Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Tata Power AGM

For the first time in my life, I attended an Annual General Meeting (AGM); the one of Tata Power on 8th August, 2007. The jugglery of mathematics was quite interesting – the 88th AGM was being held on the 8th day of the 8th month of the year.

The AGM was held at the Birla Matoshree Sabhangan (Birla Auditorium) on Sir Vithaldas Thackersey Marg running parallel to Queen’s Road (Maharshi Karve marg), the road running adjacent to Churchgate terminus. SVT Marg happened to be a quiet rain drenched street, something which roars to life during lunch breaks and begin & end time of institutes; and is deadly silent otherwise. Interestingly this road houses the Anti Dowry Guidance Cell.

The entrance at the Birla auditorium was chaotic, and instead of the usual rude, pushy, unruly crowds of youngsters, this was a noisy complaining crowd of senior citizens. My first reaction was to panic – “What am I doing here? Let me get the hell out of here!!” Better sense prevailed over me, telling me to wait and watch.

Observing children and senior citizens is a nice pastime. They generally carry on with their activities with nay a care in the world, but if they know that someone is watching over them or if they are among their peers, the extra energy to make oneself noticed comes out of nowhere. But they are a lovely set of people to be with, if you have the patience to listen, observe and be like a sponge absorbing their mostly harmless rants.

The AGM started in the usual manner with the resolutions to be adopted being put up for approval, customary addresses by the chairman Mr. Ratan Tata and the MD Mr. Prasad Menon. Hearing these two guys speak, even though there was no hormone pumping message usually seen during convocations was inspiring. Specially the way Mr.Tata has handled a vast group and the effortless transition Mr. Menon has made from heading Tata Chemicals to Tata Power.

The interesting part followed – the session for questions from shareholders. Many speakers put forth their views on the annual report. Some of the views were redundant, considering that they wee already in the report. There were a few moments of humor, like when this lady rattled off Shayaris (poems) in honor of Mr. Tata. Something on the lines of “Tata group ke Shehanshah; Agle saal bhi aap dividend issue karenge, yeh umeed hai mujhe” types.

What amazed me was the detailed study some of the questioners had made over the report. Most of the questions concerned the issue of dividend, perceived unnecessary spending etc. Most of these worries were also coupled with the promise of security of power supply to the country. This is the right attitude to have, in my opinion, “Ask what the company has done for you and your country”.

Considering that TPC is 8 decades old, it is not surprising that most of its shareholders are senior citizens. They represent a breed of careful investors unlike today’s short term, short sighted, lusting after quick money investors. The joy on their faces on hearing about the declaration of higher dividend should have been seen to be believed.

I believe that they have reason to feel more joy in the years to come – TPC certainly looks to be a giant in the Indian power sector. Vriddhashrama vaasis certainly can be assured of that.

As I was walking out in the middle of the long and seemingly never ending Q&A session, the following conversation rang in my ears for the rest of the day:

Old Parsi shareholder: "During your father's time, Chairman Sir, there were advertisements asking Bombayites to consume more and more electricity. It is an irony that now, we are being asked to use as less as possible."

Ratan Tata: "Yes, it certainly is an irony. But hopefully our vision is that we should get back to the good old days in the future. Till then, every switch that you put off is a blessing."

For India's sake I hope the vision works out well!!!!

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