|Our 2005 airline cover |
Like thousand others, I first came to know about Naresh Goyal when I travelled on his airline, Jet Airways. Frankly I rank it as one of the best domestic airlines in the world for punctuality and on-board service. When I eventually met the man he seemed the most unlikely candidate to own and run a world class airline. That too without any foreign collaboration. He came across as an earthy, simple man whose most distinguishable feature was his infectious laugh and affability. Here was a man who built relationships. That, perhaps, is the secret of his success.
Although behind that smiling, informal exterior is a mind which has an uncanny insight into the complex, cut-throat airline industry, his business philosophy seems as simple as he himself is. Hire the smartest people in the aviation business to run the airline and stack the board with directors who are rich with airline experience. And benchmark yourself with the best international airlines. A single-minded pursuit of this strategy has made him the biggest player on the domestic aviation scene. With the acquisition of his closest private competitor, Air Sahara, he now has a dominant market share of 46 per cent. With a net worth of Rs 8,000 crore, Goyal is perhaps one of India's richest individuals.
His rise from humble beginnings is a fascinating saga of the classic rags-to-riches story. Digging into his past was a rewarding exercise since it gave us valuable insights into his spectacular growth and business strategy. His first salary was Rs 300 a month. Even then, he showed his latent entrepreneurial spirit by making a foray into the airline business as a General Sales Agent for Singapore Airlines, travelling across Punjab to tap rich farmers and NRIs, even delaying his marriage so that he could concentrate on the business. From there, he literally took off, using his knowledge of the industry, domestic and global, to launch his fledgling airline. His acquisition of Air Sahara is another smart strategic move. The rush of new private airlines in the domestic market had reduced his market share to 36 per cent, a significant drop. With Sahara, he is now the unchallenged Maharaja of the Indian skies. Our cover story traces his amazing rise, the controversies he has faced, and examines the many questions that the latest deal has raised, about his business methods, his political connections, his key advisers, and his strategy for the future. Editor Prabhu Chawla and Executive Editor Rohit Saran flew down to Mumbai-on Jet Airways of course-to grill him on a range of issues, including his alleged underworld connections. Goyal told them he wants his airline to be one of the top five in the world. Going by past record, there is no reason why he can't achieve that ambition.