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Rahul Bhatia says he doesn’t know what the term ‘entrepreneur’ means. To him, it’s just someone at the right place at the right time and someone who gets the right reins. Bhatia returned to India in the mid 1980s after spending a few years in Canada studying to become an electrical engineer.
Q: There has been a lot of speculation on why you are not doing the IPO. When you are going to do the IPO, you don’t need the money, perhaps you don’t want the kind of scrutiny that will come with listing. Where do things stand as far as the IPO is concerned?
A: Talking about scrutiny, I just want to let you know that the company is obviously audited by two world-class firms. I would like to think that our book keeping is as conservative as you could ever lay your hands on. I would like to think that the company’s disclosures are as stringent as you would have with the listed company.
Q: What would drive you to an IPO because we understand that you did appoint merchant bankers, but then shelved the plans? So, there was clearly the motivation to go public and then you have pulled back or was that media speculation?
A: It’s like anything else; you explore options all the time. You will look at 20 different things at a certain moment in time. We are open to all kinds of options. For the moment, we don’t think an IPO is in the offing.
Q: There is speculation of how Air India was done in because of politicians playing politics with bilateral. The sense is that perhaps the same sort of thing is happening now to favour some companies and it includes yours as well. Do you believe that once again this is competitors indulging in loose stock?
A: Let me answer this in several parts. India has had a policy of companies having a moratorium in terms of being able to fly overseas for five years and some fleet size of 20 aircrafts.
I would like to think that India is probably the only country where we have a regulation as ridiculous as I just stated. So one, we come into being, we today singly carry more customers than any other airline in India. We have completed five years; we made an application to the government last year in March to access unutilised route authority to markets around the world. I believe we just got relief on a part of our application as recently as yesterday, which is exactly 12 months after the application was made. There is not a single individual in the government who can intellectually tell us why the government is reluctant to release sovereign rights to Indian carriers.
Are we less national than Air India, are we less national than some of the foreign operators who fly here unfettered? If I am not mistaken I think there was a cabinet decision on this matter several years ago. So the question is - Are we flaunting that cabinet decision by not allowing people to fly overseas? It’s the question meant for the government of India and not for us.
Q: How do you deal with the fact that you are in a business, which is dependent on government regulation, which sees a lot of hectic political lobbying.
A: We deal with it with a great amount of difficulty.
Q: Is it imperative to learn to manage the system?
A: To an extent, yes.
Q: Have you learnt to manage the system?
A: Have we? I just mentioned to you that we have waited a year to get approvals.
Q: What depresses you the most?
A: It has got to be lack of accountability. I have been to many key decision makers in this country. Every time, we have a conversation, intellectually, we agree with what you are saying and then it stops.
Q: How much of you temperamentally and in terms of working style is now part of the IndiGo DNA?
A: I am far remote move from the business, Aditya and his team run the business and they do an outstanding job. Rakesh and I set the mold upfront, and then from thereon, it’s being implemented by Aditya and the folks.
Q: So no micro management? No, checking your BlackBerry?
A: I shouldn’t be saying this, but if there is one thing I am held guilty for is providing people with an excessive amount of autonomy because that’s the only way to do it.
Q: Coming back to a short-term story, Q3 was a difficult quarter. Do you believe that you are going to be able to close the year with profit?
A: Yes, I can say that confidently, the year is over and we are profitable. Profits for this year are significantly lower than last year because fuel has been where it has been. But the company is distinctly profitable for the year and the year that just kicked off looks much more promising than the year that’s gone by.
Q: I know you don’t believe in hoardings and you don’t believe hoardings can actually drive customers into your planes, but you have now started advertising in a fairly significant manner. Were you waiting for a brand to establish itself to gain credibility and recognition before you started your advertising campaign?
A: IndiGo has always believed that the most powerful sort of way to proliferate the brand is word-of-mouth experiences and we continue to rely on that. We have had a few tactical ads more recently around on time and a few other things. I love our tongue-in-cheek advertising, but generally the company is quite reticent about spending money in advertising.
Q: You aren’t comfortable with it? You don’t like to do media interviews. You are fairly inaccessible, it takes us a whole year to be able to get time with you, and you don’t enjoy this, do you?
A: I don’t. It’s just different people have built differently, but it is what it is. The fact is that I am sitting with you having a conversation.
Q: So, you have changed then, haven’t you?
A: You are relentless about this and some day you got to just give in and say, ‘let’s have a cup of coffee and chat’.
Q: What are you most passionate about besides the airline or besides all of the other businesses that you continue to sort of drive within the hospitality category?
A: I think it’s about doing the job well, looking at it and feeling good about what you have put together.
Q: How do you define success, what are the parameters that you judge your success by?
A: I think giving whatever you have embarked on, giving it the best shot that you can, to me, is success.
Q: Do you believe you have given your best shot?
A: We try everyday, it’s a daily battle, we just keep going at it every single day.
Q: What would you say has been your big achievement so far?
A: There are no big achievements. Life is a journey, different milestones that happen some of your making, some others that come to you on their own, but it’s a journey.
Q: But you are committed to the aviation business?
A: I would like to think so. I would like to think that given the commitments we have out there we are committed to this thing for the very long term.
Q: So what drives you to continue doing that?
A: Our game at Indigo is quite simple. You have got to just make sure that during the periods of famine, you are less starved than the competition and hope to ride the crest when you do get to a point where things start to look better.
Q: What is the one principle that you live by?
A: I think you have to have honesty and purpose in whatever you embark on doing and try to do the very best you can. At the end of it, even if you turnout to be unsuccessful, atleast you can tell yourself that you gave it absolutely everything you had. I think the biggest regret one can have is chase something and not give it everything one has. In the unfortunate circumstance that it does not turn out right, you don’t want to leave yourself with the understanding and the disappointment that you did not give it everything that you could.
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