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MAY 6, 2007
 Cover Story
 BT Special
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Web Censors
Internet censorship is on the rise worldwide. As many as two dozen countries are blocking content using a variety of techniques. Distressingly, the most censor-heavy countries such as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Uzbekistan seem to be passing on their technologically sophisticated techniques to other countries of the world. Some examples of censorship: China's blocking of Wikipedia and Pakistan's ban on Google's blogging service.

Temping Trend
Of late, temporary staffing has become a trend in India Inc. In industries such as retail and logistics, temporary hiring has become a business strategy as it enables them to quickly ramp up teams. It is becoming increasingly important for the survival of Indian firms, given the growth rates and talent shortage. Although the salary gap between temporary and permanent jobs is narrowing, temporary staff in India earn lower salaries than permanent ones, which is contrary to the global trend.
More Net Specials

Business Today,  April 22, 2007

India's Fastest Growing Companies
Our annual listing of India Inc's top sprinters.

India's Fastest Growing Large Companies
Companies with revenues in excess of Rs 1,500 crore that grew the fastest in 2006.

» Hindustan Zinc
» Welspun Gujarat Stahl Rohren
» Unitech
» Pantaloon Retail (India)
» UltraTech Cement
» Gujarat Ambuja Cements
» Nagarjuna Construction Co.
» Aurobindo Pharma
» Hindalco Industries
» United Spirits

1. Hindustan Zinc
The former PSU's burgeoning profits would have you believe that what it churns out is not zinc, but cash.

Hindustan Zinc’s Anil Agarwal: Same assets, but vastly different results

Critics of disinvestment, eat your heart out. Public sector units (PSUs) are indeed better off in private hands. Want proof? Just take a look at Hindustan Zinc. Back in April 2002, when Anil Agarwal-controlled Vedanta Resources took over the state-owned enterprise, it had a net profit of Rs 68 crore and revenues of Rs 1,929 crore. In 2005-06, Hindustan Zinc reported a bottom line of Rs 1,472.5 crore and a topline of Rs 4,327 crore, and for the nine months ended December 31, 2006, the former psu cranked up net profit to a staggering Rs 3,507 crore, and revenues to Rs 6,531 crore. No doubt, the boom in commodity prices has helped the company, but there's more to its stunning growth story. "We were quick to exploit the best resources and unlock the true potential of our mines, which are among the best in the world," says Agarwal, Chairman, Vedanta, adding that increasing operational efficiency and giving a free hand and more responsibility to employees has raised productivity. The company is currently the third largest producer of zinc in the world but also produces lead, 100 tonnes of silver and is the biggest producer of sulphuric acid in India. Agarwal's ambition: To be the world's biggest and lowest-cost producer of zinc. "By 2010, we should be producing one million tonnes (from 4 lakh tonnes currently) of zinc and lead," he says. With per capita zinc consumption already at double digits, and demand growing at almost 4 per cent a year in India, Hindustan Zinc's glittering performance may well be here to stay.

Welspun’s B.K. Goenka: Will soon also make steel for pipes

2. Welspun Gujarat Stahl Rohren
This oil and gas pipe maker is now a global vendor.

Every time energy majors such as chevron and Saudi Aramco buy pipes for their oil and gas business, they first make a call to Mumbai-based Welspun Gujarat Stahl Rohren (WGSR). That's not just because the Indian company makes large diameter pipes (which require top skills), but also because it has an exclusive agreement with them for supplies. Not bad for a company that got into the pipes business just over a decade ago. "It hasn't been easy, we had to fight hard with the government to break the tough regulatory and monopolistic environment in India," says B.K. Goenka, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, WGSR.

The fight's been worth it. Nearly 75 per cent of WGSR's Rs 1,940 crore in revenues comes from exports, and the order book for the next 12-15 months is at $1 billion (Rs 4,300 crore). "Every quarter our order book grows at least 30-40 per cent of total revenues," says Akhil Jindal, President, Welspun Group. Last calendar year, WGSR increased net profit by 176 per cent to Rs 120.5 crore, and revenues by 68.6 per cent from Rs 1,533 crore to Rs 2,585 crore. When its backward integration into steel (for pipes) is completed by December 2007, operating profit margins are expected to improve to 16 per cent from 13 per cent currently. But what has Goenka grinning from ear to ear is the fact that, over the next five years, the replacement market in the US alone could generate demand for one million miles of pipes.

3. Unitech
It may survive a downturn in real estate better.

Unitech’s Chandra: Aiming for higher growth rate

The real estate sector in India was on fire in 2006. And so was Unitech, one of the oldest listed real estate firms in the country. It clocked more than 1,500 per cent increase in net profit and a 230 per cent increase in sales. Of course, these numbers were clocked on a relatively modest base of the previous years. Managing Director Sanjay Chandra believes the year represented the usual buoyancy of the real estate business and the fact that the company expanded into newer markets such as Greater Noida in the last few years. The company delivered upwards of 3 million sq ft. in 2005-06 and is expected to have more than doubled it up with nearly 8 million sq ft. in 2006-07, according to analysts.

But will 2007 be as good as 2006? "No, but Unitech will show a growth rate higher than that clocked by the industry," says Chandra. How? For one, he expects past growth to sustain over the next four to five years, as sales from new residential markets such as Noida and Kolkata start showing up on the balance sheet. Going forward, the company plans to start selling in new markets every two months. "(The number of apartments) being put up for sale would double every year for the next 3-4 years," says Chandra. Higher interest rates may knock out some builders, but perhaps not Unitech.

Pantaloon’s Biyani: He’s still #1, but maybe not for too long

4. Pantaloon Retail
It is a Wal-Mart wannabe, but now must fight the giant itself.

The organised retail industry has always scoffed at Pantaloon Retail's Kishore Biyani and the man in turn has continued to believe in himself and his unconventional strategies. So far, Biyani has been proved right. His retail empire-which includes the Big Bazaar hypermarket chain, Pantaloon stores, Central (malls), and a newly-launched Hometown store for home improvement-is currently the biggest in the country, with revenues of Rs 2,387 crore (Jan-December, 2006) and a net profit of Rs 115 crore. "We plan to double our growth year after year from here," says Biyani. "We are working towards building an organisation that functions in almost all categories of retail."

Pantaloon Retail has 5 million sq. ft of retail space across the country, but Biyani hopes to double it by March 2008 and take it to 30 million sq. ft by 2010. Accordingly, he plans to invest $1 billion over the next four years for this expansion. "We are looking at divesting some of our subsidiaries to raise this amount to fuel our expansion plans," says Biyani. According to him, Rs 2,000 crore will come from internal accruals and Rs 2,500 crore will be through divestment of subsidiaries and debt. With two heavyweights-Reliance Retail and Bharti-Wal-Mart-entering the fray, Biyani's dreams of becoming India's Wal-Mart remain just that. But you can be sure he'll try his best. For starters, he's even launching KB's Wholesale Market, aimed at small rural retailers. His inspiration, no doubt, comes from Sam's Club, a Wal-Mart wholesale format named after the man who founded it: Sam Walton.

5. UltraTech Cement
It's riding the infrastructure boom.

D.D. Rathi: The man driving UltraTech

Over the next five years, India will invest some $350 billion in infrastructure. That's a lot of money, but that's also a lot of cement. Not surprisingly, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, which owns UltraTech via subsidiary Grasim Industries, is ramping up capacities. "The company has earmarked a capex of Rs 1,424 crore, which will be spent over the next three years," he mentioned this in a letter to UltraTech shareholders in 2006.

According to an ICRA report, production in the cement industry increased at 8.1 per cent a year between 1981 and 2004, making India the second largest producer in the world after China. The pace of expansion may be faster in the years ahead, since even the projected $350 billion of investment may not be sufficient to bring India's infrastructure to world standards. Meanwhile, UltraTech, formerly L&T Cement acquired by the Birlas and now led by D.D. Rathi, is clipping. Its April-March 2006 revenues rose 27 per cent over the same period the previous year to Rs 3,299 crore, while net profit jumped 7,567 per cent to Rs 230 crore. The government's recent order to cement companies to hold prices has hit investor sentiment, but that's unlikely to be a long-term problem.

Gujarat Ambuja’s Singhvi: The focus is retail market

6. Gujarat Ambuja Cements
As a Holcim company, it can only do better here on.

In a recent report, Citigroup analysts have recommended a hold on the Gujarat Ambuja stock. That doesn't bother its Managing Director, Anil Singhvi, the least. Why? As the Citi report itself notes, Gujarat Ambuja "enjoys relatively high EBITDA margins due to its focus on the retail cement market (where prices are better), modern plants with low power and fuel consumption and the use of sea transport." Besides, the company's capacity utilisation is a high 90 per cent. "The industry produced 152 million tonnes of cement in 2006, and we believe that cement demand should grow by 10 per cent in 2007," the company's Chairman, Suresh Neotia, told shareholders recently.

That explains why Gujarat Ambuja, where Swiss cement giant Holcim is now the majority owner, is expanding its clinker capacity by 4.5 million tonnes and cement capacity by 6 million tonnes. Upon completion in mid-2009, the expansion will raise Gujarat Ambuja's cement capacity to 22 million tonnes from 16 million tonnes at present. Says Singhvi: "Our focus will be on providing best quality cement, good packaging, having a strong distribution network and customer service."

Already, the boom in housing and infrastructure has begun showing up on Gujarat Ambuja's books. In January-December 2006 (which is also the company's financial year), net profit more than tripled to Rs 1,503 crore. Revenues too jumped to Rs 4,848 crore from Rs 3,296 crore the year before. Despite control on prices, the outlook for this year, says Neotia, is good. The only threat may be an overall slowdown.

7. Nagarjuna Construction
The firm's order book is brimming over.

Nagarjuna’s Raju: Buoyed by infrastructure projects

Back in 2000-01, Hyderabad-based Nagarjuna Construction was a small Rs 250-crore firm. But when the results for 2006-07 come out, Nagarjuna could report a topline of Rs 3,000 crore and a net profit of Rs 150 crore. "Based on the order back log (Rs 7,025 crore, end of 2006) and the future prospects, we are confident of a topline growth of 30-35 per cent and a bottom line growth of 40 to 45 per cent over the next three years," says Alluri Ranga Raju, 50, Managing Director of Nagarjuna. That means in another two years, Nagarjuna, which also featured on our fastest growing list last year, could become a billion-dollar construction major.

Where will the growth come from? "We expect the key growth drivers to be projects in roads, buildings, electricals, irrigation other than some of our new divisions like metals, power and oil and gas," says Y.D. Murthy, Senior Vice President (finance and accounts), Nagarjuna. Starting 2008, the company intends to bid for civil, electrical, mechanical works in the oil and gas sector, besides gas pipelines. At present, central and state governments and their undertakings account for around 90 per cent of its order book. It took Nagarjuna 16 years to hit Rs 100 crore in revenues (1995), but if its growth momentum sustains, it could be a Rs 10,000 crore company by 2012.

Aurobindo’s Reddy: Betting on exports

8. Aurobindo Pharma
It's moving more towards generic drugs.

A billion dollars in revenues by 2009-10 and a more profitable product mix. That's the mantra executives at Hyderabad-based pharma company, Aurobindo Pharma, are chanting these days. Expected to report a 46 per cent increase in revenues to Rs 2,200 crore in 2006-07, Aurobindo, which claims to be India's largest bulk drugs exporter, now wants to grow its presence in cardio vascular and central nervous system drugs, and do more of formulations (that is, finished drugs), especially in the global generics market, where patent expiries and rising healthcare costs are making generics popular.

An important part of that strategy is global acquisitions. Last year alone, Aurobindo made three acquisitions, including Milpharm in the UK, Pharmacin International B.V. in the Netherlands, and a manufacturing facility in New Jersey from Sandoz (a Novartis company). Having a us FDA-certified manufacturing facility in the us will allow Aurobindo to get business from the us government and manufacture controlled substances such as those for sustained release medication. Already, the company, founded by P.V. Ramaprasad Reddy in 1986, gets 62 per cent of its revenues from sales abroad. If its plans in formulations pay off, then not just its revenues but profits will go up. A nice recipe, no doubt.

9. Hindalco Industries
With Novelis in its bag, the aluminium maker is set to go places.

Kumar Mangalam Birla: Acquisition is the way to grow

My way is the global highway. Hindalco industries chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla hasn't said that in so many words, but his actions drive home his intent. In the second week of February, when Birla agreed to pay a stunning $6 billion for Atlanta-based aluminium major Novelis, many analysts were sceptical of the deal price. Hindalco's stock fell in response, but Birla remains unfazed. "In both the aluminium and copper businesses, we are well-positioned to grow. Hindalco's excellent performance is testimony to the high operating benchmarks that it has set for itself," he says. The numbers are indeed impressive. In October-December 2006, for instance, Hindalco's total income grew to Rs 4,714 crore from Rs 2,916 crore in the same quarter the year before, while the net profit jumped from Rs 336.2 crore to Rs 643.9 crore.

With a robust local market and a huge access to Novelis' global clients, including Kodak and Coca-Cola, Hindalco's road to becoming a global aluminium major looks rather interesting. "The Novelis acquisition gives us scale and a global footprint immediately," says Hindalco's Managing Director, Debu Bhattacharya. That apart, Hindalco plans to set up an aluminium smelter in Madhya Pradesh at a cost of Rs 7,000 crore. Recently, Hindalco announced their joint venture with Almex in the USA to manufacture high strength aluminium alloys. This will give Hindalco a foothold in the lucrative aerospace and surface transport markets. With so much afoot, Birla has reason to be bullish about his global gambit.

United Spirits’ Rekhi: Consolidating to stay on top

10. United Spirits
Vijay Mallya's liquor company is soaring high.

The world's second largest spirits company (after Diageo) is on a roll. When in mid-2005 Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant Chairman of UB Group, integrated all his spirits companies by merging McDowell, Phipson Distillery, Baramati Grape Industries and Shaw Wallace's distillery division, which he had brought under the United Spirits banner, he created a liquor powerhouse. Some of the synergies are becoming evident. Over the last eight quarters, the company has consistently grown its gross profits in high double digits. For the nine months ended December 31, 2006, the company earned a net profit of Rs 443.97 crore on a turnover of Rs 2,060.4 crore-that's an increase of 20 times in net profit and a 40 per cent jump in turnover over the same period the previous year. Credit the extraordinary profit growth on the synergies from the mergers. According to United Spirits' President Vijay Rekhi, savings in packaging costs fetched Rs 17 crore, changes in sourcing another Rs 5 crore, better raw material pricing Rs 40 crore and savings in trade spends another Rs 40 crore.

With more than seven brands that sell in excess of a million cases each annually (total sales: 60 million cases, of which each has 12 bottles), United Spirits is looking to widen its geographical footprint. However, it is the acquisition of Scottish distiller Whyte & McKay that everyone's looking forward to. If the billion-dollar deal happens, United Spirits will turn into a truly global liquor powerhouse.

India's Fastest Growing mid-sized Companies
Companies with revenues between Rs 1,000 crore and Rs 1,499 crore that grew the fastest in 2006.

Kalpataru Power Transmission
» Shree Cement
» Hindustan Copper
» Centurion Bank of Punjab
» Man Industries (India)

1. Kalpataru Power
It wants much more of the infrastructure projects.

Kalpataru Power’s Munot: Powering up

How's this for performance? What Kalpataru Power Transmission earned in a single month in March 2006 used to be its full-year revenue as recently as 2001. But back then, Mumbai-based Kalpataru used to be a small firm whose only business was to lay transmission lines. These days, it builds everything from bridges to roads, besides power lines. "We are attacking more parts of the infrastructure pie, thus ensuring faster growth within the company," says Ajay Munot, Executive Director, Kalpataru. For 2006-07, the company is expected to clock revenues of Rs 2,000 crore, of which Rs 500 crore will come from JMC Projects, a construction firm that it acquired in February 2005. In 2005-06, the 27-year-old company had consolidated revenues of Rs 1,100 crore.

Munot, 35, knows exactly what is driving growth at Kalpataru. "Government spending on infrastructure, acquisition of JMC Projects, diversification into multiple sectors and locations, and execution capabilities have been the key reasons behind our success," says Munot. Kalpataru's order book for the next 12-18 months is almost as much as its last two years' revenues (Rs 3,000 crore), but Munot plans to focus more on the export market, specially in Africa, and venture into different verticals in infrastructure space. "Next year, we will grow at 30-35 per cent with a similar growth in our order book," says Munot. Looks like Kalpataru is going to be on our list next year as well.

Shree Cement’s Bangur: Conservative, yet strong fundamentals

2. Shree Cement
It believes in chasing shareholder value, not size.

If you ask H.M. Bangur, managing director of Kolkata-based Shree Cement, what drives things at his company, he'll tell you that it's not the quest for size or bottom line, but shareholder value. "If you adopt the right business practices and concentrate on production, efficiency and quality, profits will come automatically," Bangur rationalises. And he's right. Shree's revenues have gone up from Rs 506.93 crore in 2003-04 to a projected Rs 1,350 crore in 2006-07-a compounded annual growth rate of over 30 per cent. Similarly, the bottom line has grown at a CAGR of nearly 130 per cent to an expected Rs 200 crore. The company has been expanding its manufacturing capacity since 2004, and the process continues. For instance, its capacity of 4.8 million tonnes will be increased to 6.8 million tonnes by April next year, and eventually 20 million tonnes by 2015. What's interesting, though, is that Shree won't be expanding its capital base in the process. The company has already consolidated its position in north India, but isn't averse to tapping opportunities overseas either. Shree's management philosophy may sound conservative and quaint, but its performance is anything but old-fashioned.

3. Hindustan Copper
The PSU is aiming for reinvention.

Hindustan Copper’s Gupta: Shifting focus to mining

Over the last one year, things at "Tamra Bhawan", Hindustan Copper's headquarters in Kolkata, haven't been as PSU-ish as they usually are. Revenue and profit figures, for one, have been surging. In the third quarter of 2006-07 (October-December, 2006), the state-owned company's year-on-year bottom line soared 389 per cent to Rs 131.60 crore, and sales increased 84 per cent to Rs 551.89 crore. The company, once known for its losses and worker strife, has turned a new leaf, and is talking of a new strategy, which involves shifting focus from copper making to mining. "If we are to survive and prosper, the focus has got to be on mining and acquisition of more deposits in the country," says Satish Chandra Gupta, its Chairman and Managing Director. The larger strategy involves arresting decline (by 2006-07), consolidation (between 2007 and 2010), and expansion (starting 2010). Leveraging it, selling off idle assets and inducting fresh talent are some other aspects of the new strategy that will make Hindustan Copper look less and less like a PSU.

Centurion Bank’s Bhandari: Sees more growth coming from SMEs

4. Centurion Bank of Punjab
Acquisitions have transformed the bank's fortunes.

Four years ago, centurion bank was tottering on the brink. Today, with 279 branches and 409 ATMs, it's the fastest growing bank in the country. "We are growing almost two times the market pace," quips Shailendra Bhandari, CEO and Managing Director of Centurion Bank. If you take the December quarter numbers, which include those of Bank of Punjab that it acquired in 2005, then Centurion's advances are growing at 66 per cent, compared to an industry average of 31 per cent. Similarly, net profit grew by 46 per cent against industry average of 21 per cent.

But the question is, with interest rates rising, will Centurion, 69 per cent of whose lending is to retail consumers, continue to churn out such numbers? "We are committed to growing at a multiple of the market," says Bhandari. That would mean having to find ways to keep two-wheeler, commercial vehicle and construction equipment buyers, who make up two-thirds of retail borrowers, coming back to Centurion for loans. But Bhandari also says that a lot of growth will come from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that, along with biggger corporate borrowers, make up the other 31 per cent of Centurion's overall lending.

The bank also has a sizeable fee-based income that comes from marketing two dozen mutual funds, life insurance policies of Aviva Life Insurance, and general insurance products of ICICI Lombard, among others. But Rana Talwar, Standard Chartered's former global CEO and the man who turned around Centurion's fortunes after he bought it in 2003, may be planning more acquisitions to gain critical mass. Of course, he will have to wait for the RBI to open up M&As in the industry in 2009.

5. Man Industries
A pipe maker comes of age.

Man Industries’ Mansukhani: No pipe dream

These days R.C. Mansukhani, chairman of Man Industries, doesn't grab every order that comes his way. He's become far more choosy, going only after projects that offer better margins. Thanks is due to the booming global oil and gas industry, where refiners are spending billions of dollars in laying and relaying pipelines. Admits Mansukhani: "The buoyancy in the industry and our capability to execute projects at low cost have made us choosy in selecting projects." In 2006-07, Man is expected to grow its topline 41 per cent to Rs 1,200 crore, with exports fetching 75 per cent of the revenues.

To maintain its momentum and execute orders on time, the company is increasing its capacity by a quarter to 2,500 km of pipes at its plant in Anjar, Gujarat. And there's plenty of work to keep the plant busy. Man has an order book of Rs 2,200 crore, of which Rs 1,000 crore worth of orders came just last quarter from Kinder Morgan, one of the largest midstream energy companies in America. "We are targeting a growth of 90 per cent this year that will see our revenue topping Rs 2,000 crore by 2007-08," says Mansukhani. That's a growth even the IT big-wigs would be hard-pressed to match.

India's Fastest Growing Small Companies
Companies with revenues less than Rs 999 crore that grew the fastest in 2006.

» Era Constructions (India)
» Asian Electronics
» ICSA (India)
» ORG Informatics
» Ansal Housing

1. Era Constructions

Making the leap from contracting business to turnkey (EPC) contracts and then to manufacturing pre-engineered building systems has paid off handsomely for the Delhi-based infrastructure builder, Era Constructions. Its Pantnagar (Uttaranchal) facility, for instance, has slashed procurement costs and product delivery time in turnkey contracts. Says H.S. Bharana, Era's Managing Director: "Pre-engineered building is the way construction is done in developed countries, and India is following suit." Result: Era's 2006-07 standalone revenues are set to touch Rs 700 crore from Rs 313 crore the previous year, while group revenues (it has two other real estate firms, Era Infrastructure and Era e-Zone) should touch Rs 1,100 crore, up 192 per cent. What's more, Bharana expects a 100 per cent annual growth over the next three years.

2. Asian Electronics

Jinendra Shah, executive Director of Asian Electronics, just can't stop grinning. The third quarter (October-December) numbers have been so good that they add up to more than what the energy saving lighting product manufacturer reported in the previous nine months combined. Revenues touched Rs 104.1 crore and net profit Rs 18.9 crore. "Although our energy services business involves a huge capex, the returns are equally rewarding," says Shah. Among the recent orders include one from the Prime Minister's Office for energy efficient lighting, and two others from the labour and transport ministries for their offices. Thanks to its recent purchase of an Irish company, STS PCB, Asian will now get a small toehold in western markets. Shah says this is just the beginning. Asian is talking of 2007-08 revenues in excess of Rs 500 crore.

3. ICSA (India)

The distance from NBFC to utlities may be a long one for most people, but not G. Bala Reddy. In 1998, he bought a loss-making NBFC and over the years has turned it into a fast-growing provider of embedded solutions to power, oil and gas, and water companies. One of its products, the ICAP, for instance, is an onsite pipeline monitoring device that keeps track of the pipeline's health. "Moving into infrastructure has helped us grow over the last three years," says Reddy, ICSA's employee-turned-owner. Revenues are up from a mere Rs 21.51 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 229 crore between April-December, 2006. The company has recently raised about Rs 280 crore, of which Rs 150 crore is earmarked for acquiring other companies and the rest is for R&D and working capital needs.

4. ORG Informatics

It's a good time to be a telecom solutions provider. Just ask Ajoy Khandheria, MD & CEO of Gurgaon-based org Informatics. Its 2006-07 revenues are set to top Rs 300 crore, compared to Rs 156.41 crore the previous year. Net profit will jump to Rs 15 crore from Rs 8.10 crore. Systems integration contributes 80 per cent of the revenues, with the remainder coming from software and managed services. "There is phenomenal growth in each of the three areas we have presence in. Telecom operators worldwide are upgrading their infrastructure. So the business will continue to grow at a fast clip," says Khandheria.

5. Ansal Housing

As interest rates harden and the RBI moves to suck out speculative money from the property market, is the party over for builders? "No," says Kushagr Ansal, Director, Ansal Housing and Construction, which should be posting a 50 per cent growth in topline to Rs 190 crore and over 90 per cent rise in net profit to Rs 40 crore in 2006-07. "We have invested a lot of money in developing projects and those investments are paying off now," says the MBA from Bentley College in the us. With Rs 6,000 crore worth of projects on its plate, Ansal expects to grow revenues to Rs 350 crore in 2007-08. "India's needs for construction are enormous," says Ansal. He's right.