Ace deal maker Nimesh Kampani is $425 million richer these days, thanks to the break-up of the partnership between JM Financial, the firm that Kampani chairs, and Morgan Stanley.
But the self-professed low-profile advisor behind some of India’s biggest business deals isn’t the kind of person to dwell on it too much or measure the outcome of business relationships by the amount of money they have made for him.
“As a Jain, whether it’s your friend, your competitor or an enemy, you wish everyone well,” says the 60-year-old. “It’s embedded in our philosophy. This is not a mark of weakness, it’s our strength. It was a good partnership, but Morgan Stanley decided they wanted their own destiny. That’s natural.”
Kampani says that in the JM-Morgan Stanley venture, “when both the partners worked in the interest of the joint venture, it became successful. But when one of the partners thinks of himself, and not of the joint venture, that partnership never lasts.”
As for the money JM got, he is even more philosophical. “When you part ways, if you get a fair price, then it’s OK,” he says. “If you didn’t get it, it wasn’t due to you. Ultimately, we are not going to take the money with us. We have to leave it here.”
It might not be easy at first to reconcile such words with the man in front of you.
After all, Kampani’s family was into trading stocks before the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) was even born and his father Nagindas and uncle Jamnadas Morarjee were well-known BSE brokers. And, despite the ending of the decade-long friendship with Morgan Stanley, Kampani, who is a chartered accountant by training, is quite clearly very ambitious when it comes to JM and its aspirations to be a full-fledged investment bank. JM will also ramp up its asset management business, in which Kampani plans to attract funds for private equity, real estate, mutual funds, special situations and private wealth management.
“In every country of the world—look at Australia and China—there are local investment banks which do very well,” he says. “We want to be the leading India-focused investment bank.”
But one thing is for sure. He is keen to do it the right way. “Those who use corporate governance well, when they build a reputation, they have profits,” he says. “In turn, they can easily raise money from the capital markets and build their net worth.”
Underlying all this talk of net worth and high finance is Kampani’s core belief that “money comes not just through hard work, but also because of your good deeds, or punya,” as he calls it.
The harmonious co-existence of such seeming contradictions underlies the Jain principle of anekantavada. Three thousand years ago, its sophisticated theory of knowledge spelt out that the truth had infinite angles or possibilities—way ahead of similar conclusions drawn by modern quantum physics or fuzzy logic theory.
And Kampani is not alone in viewing his success as a deal maker in the financial world as a result of his Jain value-system. Its disciplined approach to work and life, of strict vegetarianism, ahimsa or non-violence towards all living things, and a firm belief in karma (“as you sow, so shall you reap”)—seems to have helped other deal makers as well.
Fellow Jain, Arun Gandhi, senior partner for Mergers & Acquisitions at Tata group, who handled the successful Tata Steel bid for Corus Group Plc., is credited with an inward calm for not getting rattled in a tense bidding war for the steel company. Much like Kampani, Gandhi is very serious about Jainism, studying Jain scriptures with a teacher every Wednesday for an hour.
For some, though, a life based on structure may seem like a life of all work, no play—but for Kampani, as a devout Jain, the business of life is really about the pursuit of business, always “with a sense of higher purpose and trusteeship.”
And it is this quality that has made Kampani a trusted advisor to companies and corporate chieftains who don’t necessarily get along with each other.
“Kampani has two great strengths,” says a senior investment advisor in banking circles, who did not wish to be named. ”One, his deep knowledge of the industry. He can quote, from memory, clauses from the Companies’ Act, give you the numbers’ aspect and the legal angle. Second, it’s the trust that he has inspired in certain relationships. How many people could sit on the board of Nusli Wadia’s company, Britannia, and also be advisor responsible for the valuation of the Ambani empire before the family split? And then, remain friends with all family members?”
Asked about his values, Kampani points to his “close-knit family (where) we follow the principles of our religion very closely, in our day-to–day life.”
While his cricket-playing days at Sydenham College are well behind, the avid cricket fan follows a fairly simple, even if somewhat predictable, routine each day. Kampani says he prays for a half-hour at home, and then goes to the temple for darshan, before coming to the office. In the evening he prays at his small temple at home, following up with a special puja every Saturday.
“Prayer calms you down,” says the six-foot-tall Kampani, pointing proudly to the tilak on his forehead. “It makes you relax. It helps you manage yourself with other people.”
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