The first time I met Naveen Jindal, the Chairman and Managing Director of Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL), was about seven years ago. He did not offer coffee or tea. Instead, we split a chocolate. Delicious as it was, it was also an unusual gesture from a CEO. When we met again, on November 20 last year, on a misty Sunday morning, Jindal played solo polo for our photo editor and ate fruit and sprouts. His little kitchen at the farmhouse, just off the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway, served us samosas and jalebis. As you read this interview, you would know that Jindal is not your jargon-spouting manager. But do not be fooled by his easy-going manner; he has grown a tiny, ailing factory into an empire which the stock market values at Rs 47,000 crore. Edited exerpts:
How has the ride been as the CEO of JSPL?
I have been looking after JSPL since it came into being. I'd give the entire credit to my father, OP Jindal. It was his vision, his idea, his hard work. I just tried to implement them well, to the best of my ability. We always had a very committed team of people. It is really about team effort and the blessings of my father.
How hands-on are you?
With some people, whom I trust a lot, and who I know well, I let them do things. But sometimes I can get both my hands on the job. Nowhere am I a spectator. I like to play. If you do not know your business, you are dependent on others. And then, sometimes, you can be badly let down. You have to be able to lead from the front.
Which position do you play in polo?
I play back, No 4.
How critical is this position?
Every position is critical. Back is more defensive. When your team is under attack, you have to close the back.
What do you focus on: the short term, medium term or the long term?
Overall, you have to aim towards your long-term goals and align your short-term goals with the long-term ones. The most important thing is to work sincerely, following the norms of corporate governance. If you are lucky, and God is kind, things happen.
Do you know the segmentation of the investors who own your stock? Do you engage with your core investors?
I have hardly engaged with any of the investors. Our people, senior people, other directors do. The performance of the company will speak for itself. There is no point in just meeting people. I just do my work. And I know that the performance of the company will speak for itself.
You are a businessman, an MP, an active sportsman... how do you balance all the things in your life?
Sometimes by not doing a very good job (chuckles).
But, seriously, how do you divide your time?
Sixty per cent of time goes towards my duties as a parliamentarian and 20-25 per cent in business. And then I love to do my sports and these are time-taking.
How often do you visit your constituency?
At least two to three times a months, for five-six days every month. I have two district headquarters in my constituency. I have houses in both. I meet people there. I go to the villages. People keep coming to Delhi to meet me. We do it in a very systematic way. A lot of the people have my mobile number and they keep SMSing me. Or they leave a message and I call them back. That's how they gain confidence in you, if they can reach you when they need to reach you.
You are 41 years old and have a long career ahead of you. What are your ambitions?
I want to serve the country in the best possible way. I do realise my responsibilities. I try to do my best in business. I should not be saying 'I' because everything is a team effort. We want to create wealth for the nation. In politics I joined the Congress, which again is team effort. We are trying to do the best for the country, for inclusive growth of the country. It is not easy. The scale is huge. We must achieve population stabilisation for the country through education, health care. People should feel secure.
Do you make mistakes?
We try to do the right thing. But sometimes you make mistakes even when doing the right thing. India can get tricky; it is a tricky place to work in. One has to be very cautious.
Do you and your three brothers live together?
Sajjan bhaiyya (the oldest) lives in Mumbai. The other three of us, Prithvi bhaiyya, Rattan bhaiyya, me and my mother live together. There are four separate houses in the same complex. Sajjan bhaiyya has a house on the same road. We are on No 6, Prithvi Raj Road, he is on No 24.
What is the relationship between your companies?
From the inception, the companies work in a professional way. Wherever we need to work together, say if I have to buy something, my first preference is to go to our own company if all the other things are equal.
Mr Sajjan Jindal has been facing problems in Karnataka, with the Lokayukta and with the mining ban. Do you feel tempted to help him in your position as a politician?
Many issues are related to the courts where I cannot do anything. My brother knows all the people I do. But if my brother wants me to meet someone, I will be happy to do it. I have a lot of respect for my brother and I take inspiration from him. I feel sad. Someone is doing so much good work and still his name is dragged into these kinds of issues. It is not in the best interest of the country that people who are creating wealth get caught up in these issues.
Your own power project has been delayed over environmental issues.
Our project has been delayed by a year and a half. It will come up in 2013, instead of March 2012. What did they do? What they achieve, other than just pushing the country back? Did they change the project by one per cent? No. These things are meaningless. We need to correct it. Some people just talk, some do things. They have to be respected. The doers in every field have to be respected.
Do you say hello to Jairam Ramesh (former environment minister who delayed the clearances) when you come face to face with him in Parliament?
I say hello to everybody. I say hello to him.
Are you glad he is no longer the environment minister?
It does not matter. He only cleared our project. After a delay. He was the one who got the order placed when he was the power minister. The same project he stopped [as the environment minister].
How do you retain people?
Our senior team is very committed. Obviously they are well-remunerated but money alone does not hold people. They have to get respect and feel that they are doing something meaningful.
Your own high remuneration has been a subject of discussion from time to time.
The board decides the compensation. I hope I justify it through the performance of the company. My board and my shareholders are happy. It is no one else's business. The rest can say what they like. I don't care much.
What would you count as your achievements?
The company's performance has been an achievement. So many people say they get inspired by our company. We also draw inspiration from other companies. If other people get inspired by us, I take it as an achievement.