Rahul Dhir dismisses Reliance move speculation

Vol 15, PW 15 (09 Feb 12) People & Policy

Listen to market chatter and the word is that Rahul Dhir is leaving his job as CEO of Cairn India for Reliance.

Should the rumour be true, the 45-year-old Cairn India chief, who last month sold 1.5m shares in his company to net $10.5m, could be leaving for the US as soon as April to oversee development of Mukesh Ambani’s impressive shale gas portfolio. Among the reasons cited for Dhir’s possible departure is unease at the new ‘lala’ (indigenous family-run) control-freakish work culture enveloping Cairn India following its $8.67bn acquisition for a 58.5% stake by UK-based Indian-origin mining baron Anil Agarwal.

“Rahul is used to working with ‘goras’ (foreigners),” we hear. “They give you more independence and operational freedom.

” Quite how this assertion fits with Dhir's reported move to Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance, where the ‘lala’ culture is equal if not more pronounced than at Anil Agarwal-controlled Vedanta, is unclear. Another key driver behind the speculation is the (unconfirmed) small fortune of at least Rs500cr ($100m) Dhir is thought to have amassed during his five years as Cairn India chief through a combination of salary, bonuses, shares and dividends.

“He’ll have a problem investing that kind of money in India,” adds a source. “He could easily do it in the US and simultaneously look after Reliance’s shale gas portfolio.

” According to Cairn India's accounts, Dhir’s package from the company last year totalled Rs12.5cr ($2.5m), including performance-related bonuses and annual salary. Contacted by this report, Dhir dismisses reports of his imminent departure as inevitable speculation following his decision to sell 1.5m shares in the company he leads.

“I am not going anywhere,” he said. “For the record my contract was extended by another five years in August (2011).

No statement was put out (by Cairn India) to that effect but I can confirm it was extended by another five years.”

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