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Published on: April 1, 2023, 3:40 p.m.
Will Amisha take PL to the top league?
  • Lesson learnt at Mt Everest base camp: despite all challenges, going forward is the only correct thing to do

By Daksesh Parikh. Executive Editor, Business India

Late last summer, in 2022, Amisha Niraj Vora, CA, 55,  a co-owner in the  decades-old, respected, full-service broking outfit, Prabhudas Lilladher Group, went on a trek to the base camp of Mount Everest. One of the basic requirements of the two-week trek to the 17,600 ft-high camp, is that the trekkers are required to be physically fit and really determined to reach there.

During the last three days of the trek, the air is thin and the path forward quite arduous. “I ensured that I would never ask how much further, nor look back on the distance covered,” recalled Amisha. Maybe it was the rarefied air which cleared all the doubts in her mind and strengthened her determination that, despite all challenges, going forward is the only correct thing to do.

A few weeks after her return to Mumbai, Amisha took the decision to buy out the PL Group and become the sole owner. From her existing 24 per cent equity stake she bought over the balance 72 per cent to take her holding to 96 per cent. The balance is held in the employee trust. This deal was probably one of the biggest investment decisions she had made on a personal level.

Many with a stronger disposition would have wilted at taking over what was basically a full service broking house catering to high net worth retail clients and institution. For one it was an over-regulated industry and the days of making fortunes through providing a platform for investors and making money, were long over.

Critics say there is not much to differentiate one broking house from another. Cut-throat competition results in low broking fees and lower income.  PL boasts of a good advisory and research desk but would it help in catapulting the group, even when it provides integrated services across the financial sector, to the top 10 or top 15? Amisha may well have thought PL assured her a platform like the base camp and she could, well, take it to greater heights. Beauty, after all, lies in the eyes of the beholder! 

All-round experience

A chartered accountant, Amisha has been closely associated with the broking industry. Having started her career with JM Financial, Amisha worked for over a decade in the equity research firm of NetWorth Investment and Financial Consultants before joining the PL group in 2000. Amisha has all-round experience across various segments.

She worked with the Corporate Advisory division; started the NBFC and investment banking business and nurtured the retail broking business between 2012-2022. It has grown nearly 10 times during this period. Working in what was and to a certain extent still is, a male dominated industry, Amisha has won several accolades and awards for her work in the industry. 

Dilip Bhat, her colleague of several years and a co-owner, also held 24 per cent in the PL Group. Amisha bought over both Bhat’s stake as also that of the founder family members’ including Arun Sheth, chairman of the group and his family members. Arun Sheth, 75, had declared his intention of retiring early. While the contours of the deal have not been made public, it is believed that Amisha paid the considerstion  partly by own funds and partly through borrowed funds.

  • Amisha: trying to take PL to greater heights; Photo: Sanjay Borade

Dhiren Sheth, a member of the erstwhile promoter family, at the time of the change in ownership said: “The PL Group is now in the able hands of Amisha Vora. We are sure that with the help of a capable and dedicated team, she will strive for rapid growth in times to come. Dhiren Sheth will remain on the main board as a non-executive member of the board. All regulatory clearances including those of SEBI were received on 15 November. Amisha, on her part, was clear that she would continue to build the business on the core values of PL group – trust, transparency and ethical practice – ingrained in the DNA of the group.”

A multipronged growth strategy was adopted to focus on building a value added integrated financial service provider with research as its core. Several changes were made in the leadership team. This was done both at the board and management levels. Dr Punita Kumar Sinha, independent director of several Indian companies and a veteran of over 30 years in fund management was brought in as the chairperson of PL Funds Management. Internal changes were also made with a few promoted to take on leadership roles.

“We have also made significant changes in the team by bringing in experienced professionals from the industry to manage each of our diversified business verticals. I am sure this stellar team, coupled with our research expertise and client-first attitude will pave the way for strong growth in the coming decade,” Amisha points out. She adds that improving the client interface is also a focus area. Empowerment and training is also imparted to the various teams. Currently the company has 600 employees.

Strong research group

The PL Group, like all integrated broking houses, offers advisory, PMS, investment banking, NBFC, wealth management, equity, commodities and other asset class broking services. It has a strong research group as well as around 2,200 franchisees serving around 1.5 lakh clients, with several of them being high net worth clients. “Retail broking accounts for 92 per cent which we aim to get down to 62 per cent through the growth of other products including structured products and third-party products,” says Sandip Raichuria, who heads Retail and Distribution. 

Amisha is keen to strengthen all the traditional segments of the broking business, particularly corporate advisory, which she personally feels holds a lot of promise due to the growth envisaged in India in the coming years. There will be many more companies seeking listing on exchanges. “The PL group,” Amisha explains “will focus on the mid-market segment and partner with them in their growth story”.

“We are value creators for clients,” says Naren Shah, VP Corporate Advisory. A CA Shah has rich experience in investment banking segment having earlier worked in Enam, Citi Group, Rare Enterprise and Trust Capital. “Our aim is to target the addressable market in the manufacturing segment and create value for companies in the Rs500 crore to Rs2,000 crore range. We want to be their trusted advisors.” Shah points out that Amisha is very hard working and is hands on in any deal which they work on.

“Amisha has perseverance and a hunger for growth,” says Rohan Karnani, head of the FII Desk. Karnani has 20 years’ experience and joined PL in October 2018. He is of the opinion that new talent and ideas will differentiate the Group in a highly competitive market. 

  • We have made significant changes in the team by bringing in experienced professionals from the industry to manage each of our diversified business verticals. I am sure this stellar team, coupled with our research expertise and client-first attitude will pave the way for strong growth in the coming decade

Amisha is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the transformation of PL. She starts work by 7.45 and often attends institutional meetings. She leaves by 7:30-8 after clearing all mails to ensure she does not take any work home. Every Monday, meetings are held with the leaders of various teams to discuss various issues and clarifications, if required.

A monthly review and a quarterly review takes place. A third of her time is spent in meetings, managing organisation, internal work and hiring fresh talent. Despite the change in the role from leader to owner, Amisha does make it a point to spend time with clients and also visits companies and meets promoters. 

Having one person in charge also makes a difference. “Earlier it was multiple people driving the organisation, now it is only one who has the pulse of success,” says Amnish Aggarwal, Head, Research. A post graduate from ICFAI, he has experience of nearly 2 decades, having worked in leading organisations including Motilal Oswal and First Global.

He has been with Prabhudas Lilladher for 10 years. Leading a 35-member-strong research team, Aggarwal and his team actively cover around 140 companies drawn from across sectors. This includes stocks which account for 80 per cent of Nifty’s market cap, some midcaps and small caps. “The canvas is wide enough to get good ideas,” he says. 

Quant research

Besides betting on strengthening the traditional broking segments, Amisha feels that another big differentiator will be PL increasing focus on quant research. “Quantitative research is the future and we will work towards taking a leading position in quant-based asset management,” says Siddharth N Vora, Investment Strategy & Fund Manager - PMS. Siddharth has spearheaded PL’s foray into the quantitative asset management space, ever since he joined PL in 2016.

A CA, and CFA,  he leads a team of experts with whom he works closely. Siddharth has already developed two products: Multi-asset Dynamic Portfolio which deploys quantitative technology for asset allocation, and EDGE-360, DNA+ve and Delta Investment frameworks to simplify the stock selection process.  Some large fund houses like ICICI Prudential, DSP Blackrock, Axis MF, Tata MF, Edelweiss and Quant Quantamental Fund offer quant products. 

  • Vora: quantitative research is the future

    Vora: quantitative research is the future

It will be a while before quant really takes off amongst investors. Currently, a few adventurous investors may put in a small portion of their investments in these products. But till the products deliver returns over a couple of cycles, quant products may not find favour with general investors. In times of uncertainty, any product, including quant, which offers security of capital will work with investors who prioritise the safety of their capital over high growth potential.

It is difficult to pass judgement over whether Amisha will be able to really transform PL and get it in the top league or not. Nor will one be able to guess how much time it will take to reach there. Having just taken it over, it will also be difficult to second-guess how soon the new promoters will be able to pay off the debt or whether they will go public in a couple of years to raise funds for rapid growth. But from the promoters’ point of view, businesses are built for generations and it would be myopic to look at just quarterly or year-on-year performance.

A smartly-run business will definitely be able to generate non-linear returns and an integrated financial outfit with a good advisory investment banking division promises to do just that. Income from a few good deals could easily recoup the total investments made in taking over the business or generate at least enough to repay any debt. 

Given the influx of new investors expected in India, running a broking business may not be such a bad idea.

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