sister publication The Economic Times had suggested Lotus would be paid a little under Rs100 crore from the deal. The truth, Maliwal said, “lies somewhere in between”.
Meanwhile, the private equity fund that Sabre set up with Dubai-headquartered Abraaj Capital, is fully invested, according to Maliwal. Initially expected to raise $250-300 million, it has managed only about $100 million.
The funds have been deployed in Hyderabad-based Ramky Infrastructure Ltd and ECI Engineering Construction Co. Ltd, and Mumbai-based Man Infraconstruction Ltd.
“We will continue to be in all these businesses. Let’s just say that we’ll now additionally focus on health care,” said Maliwal.
“We are going to run Spring Healthcare as a business. We will look at selling assets, typically through a public listing (of companies that will come under the Spring Healthcare umbrella), to give our investors an exit option. But we’re not running the business with a get-in, get-out mentality,” said Maliwal.