For Sanjay Reddy, being airborne has been a way of life for the last couple of years. Between Hyderabad, New Delhi and Mumbai, he clocks 275 flights a year, or one flight every working day. On the ground, he spends 18 hour-days in an office with a panoramic view of the 500 planes and 60,000 passengers that pass daily through Mumbai’s international airport.
As managing director (MD) of Mumbai International Airport Ltd, a public-private partnership among the Airports Authority of India (AAI), his family-owned GVK Group and the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), Reddy oversees the modernization of the country’s busiest airport, without shutting it down for a single day. This, says a logistics consultant, is like learning to blink without batting an eyelid.
And when he wants to get away from it all, Reddy goes underwater. The Maldives is a favourite destination. It all began 10 years ago on a holiday in Koh Samui, Thailand, where Reddy and wife Pinky successfully completed a diver’s course. “There’s a whole world underwater that you can’t even imagine…the vivid colours of the fish and plant life, the Zen-like silence where you hear your own heartbeat, the sense of freedom and the beauty of everything coexisting,” he says.
Reddy’s father, G.V. Krishna Reddy, founder-chairman of the billion-dollar GVK group, is a sports enthusiast. Every day, before work, the sprightly 71-year-old plays a power-packed game of tennis, mentoring budding players on the court at his Hyderabad residence. One of them was the young Sania Mirza, whom GVK has sponsored since she was 11. Reddy, however, preferred badminton and swimming, later taking up golf and adventure sports.
In business as in scuba diving, unexplored terrain is an opportunity in waiting; the more complex the challenge, the more absorbed Reddy gets in navigating it. The GVK Group, a conglomerate of diverse interests, is constructing power plants and special economic zones in different parts of the country, and is shortlisted to build a port in Dahej, Gujarat. At the same time, it is bidding for the Navi Mumbai airport and the Metro Rail to the Mumbai airport, and is also looking at telecom towers. Reddy’s mother, Indira—“her understanding of numbers and finance is amazing”, he says—manages their hotel business with the Taj Group. But as Reddy sees it: “Our core competency is a passion for excellence in entrepreneurship. That’s what ties everything together.”
Manni Kantipudi, president of GVK Bio, a life sciences company, and a diving enthusiast who has explored the Maldivian waters with some of the Reddy family, says: “Sanjay always wanted to do something that was 100% his own and closely monitors the bottom line. In 2001, at start-up stage, he lived in the US sharing a room to keep costs down. That’s a true entrepreneur.”
Manish Kejriwal, MD, Temasek Holdings Advisors India Pvt. Ltd, whose fund has invested in GVK’s recent IPO, adds: “Sanjay is a successful serial entrepreneur because he knows how to create new entities and hand them to professional management.”
The ultimate diving experience for Reddy was an underwater trip at night in the Maldives a few years ago. He reminisces: “You are in a medium that you can feel all around, but you can see only as far as the beam of your torchlight. Suddenly, it’s as if a thousand fireflies have lit up your path. These are plankton, which have absorbed your light and are reflecting it.”
Homi Adajania, diving instructor, film-maker and travel writer, explains: “Night diving is an enjoyable uncertainty where you put yourself in the hands of the ocean. And you never go down alone, but with a ‘buddy’. So you rely on your partner for your life.” Diving is fun, says Reddy, because Pinky is his ‘buddy’, and there’s more that the two share—they often take in an art exhibition, her love for contemporary Indian art happily coexisting with his collection of Indian bronzes in which “nothing is less than 100 years old,” he says.
Sunday family lunch with his parents is always Andhra pulao, peppered with stories about diving, tennis and new project ideas.
This penchant for eclectic collaboration works wonders for the business, says Munesh Khanna, MD, Halcyon Resources Pvt. Ltd, a private equity firm. He recollects that when he was with the investment bank, Rothschild, he introduced Reddy to their South African client, ACSA: “His clarity, tenacity and straightforwardness made ACSA select GVK over others, to partner the Mumbai airport venture.”
GVK has a string of strategic partners: for the Metro project, it’s YDL, Malaysia; for life sciences, it’s D.S. Brar, former chief executive officer, Ranbaxy, along with multinational Wyeth. Recently, GVK entered into a joint venture with Air Deccan, IDFC and K. Raheja Group to build airports in smaller cities.
The constraints Reddy faces in upgrading Mumbai airport to a world-class status are huge but that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm. The Prime Minister will soon lay the foundation stone for the new integrated Mumbai airport, “which will set a global benchmark in the way it showcases the local setting.” So in four years’ time, delicate Mughal jaali-work and South Indian temple-style pillars will contrast with sleek, contemporary check-in counters.
And like the bioluminescence of underwater life, the modern gateway to India will reflect the diverse strands of a rich heritage.
Name: G.V. Sanjay Reddy
Title: MD, Mumbai International Airport Ltd (Mial); Vice-chairman, GVK Industries
Education:Bachelor of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University, US; MBA, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, US
Pursuits: Scuba diving, trekking, golf, collecting traditional Indian art
Claim to fame: Helping GVK become a leading infrastructure company by building India’s first private power plant and its first privately built expressway.
Now modernizing Mumbai airport, India’s largest, to make it world class
(Personal Space runs every alternate Friday and looks at the pursuits beyond work of some of India’s corporate leaders. Write to Sangitaa Advani at email@example.com)