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Economy Oct 30, 2012

Gurcharan Das, Ram Charan will be on Air India board

By Sindhu Bhattacharya

New Delhi: Air India's board of directors is likely to see three new additions soon. In a departure from the earlier practice of getting well-known industrialists to aid key operational decisions in the state-owned airline, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has invited known professionals instead.

Sources in the ministry confirmed that Gurcharan Das, management guru Ram Charan and Prof Prem Vrat will be joining the board over the next two months as independent directors.

Das is the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble in India and a well known writer on corporate affairs; Ram Charan is a renowned management guru whereas Prof Vrat is the co-founder director of IIT Roorkee.

Sources in the ministry confirmed that Gurcharan Das, management guru Ram Charan and Prof Prem Vrat will be joining the board over the next two months as independent directors.

At present, nine directors sit on the airline's board with Rohit Nandan as Chairman and MD and S Machendranathan as the lone representative from the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Another ministry representative, Prabhat Kumar, will also be joining shortly. The board has five functional directors and two other independent directors who were appointed about two years back.

The induction of professionals in the board will be happening just when the airline is also keen to scout for a Director-Operations - an experienced aviation professional who would look after the day-to-day operations of the merged airline, which means synergising operations of the erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines. But this would not be a board position.

Already, Syed Nasir Ali was brought in as Joint Managing Director in Air India some time back to ensure smooth implementation of the Justice Dharmadhikari report on manpower issues. So in a sense, the induction of the three independent directors should give the corporate restructuring process at the state-owned airline a leg up.

Till 2011, Mahindra and Mahindra's Vice Chairman Anand Mahindra, Ficci General Secretary Amit Mitra and the Managing Director of Abu Dhabi-based EMKE Group Yousuffali MA were the three independent directors on the Air India board. Chairman of Ambuja Realty Development Harsh Neotia and former chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, have continued though.

The tenure of Mahindra, Mitra and Ali was marked by frequent skirmishes with the top management of the airline over compensation, various functional decisions and the inability of the independent directors to see eye to eye with anything the management proposed.

Mahindra stepped down in April 2011, citing conflict of interest as he too had launched a business in the aviation space. Mitra put in his papers the same month as he was contesting the assembly elections in West Bengal. And Yousuffali MA quit the post this July saying that he was not interested in this position anymore and wanted to launch a new airline from Kerala.

"This time the minister does not want politics in the Air India board but wants to focus on the turnaround of the airline with the expertise of these independent directors," sources in the ministry said.

by Sindhu Bhattacharya

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