Ruia bullish on potential from India

ESSAR Energy’s directors are camped out in the Deutsche Bank offices on Great Winchester Street this week, with a relentless schedule of meetings with investors, analysts and press.

City A.M. found Essar Energy’s vice chairman and Essar Group chief exec Prashant Ruia surrounded by Diet Coke cans and half-eaten fruit (the schedule hasn’t allowed for lunch breaks), still chipper after a long day talking up Essar Energy’s performance since its rocky £1.1bn float last May.

“Operationally we’ve had a strong year,” said Ruia in a confident tone with a slight Indian accent. “We’re finding markets are better and the long-term power tariffs in India are better. There’s lots going on, this year will be a transformative one for us.”

He winced at hearing Essar’s shares dropped seven per cent after yesterday’s maiden results, but insisted the project delays that have spooked the market are being solved.

“Yes, these projects are one quarter behind schedule but from an overall perspective, if you look at where we were in May last year, we’ve made significant progress,” he said, adding that he aims to have the company focused on operations rather than finishing off new power plants within the next two quarters.

He said India is close to resolving its debate about energy security, and is likely to be committed to coal during its growth: “India was looking to build up a nuclear option, but I think that will come in for some review in light of what’s happened [in Japan].”

Ruia is normally based in Mumbai to oversee Essar Group, owned by the Ruia family, though he spends enough time in London to have a favourite restaurant (Woodlands in Marylebone). He dismissed talk of a conflict between his role at Essar Energy and its parent, Essar Group, which owns a 78 per cent stake.

“We’ve got a completely independent management team, which is fully operational, many of whom are here in London,” he said, pointing to CEO Naresh Nayyar in the next room. “Essar Energy is not a full-time role for me. They’ve got 3,000 other people looking after that side of things.”