Thursday, October 28, 2021

Meet the CEO who weathers global risks, bid for Air India

Vijayawada: Palaypu Laxmi Prasad, chairman and CEO of US-based Interups Inc may have been a lesser-known entrepreneur until recently. However, Prasad hit headlines after becoming the first to submit an expression of interest for the disinvestment of Air India last year.

After experiencing first-hand difficulties in the Indian and US economies, the chartered accountant now stands as an influential advisor to retired NRIs from south India. Prasad handles around 36,000 retirement accounts, mostly of NRIs, and has completed acquisitions through the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).

Speaking to TOI, Laxmi Prasad explains that he began his career after completing his chartered accountancy (CA) in 1989 and handled his first initial public offering (IPO) at his brother’s company in 1992 at the age of 26. In 1995, Prasad began his entrepreneurial career by producing his own IPO for Palaypu Financial, a stock that traded highly for two years before the Hyderabad market was hit in 1996, leaving him with a loss of Rs 30 crore.

After this, Prasad revived his career in the US by joining Prudential, a Fortune 500 company, as a producer. In the wake of the 2001 World Trade Centre collapse, Prasad turned to tax practice and financial planning after several software jobs were lost.

“By 2008, we were handling taxes of nearly 55% Indian software engineers in the US. Then the Lehman Brothers collapsed in the US. That time I saw a major complication. That is when we moved from tax practice to handling retirement funds. Luckily, during the same time, gold took an upward turn. That is when I used to help Indian software engineers to use gold as a tax saving instrument and even today that is helping them,” Prasad told TOI.

Interups Inc holds $2.16 billion in tax-deferred assets which are used as an anchor investment for various acquisitions.

Prior to the Air India bid, Interups had picked up a 49% stake in Trujet airlines. Explaining the Air India bid, Prasad said they, in fact, bid higher than Tata, at Rs 13,500 crore for 49%.

“We had so much planned for Air India. We wanted to support the employees of Air India and offered 51% for the staff and were agreeable to have 49% equity. The insufficiency of the application process from the employees resulted in them getting disqualified and we had no say in that,” Prasad said.

Prasad believed that while the airline was undeniably loss-making, it had invaluable intangible assets that made it worth the bid. 

28/10/21 Ujwal Bommakanti/Times of India

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