"I spend a lot of time outside India, making investors understand the opportunities available here. I address the questions that investors have about India in the short term," says Aisha de Sequeira, Co-Country Head and Head of Investment Banking, Morgan Stanley India. It is ambassadors like her that India needs desperately at this stage as economic growth slows and the country again faces a crisis of confidence.
Sequeira, who took over as co-country head in 2013, says that prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, investors were clearly negative on India. The view was that India had not fulfilled the promise it had shown. "But in the second half of the year, the momentum picked up, and continued well into 2015," she says.
In spite of the low investor confidence, Sequeira's team managed to bag several billion-dollar deals last year. One of the biggest was the $1.1-billion sale of Senvion by Suzlon to Centerbridge Capital Partners. Her team also managed the $1.6-billion American Depository Receipt and Qualified Institutional Placement (QIP) issues of HDFC Bank and the $1.5-billion Tata Steel bond issue. It also helped Reliance Industries raise $1 billion through bonds. The other big deals of the year included the $510-million Idea Cellular QIP and the $500-million JLR bond issue. In 2014/15, Morgan Stanley India Primary Dealer Private Ltd earned a revenue of `277.22 crore.
What made the team click during this difficult phase? The leadership team at Morgan Stanley India, says Sequeira, has been there for a very long time. "We have the right teams across businesses. We play to our strengths," she says. Morgan Stanley's global network also works to its advantage. "We are able to connect companies in India with opportunities available globally and vice versa," she says. The other thing that works in their favour is deep understanding of India's economy. "Our research team is the best in the country," she says.
Sequeira says India is critical for Morgan Stanley's future. "We have a large knowledge centre here that also caters to our global offices. We have more employees in client-facing services in India than in any other part of Asia. The talent pool is incredible. We don't look at India just for the opportunities with corporates but also as a pool of talent that we can tap."
Morgan Stanley is bullish about India. It is projecting gross domestic product growth of more than seven per cent this year. "I am optimistic about a pick-up in deal activity over the course of next year. There is a significant interest in sectors that touch Indian consumers. E-commerce is one of the most attractive opportunities for the long term." About the high valuations in e-commerce, she says: "There will be winners in every sector. The question is, who will these winners be, as they will be very valuable."
Sequeira says India's demographic story is among the strongest in the world. "Investors look at India as one of the most attractive places for the long run. It's an incredible demographic story. We just have to couple that with better short-term policy delivery." India, she says, is very much an execution story, given that it is sound structurally. Morgan Stanley's focus, she says, is on cross-border mergers and acquisitions. The investment bank is also working with companies looking to tap into overseas debt markets.
A few weeks ago, Sequeira completed 20 years at Morgan Stanley, where she had started as an associate after passing out of Yale School of Management. So, how does it feel to have grown with the organisation? "I feel connected to people in all parts of the world. If I have a question about something, I know who to call. I always felt that I really connected with the culture and people at the organisation. I went through a sharp learning curve, having not done investment banking before. I was only able to do well because of help from peers."
Sequeira loves contemporary art and music, though she has put both on the back-burner for now. She says her day is all about work and her three little sons. "They are six, four and four. So, frankly, at this stage of my life, all my personal time is spent with them, and that is something I just love."