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Edelweiss: A banker creates a success story

December 14, 2007 10:56 IST
When Rashesh Shah and Venkat Ramaswamy decided to float a "global style full-fledged investment bank" in the mid-nineties, the first thing they were particular about was the name of the firm.

Inspired by Apple, the iconic computer maker, the duo decided that their firm will be named after a fruit, or a flower. Edelweiss, a white flower found high in the Alpine hills, fitted the bill. The flower is considered a symbol of purity, creativity and innovation - exactly what Shah wanted the company to be identified for.

If Apple inspired the name selection, the culture within Edelweiss, which has grown from three members to a 1,200-plus organisation in a span of 12 years, is modelled on Infosys.

"We follow the Infosys style of functioning, with an independent board and I report to it," says 45-year-old Shah, chairman, CEO and MD of Edelweiss. The company after Wednesday's listing on the bourses, is valued at Rs 12,000 crore (Rs 12 billion) - the second most valuable brokerage after Indiabulls Financial Services (Rs 16,000 crore).

But Shah, who, along with wife Vidya, holds about a 17 per cent stake in the company, making them worth Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) at the listing day price, wants the company to be identified as a full-fledged investment bank rather than a brokerage house.

"Culture is what we have invested a lot in. We believe in working as a team. There is a culture of ownership and partnership among employees of Edelweiss," he says, adding, "Seven hundred of the 1,200 employees bought company shares in the IPO last month," he says proudly.

"We have invested a lot in training, and have offered enough opportunities for employees to grow," Shah reveals.

"We have also been very careful regarding recruitment. The right people are identified and positions are created to suit their strengths or experience. Possibly, this is why we have some of the longest-serving senior management teams. When the right people are empowered and entrusted, inclusive growth is inevitable," he adds.

In fact, this was one key strategy that helped Edelweiss to weather the growing attrition in the investment banking-cum-brokerage industry.

Starting as a boutique investment bank, Edelweiss in the last decade or so has been able to establish a name for itself as a professionally-run firm offering a range of services from institutional brokerage, investment banking, wealth management, private client brokerage, insurance brokerage to wholesale financing. The company also manages funds for overseas clients for investments in arts and real estate.

Edelweiss also plans to enter the mutual fund and NBFC business, as it slowly and steadily completes the full spectrum of business in the financial services space.

Looking back at the origin of the company in 1995, Shah, who worked as a manager with ICICI Bank and later at Prime Securities as its head of research, says he and Venkat found that India was at a stage similar to the US in the 1980s -- a period which saw the emergence of Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

Similarly in the 1990s, the Indian economy was beginning to open up. Capital markets were becoming an important cog in the economic wheel; Sebi (Securities and Exchange Board of India), NSE (National Stock Exchange) and paperless trading were beginning to have an influence.

"We realised that capital markets would become an important part of India's economy. So, we thought of building something that will benefit from the capital markets' growth," he explains.

What differentiates Shah from other entrepreneurs in the industry is his ability to bring in pedigreed investors into its fold during various stages of growth by offering equity.

Foreign investors like Americorp (3.68 per cent), Oak Holdings Pvt Ltd (5.89 per cent), Lehman Brothers (1.67 per cent) and Galleon International (4.07 per cent) are some of its reputed stakeholders.

The crucial stages of growth for the company were three: a) from 1995 to 2001, when it was a boutique i-bank, b) 2001-2007, when it was a period of transformation into a corporate entity, and c) the phase from 2007, which  will continue till 2012. "2001-2012 will be a period of integration of our businesses," he says.

Getting Edelweiss identified as a brokerage is one thing that Shah dislikes most. "We will be a halfway house between a bank and a financial services company," he says. So, is he planning to get into banking? "We have not planned anything. But we will continue to use the same business model - step into adjacent spaces and constantly spot new themes," he adds.

Rajesh Abraham in Mumbai
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