NRI businessman and investor C Sivasankaran of Sterling Infotech Group is eying S Tel and may acquire 51% stake in the firm, The Economic Times reports. The deal is valued at Rs. 11.5 billion and will be bought off a private equity owner of the company. S Tel is one of the new telcos which has licenses for six circles and has not rolled out yet. It was awarded licences to launch cellular services in Bihar, Orissa, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and the Northeast in January 2008.
In January, Batelco Millenium India Company, a venture by Bahrain Telecom Company (Batelco) and Dubai based Millennium Private Equity, paid $225 million for a 49% stake in S Tel. The original owners of S Tel, two private equity firms Mauritius-based Telecom Investments and Chennai based Sky City Foundations held the rest 51%. Sky City is reportedly run by computer businessmen Santhosh Robert and Padmavathy Suresh who are listed as directors along with an S Natarajan.
Telecom Talk reported that Sahara Group bought 11.5% stake in S Tel from the two PE firms in May, but no official mention is available on S-Tel’s site. It could be that this was an earlier indirect acquisition by Sivasankaran – Siva Ventures Ltd, the flagship company of SIG, invested $26.66 million in media conglomerate Sahara One Media & Entertainment in which it now holds 14.98% stake.
Sivasankaran; Why Now?
C Sivasankaran is known for his ability to pick up a young firm, push it to success and sell when its valuation is at its peak for huge profits. Some of his sales are: Aircel, a telco bought from RPG Group and sold to Maxis Telecom and Apollo Hospital’s Reddy family for $1.08 billion; cafe chain Barista to Lavazza and ISP Dishnet DSL to VSNL for Rs. 270 crore.
Siva’s non-compete agreement with Maxis during the Aircel acquisition barred him from buying more than 10% stake in any other telco for a period of three years; the agreement expired this March. He is back in the telecom scene and rumours cropped up recently that he was looking to invest in another new telco – Unitech Wireless, but company officials denied it.
Sivasankaran has reputedly placed his son S Saravana on S Tel’s board. S Tel has shifted its headquarters from Chennai to Gurgaon. Its equity has grown seven times – from Rs. 18 crore to Rs. 138 crore – since it applied for licenses, according to ToI, and had to supply details of the change in its equity structure to the telecom regulator TRAI. S Tel has received a good amount of financial backing – it first secured Rs 10,000 crore in 2008, then $225 million from Batelco, and now Sivasankaran’s Rs. 1,150 crore.