Exclusive Q&A with Saharas Subrata Roy 30 Oct 2011
Subrata Roy, whose business conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar recently became a 42.5 percent shareholder in the Force India team, might not yet be a household name in Formula One, but in India he is a business star in his own right. Business magazine India Today recently named him the 25th most influential person in India and Sahara India Pariwar is the second largest employer in India after Indian Railways, with involvement in real estate, media, health care, hospitality, tourism, handicraft, film and sports. He is no stranger to team ownership and sport sponsorship either, with his cricket team the Pune Warriors and his sponsorship of the Indian national cricket side. This weekend marks his F1 debut
Q: Subrata, why did you get involved in Formula One? How does it fit into your portfolio of businesses?
Subrata Roy: You see, everything that we do is not seen purely commercially. We are particularly very emotional. When (Force India boss) Dr Mallya proposed me a sponsorship deal I said no, because this is a matter of the country and we all have the duty to support this team so that Force India should do well - and if it fits emotionally we will join hands for all time to come. And we did join hands. And this had nothing to do with the companys portfolio. To achieve in such a global sport as Formula One is, is very good for the country. It will raise the perception of our country in the eyes of the people around the world. I remember when Brazil won the soccer world cup, business partners told me that their exports improved, that investment into the country improved, and tourism improved. These are clearly the benefits if you are participating in a sport with international dimensions. When the country benefits, so will my companies.
Q: Did the fact that there would be an Indian Grand Prix trigger your decision to get involved?
SR: No, not really. It is really a lovely coincidence though. (laughs) Of course I am really happy about this coincidence, but it had nothing to do with my decision.
Q: From what youve seen this weekend would you say that India is ready for Formula One?
SR: Sure. But dont forget there has not been a track for such a race, so this sport did not come up in this country until now. Now I am very sure - from what I can see across the country - that there is a huge amount of excitement. Youngsters in large numbers will now come forward not wanting to become cricketers but race drivers. Formula One and the young India should be a perfect match: it is technical, it has speed and it has a huge glamour factor!
Q: Was this inaugural Indian Grand Prix the first Formula One race you have attended?
SR: I have watched on TV in the past. You see, in anything entertaining - sport or whatever - you like to participate and if you cant participate, you appreciate watching. That thrill, that speed, that excitement really got me hooked. But for a long time - before Dr Mallya showed that participation in Formula One is possible - it seemed out of this world. I have been a fan of Formula One for many years.
Q: India is the number-one cricket nation. Here cricket is almost a religion. How does Formula One fit into the perception of sport in India?
SR: Cricket is truly popular in India - and in some other nations. But Formula One is globally, so these are two different pairs of shoes. When it comes to global recognition Formula One is much superior to other sports. That was one of the reasons I got involved.
Q: Do you expect synergies between your Formula One involvement and your other businesses?
SR: We are not very well represented on foreign soil - until now. We are, of course, in London and a few other countries, but believe me at this point we are not looking so much at the benefits well get out of it, though that might change in the future.
Q: You are the second biggest employer in India after the Indian Railways, so you usually think very big. Perhaps odd then that you now get involved in a Formula One team
SR: Well, Dr Mallya was very clearly the pioneer of Formula One in India. When he asked me for sponsorship I asked back whether I could join him in the team - being more than a sponsor. Probably if we join forces we could even do better! (laughs)
Q: You call yourself the managing worker and Dr Mallya is known as the king of good times. What do you both have in common?
SR: We are both very emotional and we both love our country.
Q: Force India are doing very well this season. Dr Mallya has put in a lot of effort to transform a below-par team into a serious points contender. What role did that transformation play in your decision to join forces?
SR: It is a good team. Dr Mallya has his own rules he plays by. As I just said, he is a pioneer and he understands this sport very well. I have a huge amount of respect for that. I really would like to learn from him because this here is a new thing for me. I see my role to discuss with him what can be done to enhance our position, what investments are required, what has to be done jointly. There I can give an input. On the technical side Dr Mallya is the one defining the direction. My son is also very excited about the whole thing and I know that Dr Mallya likes him a lot so probably we could all develop into a family business. (laughs)
Q: Even without a sound Formula One background, you surely came into the sport with a certain vision as to how the team should develop
SR: We all at Sahara believe in only one thing: to go to the very top. In everything and anything. So our vision and desire, all our efforts, concentrate on ways to go to the top.
Q: Dr Mallya used to say that money alone cannot buy performance - but it surely helps
SR: Well, he is right. And that goes for every single business, not only sport. Money has its own rules to play by and men have their own rules to play by. Unless these two combine nothing comes out. I hope that Dr Mallya and I can further enhance the performance of the team and make India very proud.
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