Blackburn Rovers going Indian

Venkateshwara Hatcheries, a seller of poultry products based in Pune, has emerged as the rather unlikely buyer of Blackburn Rovers, a football club that plays in the English Premier League (EPL), for £46 million. Speculation has been rife for many months about the alleged desire of Indian industrialists to buy football clubs. But media reports on the subject had featured the two Ambani brothers and Subrata Roy, the owner of the Sahara Group. Clubs such as Liverpool, a giant of English football, are rumoured to have been on the menu of Indian buyers. On Tuesday, though, Venkateshwara Hatcheries (VH), popularly known as Venky’s, became the first Indian owner of an EPL team. “We expect to complete the formalities for the acquisition in the next three-four days although informally, the Premier League has conveyed its happiness over the proposed deal,” Anuradha Desai, chairperson, VH group said. She added that this was her first media interaction following the meeting last night between officials of the Premier League and VH group top officials , B Venkatesh Rao and B Balaji Rao, her siblings, who are currently in London to conclude the deal. Balaji Rao, better known as Bala, is the football lover in the promoter family, and he has taken the lead in the acquisition, Mrs Desai said. All the non-synergistic diversifications of the VH group, including film making under the banner of Bala Entertainment, are his ventures, Mrs Desai said, adding that the Premier League football club is being acquired by a VH subsidiary called Venkys UK. B Venkatesh Rao, joint managing director, VH group, said: “This is a very proud moment for India and the family that we have received the go-ahead from the English Premier League and we expect to conclude the deal in the next five-10 days,”. He added: “It is too early to say if we will make any changes either in the team or the management. We want the Club to do well and we intend to manage it properly.” She added: “Football is a global craze and as the VH group globalises, setting up feed plants and hatcheries around the world, we believe we can benefit from being owners of a major football club. It will help build our brand, too. Moreover, we are a protein company, in the health business and there is synergy with health and sports. We have been sponsoring tennis and cricket matches and tourneys here. Now that we are going global, we need a global sport, hence a football club.” While Blackburn Rovers FC, established in 1875, is among the three English football clubs to have been among the founders of both, the Premier League, and its predecessor the Football League, it has been facing financial difficulties. Mrs Desai brushed off the financial difficulties, saying, “We will pump in whatever is needed, but the main thing is to get the Club back into good shape. This is an investment and it will grow on its own strength.” The VH group will acquire the Blackburn, Lancashire-based football club, from its current owners, the trustees of the Jack Walker 1987 Settlement, a Jersey trust. Jack Walker, a Lancashire steel magnate, bought the Club in 1992 and followed it up with some high-profile acquisitions of players which took the Club win the Premier League in 1995. However, Mrs Desai said that while they will pump in an additional £5 million to ensure they get good players, she ruled out, at least for the present, any high-profile acquisitions. “We won’t need to buy expensive players, we can always lease them,” she said, adding, “We don’t expect to be in the top-five of the Premier League. We will be happy to be in the top 10-12.” She added that other Indian and multinational companies have already begun to ask for sponsorship of jerseys and at stadia, to which the VH group is “complexly open as we need to turn around the Club. But our first priority is to get the Club on a strong footing and back into the Premier League, for which we might need to put in more money. As of now, we have no plan to put the Venky's logo anywhere as this will be an independent business,” Mrs Desai said. The acquisition has been funded by ICICI Bank.

In 39 years Venky's has gone from a small family business to Asia's largest poultry group.
Its status today is a far cry from when Dr B.V Rao launched the business in 1971.
He started his working life as a poultry attendant on 40 acres of farmland in Hyderabad, tending to cattle and birds. But he was put on the road to success by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Dr Earl Neil Moore, on behalf of USAID, gave Dr Rao the task of establishing a poultry farm in Osmania University, Hyderabad.
At first there was success, with 2,000 eggs produced a day, but in what was described as a 'rude awakening' the university let Dr Rao go. He was left jobless and worked at a number of farms, growing increasingly disillusioned. But, unbeknown to him, his wife Uttaradevi had invested some of their money in a seven-acre plot near Hyderabad, enabling him to set up his own poultry farm. They ran it together and the firm quickly went from strength to strength, establishing a 70 per cent market share within a year, according to their official website.
The company has become known for embarking on new ventures, capitalising on technology and yielding high returns on investment. Its portfolio today includes animal health products, pellet feeds, processed chicken products and solvent oil extraction, and SPF Eggs. It now also manufactures nutritional health products for humans and is the preferred supplier to McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Dominos pizza in India.
It has a huge processing plant in Kamshet, between the commercial centres of Pune and Mumbai. The Forbes business magazine of USA ranked Venky's as 67th among the 100 best global small companies in 2000. The Economic Times of India, recently said Venky's had taken a 'silent route for its global foray'. In recognition of his efforts Dr Rao, referred to as the father of modern poultry in India, was made Padmashree in 1990 - India's highest civilian award.
He died in 1996, but he still dominates the firm. In the annual report he is described as 'beloved' and 'legendary' with the first page devoted to quotes outlining his philosophy.
The group is now run by his daughter Anuradha Desai, with the help of two brothers.
She is 47 years old and has been a director since 1998. According to the annual report, Mrs Desai has been instrumental in the firm's growth. She was the first woman to hold the post of President of the World Poultry Science Association in 1996. She is quoted as saying: "Being among the wealthiest women in India doesn't bother me at all. "On the other hand, it makes me feel responsible towards society and to the people who depend on our organisation — be it poultry farmers, shareholders or our employees." She adds that it has been tough to live up to her father's 'great reputation', but 'pleasant to get the road smoothened by the immense goodwill he enjoyed'. And there was extreme pressure on her when she took over.
News site Hindu Business Line reported that there were many doubters - both in and outside the company - that she could handle the responsibility. It said: "But take over she did and with a panache and grace that few expected from the soft-spoken young woman who was rarely seen or heard of before she took over the mantle. "Those who have watched her since her childhood and seen her as a not-quite-sure-of-herself young girl, will tell you that she has been replaced by a totally mature woman completely at ease with herself and her surroundings and in charge of everything that happens in the group.
"Not for Anuradha are the frills and trappings that corporate women in power sport, including clothes that make statements or orders that brook no argument. "Instead, she adopts what she says is a leadership style that she easily and naturally slipped into."
On her style, she is quoted as telling Business Line: "You have to invest in building up relationships with people, give them the freedom to work towards goals and when you spend time with them and understand them, they are ready to put in their best for you, be it man or woman," she says. "You can't hold a stick and frighten anybody into working for you.
"Instead, if you sit with them and work with them, you can be assured of results."
Rovers fans will now be hoping this approach brings results on the football field.

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