Hemant Kanoria had the typical upbringing of a boy born into a Marwari business family in Kolkata. As part of a large extended family, he sat through meals where his grandfather, father, uncles and cousins would talk about the family business. At 17, he was given the responsibility of two flour mills in the family business. One was a sick unit, the other had been closed. “Every Marwari father does this: gives responsibility because the best way to learn is to have weight on your shoulders – baptism by fire,” he says.
A few years later, his younger brother Sunil and he set up SREI Infrastructure Finance. They began by financing infrastructure equipment for contractors and construction companies, and expanded their portfolio with the sector opening up for private participation in 1991. Today, SREI has 32 branches across India and has expanded to Germany, Russia, the UK and Africa. In 2010, the India Power Corporation (a Kanoria Foundation company) took over DPSC Limited in a restructuring exercise. The firm has a diversified portfolio with renewable and conventional modes of generation, distribution and trading. It owns and operates a distribution licence for 620 square km in the coal-rich Asansol-Raniganj belt.
India Power has entered into an agreement to purchase 49 per cent in a 36 MW solar plant under implementation in Uttarakhand and is looking at further opportunities in the renewables space. Going forward, it is looking to expand in the distribution and generation segments, and aims to be a leading integrated power company.
Kanoria has held the position of chairman, FICCI National Committee on Infrastructure, and is currently council member of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce. He has been on the board of governors of IIM Calcutta; member of the government’s Regional Direct Taxes Advisory Committee; and president of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce. Kanoria is proud of the fact that SREI was the first private Indian infrastructure company to be listed on the London Stock Exchange (in 2005), thanks to his ability to convince global investors (the German and Dutch governments and lenders) to give the company long-term lines of credit.
For relaxation, he likes playing squash, doing yoga, going skiing, watching movies and reading. Even though his day starts at 5.30 a.m., he does not feel tired when it ends at around 11.30 p.m. “That’s because I enjoy every second of it. I have so much fun that I can hardly call it work,” he says.