Over the years, Shyam Maheshwari has made continuous contributions to the investment landscape of India as a highly seasoned professional. As a founding member of SSG Capital, he set it up in 2009 backed by former members of Lehman Brothers’ Asia, Emaar MGF, Lotus Greens, Lodha Developers and mortgage lender PNB Housing Finance in India. With a pan-Asian presence, Ares SSG is one of the largest alternative asset managers in the Asia-Pacific with about USD 7 billion in assets under management, more than 80 employees, and over 120 direct institutional investors as of 31 December. It also has exposure to real estate through Shapoorji Pallonji Finance, in which it picked up a 46.87 percent stake in 2018.
In October 2021, Shyam Maheshwari decided to rescind from his positions at SSC Capital to dedicate more time to his family, especially his children, and pursue his interests in philanthropy and other personal interests. The BW Businessworld team recently had an exclusive conversation with Shyam Maheshwari, former co-founder of SSG Capital, and one of the people who have made an impact in the Indian distress space. He recently spoke to the team on his journey as an investor in India, his decision to retire from his position at SSG Capital, investment opportunities in India and more.
Please give us a background on yourself and your professional career.
I am very grateful for the opportunities I have received throughout my journey. From the small town of Katihar in Bihar to getting my first job in Tokyo Japan, it has been a very fulfilling journey. After completing my undergrad and Chartered Accounting from Kolkata and an MBA from IIM Bangalore, I got an opportunity to work for Lehman Brothers, right after the Asian Financial Crisis, in their Tokyo and Hong Kong office as part of their special situation desk. I witnessed closely the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers which triggered the Global Financial Crisis and ultimately led to the founding of SSG Capital in early 2009. We grew SSG Capital to be one of the premier and the largest special situation and credit funds in Asia over the next 12 years ultimately doing a strategic partnership and integration with Ares Management. After successful integration and transition, I chose to take a break to focus further on my family life.
Knowing your personality and having spoken to many industry participants, “break” is not what is expected of Mr. Shyam Maheshwari. What is brewing?
SSG Capital has a very strong India franchise. We had over 70 people in India supported by another 10 in Singapore. I can safely say, we were the largest foreign fund focused on India with a local team that licenses very much similar homegrown funds such as Edelweiss and Kotak. This was my second buildout after I did the same at Lehman Brothers in India. During COVID, I got the time to observe the disruption technology is doing to all the businesses, the need for thinking about the next 15 years and appreciating how valuable the time we have now.
I retired from the firm in December 2021. It was an emotional moment to leave the team with whom I have been working for the past 22 years. However, because of them, I felt comfortable leaving as they were perfectly capable of filling the gap and not missing a beat.
I am setting up my family investment office in Singapore under the regulations here. I am spending time with the exciting start-up technology scene in Singapore which is challenging me to retool myself. Finally, I am focusing on philanthropy more by adding two more organization that we can support and give time to. Overall, it is an exciting time for me, which almost gives me a feeling like the days when I joined Lehman Brothers in Tokyo or when we were trying to set up SSG Capital in Hong Kong.
How do you see the special situation landscape and opportunity in India?
I have been a long-term India fan on the credit and the special situation side. India is perhaps the only emerging market in Asia that has opened the doors to foreigners to participate in the local currency debt and NPA markets. Under the current government, the reforms on IBC have been pathbreaking. Therefore, all the ingredients of regulations, transparency, market access and the need for foreign capital are there. While the NPA pool has declined over the past few years with resolutions and recoveries, the demand for credit and resolution capital far outstrips the supply.
From days in early 2000 when very few foreign funds participated in India, we now have all the foreign players represented in India. The opportunities have become more appealing due to perceptible reduction in timeframe of recovery (due to IBC) and risk (due to market access). In contrast, one would struggle to have a similar access in China where markets are probably multiples of that in India. A similar contrast with Indonesia is warranted where their bankruptcy law PKPU has not met success like IBC. Specifically, I think the mid-market corporate may be the opportunity for credit while retail NPL could provide thrust to special situation opportunities.
What impact could the Russia-Ukraine conflict have on India?
Even before the conflict began in Ukraine, the expected rise in US interest rates was creating pressure on emerging markets including India. The hardening of interest rates could cause some stress in the retail credit. The conflict has aggravated the short-term market situation. Russia was investment grade and had a significant presence in most of the bond indices. We are in unchartered waters here whether the sovereign would be able to honour their commitments despite having reserves to do so. This is creating forced liquidation of portfolios, margin calls, and low liquidity in secondary markets. However, given the fundamentals of India remain strong, the impact of high oil prices may slow the growth rate but should still keep them at attractive levels. The off-shore credit markets are very attractive at present to acquire India-related risk on higher-quality names. As this normalizes, the opportunities in local markets would again become more attractive.
What are your words of advice for young entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is full of blood, sweat, and tears, whether you are creating something of value or failing in the attempt to create. All I can say is you are special to have the determination and commitment to take this on, it does not matter if the outcomes are not what you wanted. The skills you learn and the experience you get in entrepreneurship are applicable to life in general, so you win either way.
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