It’s probably one of the least known arms of the Aditya Birla group.
A trading business started by Aditya Vikram Birla, father of the current group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, now brings in more revenue than all but two of the group’s listed companies, Hindalco Industries Ltd and Grasim Industries Ltd.
But, Swiss Singapore Overseas Enterprises Pte Ltd, which recorded revenues of $1.4 billion (Rs5,668 crore) in 2006-07, doesn’t even merit a mention on the group’s website.
People familiar with the company say that the international trading company, which had its origins as a dealer in teak and timber products, is one of the largest exporters of beans and pulses.
Pragyna Ram, spokesperson for the group, declined to comment saying the group does not wish to comment on an unlisted company.
The Aditya Birla group derives almost 50% of its $24 billion (Rs 97,166 crore) revenues from overseas operations.
Along with the likes of the $1.6 billion Tata International Ltd, a trading house accredited by the government of India, Swiss Singapore is a global trading company on the lines of trading giant Itochu Corp of Japan, which deals with commodities across the world.
“Our operations are neither India-centric nor are they primarily a route for the Aditya Birla group to sell its products in global markets. We buy and sell products in many parts of the world,” said one senior Birla group official who did not want to be named.
Swiss Singapore, set up in 1978, is focused on markets such as Dubai, Tanzania, Vietnam and China, among others, where it conducts its trading operations. The Birla group company, which counts its major business lines as global trade in coal, petro products and sulphur, does not organize its business primarily to leverage the export import trade of India with the rest of the world. “Our other focus regions include Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and the Ivory Coast. As the group’s global trading arm, the firm is a nice way of testing waters at low risk. Also it helps build brand equity for our group in these markets and helps give our group alerts on price trends in commodities they deal with, as well as freight markets,” said a senior AV Birla group official who didn’t want to be named because of company policy.
The market intelligence gathered by Swiss Singapore is also a big help to the commodity businesses of the group, which are constantly striving to be more cost competitive.
Swiss Singapore has a paid up capital of $22.2 million and earns 60% of its revenue from trading in coal, sulphur and petrochemical products, said one group official.
Unlike Swiss Singapore’s asset-light strategy, Tata International has stakes in mines and a five-star hotel in Africa, bus body building in Goa, trailer manufacture in Sri Lanka, car distributorships, infotech ventures and design studios in Italy.