media report
He fired ONGC's ambition, and then achieved it
2/2/2010  |  The Indian Express

Subir Raha, arguably the most influential former chairman of any government-run company, died of cancer today. He was 62.

The word "big" became synonymous with Raha's style - big acquisitions, big investments and big jamborees.

Soon after taking over as chairman of state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp, he pushed its overseas arm ONGC Videsh to invest - what was then India's biggest overseas investment - $670 million in a producing field in strife-torn Sudan when others feared to tread there. That gamble, widely criticized, paid off more than anticipated providing a free cash flow of $500 million till date with more to come. That foray also opened doors for ONGC to participate in refinery and pipelines projects in that country. OVL has never looked back since then.

From just one property in Vietnam when Raha took charge, it has expanded to 24 properties in 14 countries.

From a minor reserve base and zero production when Raha took over, OVL is now India's second largest exploration and production company in terms of reserves and production, next only to parent ONGC. For ONGC, he launched the Sagar Samriddhi - one of the most ambitious projects in the history of the Indian oil and gas industry - in September 2003.

The project, the biggest-ever deepwater exploration campaign by a single operator anywhere in the world, hired three drill ships each at $200,000 per day to hunt and establish 4 billion tonnes of reserves.

His foresight paid off in terms of cost-saving as rig rates more than doubled a year after as crude oil prices rose. But the hunt proved to be unlucky as his subordinates always pointed out the wrong location for drilling, a discipline in which he was not so clued in.

He single handedly drove ONGC's vertical integration by forcing ONGC to buy private-owned but sick Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) in 2003 at a throwaway price. He then got in to turn around the refinery in the first year of operations.

During his tenure as Chairman and Managing Director from May 2001-2006, ONGC's market capitalisation increased more than 10 times to Rs 200,000 crore, and it became the leader among all public and private sector companies in India in terms of net worth.

He also handled India's bi-annual showcase seminar Petrotech for two consecutive years - first with Indian Oil Corp later with ONGC - and both events saw vigorous overseas participation.

The dinners were lavish too and so were the shows, demonstrating his enthusiasm in all walks of life. Raha was denied an extension in 2006 by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora on the pretext of a fire that broke out in a Mumbai High platform. After a one-year hiatus, Raha worked with Hinduja Group for a brief before floating Team Raha Ideation, an India-based consulting firm focused on strategic advisory services. He was also a member of the jury for the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards.
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