Sandeep Narang: The coalition entrepreneur
Sandeep Narang, who prefers to be called Sunny, compares his sixth-floor office in New Delhi to Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. “Like the different magical creatures on the different branches of the tree, you can find small islands, if you may, in different sections of the office,” says the chairman of Anglian Omega Group.
There are three rooms and a large work area with cubicles full of young professionals. One room is filled with football accessories—balls, shoes, jerseys, posters, etc. It is used by Nikhil Sharma, the chief executive officer of Anglian Management Group. The second room has a more contemporary business look, with big black and white photographs on white walls. The biggest photo, right behind the desk, is of the late boxer Muhammad Ali training for a world title bout in 1972. There are four computers on the desk. This room is used by Narang’s younger brother Uday when he is in town.
In the far corner is the third room, Sandeep Narang’s office. Its walls have huge murals, including one of a flying elephant. “I think just like China is represented by dragons, India is represented by elephants. My dream is to make this elephant fly,” he says.
This is the room where new ideas and business opportunities take form.
Narang, who describes himself as a “coalition” entrepreneur, identifies business opportunities, figures out the best way forward, invests and exits when the time is right.
“From as long as I can remember, I have been working with different communities and trying out different business models that would suit them the best and would work out most profitable for all the other stakeholders,” he says.
Narang was born in Delhi in 1966 in a Punjabi refugee business family. In 1971, his father, Satya Pal Narang, set up the Anglian Omega Group, which manufactures bright bar steel, supplying to original equipment manufacturers in the country’s automotive hubs. The Anglian Omega Group, which employs around 350 people across locations, had assets worth Rs.700 crore as of August and a turnover of Rs.200 crore as of March.
Over the past eight years, the Narang brothers have ventured into areas as diverse as start-ups, technology, entertainment, real estate, sport and e-commerce. In 2008, they set up the Anglian Management Group to focus on start-ups and sports. In 2012, the Anglian Medal Hunt Company was set up to identify and sponsor athletes. Of the 40-odd athletes that it manages, six, including boxer Shiva Thapa, shooter Manavjit Singh Sandhu and sprinter Dutee Chand, took part in the recent Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Sandeep Narang’s most notable work has come in the world of football.
“The idea was to create an ecosystem around non-cricket sports in the country,” says Narang. “The problem was that even brands and sponsors were difficult to crack when it came to supporting any other sport, forget investors.
“I brought all my local, political, anthropological knowledge and skill sets, and Uday got his international connections, to the business and used the global network and resources through Anglian Omega Group. Our first investment in Indian sports was in football with Shillong Lajong FC (SLFC).
“But the story starts a long time before Lajong came into the picture. Everything is a story.”
Narang often veers from one story to another and delves deep into history.
“The first investment that we made was in a Danish team called FC Vestsjælland (FCV) in 2011.... The owner, Kurt Andersen, was Uday’s friend and he asked us to get him two Indian footballers in his team. Our theory was that unless Indian footballers played in the second- and third-division clubs in Europe, they are not going to be good enough to rise,” says Narang.
When they started scouting for footballers in India, “we realized that there weren’t even two players good enough to play there”.
To cut a long story short, they “ended up investing in FCV”. Uday’s company bought around 20% in FCV for €1 million (around Rs.7.48 crore now) in a multi-year deal.
Over the years, FCV rose from the first division to playing in the Danish Superliga. In 2015, however, the club declared bankruptcy. “But we have built an incredible network within Denmark’s football fraternity and we are hoping to build other Euro-India football bridges we imagined,” says Narang.
In 2012, the brothers bought 30% in Lajong. The Narangs have invested around Rs.10 crore in this multi-year deal.
“Nobody knew them back then. Making a football team from the North-East the face of Indian football was inconceivable at that time. We made Ming (Larsing Ming Sawyan) the face of football. We got him a television deal to analyse football matches. We made Lajong the face of the North-East on national TV. Lajong and (actor) John Abraham then teamed up to apply for the Guwahati franchise of ISL (Indian Super League)—the NorthEast United,” says Narang.
Last year, NorthEast United were placed fifth in the ISL. Meanwhile, in the I-League 2015-16, the Shillong Lajong FC stood sixth. Lajong decided to sell off their stake in NorthEast United and use the money to develop talent at the grass-roots level.
Narang’s latest venture is Khel Now, a technology platform—“let’s say, a LinkedIn, Facebook and Zomato of sports put together, starting with football. The idea is to build a community around the sport to match the needs of the people around it. Like patch a player and a coach in the same locality,” says Narang.
“The problem in India is that no two people talk with each other. So there has to be someone who reaches out to all the stakeholders and brings them together. That is what we do.”
Khel Now has a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. It is also available as an Android app. “Now we are working on a social media platform to bring together organizations that want to support players, coaches and fans,” says Narang.
So far, $1.5 million (around Rs.10 crore) has gone into developing and releasing a mobile app and a Web app. They want to raise $1 million by October and reach a gross revenue of $1 million by October 2018.
Narang grew up listening to the epic love story of Heer-Ranjha—his father, who came to India at age 13, was born in Jhang, now in Pakistani Punjab. The brothers studied at St Columba’s in Delhi. “Delhi was then an extended darbar. Everyone knew everyone,” says Narang. “There were only so many schools and everyone went there.”
In 1984, he went to the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, to study metallurgical engineering, but dropped out a year later.
“I did not want to do metallurgical engineering; my dad wanted me to,” he says. “My parents freaked out. I told them that I wanted to explore the world, but they were against the idea. So I got into Hindu College (in Delhi University) to study economics,” he says.
“Between 1992 and 2008, I worked a lot with (village) craftsmen from across India at the grass-roots level. I didn’t believe in the NGO- or state-led model. For me, community-driven initiatives with the support of locals are the best approach to bringing out indigenous innovations. During this entire period, I wasn’t formally a part of any business, but I was trying to create an entire network of people, experimenting with different business models, understanding how businesses work.” He worked with artisans such as the late Raghunath Nama of Jaipur and Kailash Patwa, and angel-funded and mentored start-ups such as iTokri.com, a craft and design online store.
The family steel business kept growing.
In 2008, his father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. “I realized that it was time to come home,” says Narang. “That is also the time when my brother (Uday), the billion-dollar hedge-fund manager, decided to invest in Asia in general and India in particular.
“We decided to collaborate and create a whole ecology of professionally led businesses. And that is when we started diversifying.”
But they didn’t lose sight of the core steel business. “For more than 40 years, we had only one plant in Faridabad. We set up a factory in Pune in 2011, and today, it is almost 50% of the Faridabad factory in terms of capacity. We are now planning a third facility in Tamil Nadu,” says Narang.
Grooming the next level of leadership is what interests Narang the most. “I have not seen this in India either in any political party or in corporate organizations. A leader can come and go, but if he hasn’t left people who can think for themselves creatively, there won’t be a creative nation, democracy or enough of a skill set for people to become leaders,” he says.
So far, however, nobody has managed to leave a deep impression on him. “There is no guru who has taught me anything in my life.” He says he has made his own way, bit by bit.
“My whole story is about the four S—steel, sports, start-ups and sustainability.”