How this young engineer from a small town in Rajasthan built a global investment banking firm
Hailing from a small town in Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Mahesh Singhi realised early in life that the world wasn’t fair and every challenge had to be taken head-on.
In 1989, he began his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 23 in Mumbai after leaving his job that paid a monthly salary of Rs 1,400 per month due to “differences” with his boss.
Mahesh, who had only seen Mumbai in photographs, packed his bags and left Jaipur where he did his engineering course to “make a place for himself” in the megacity. He describes his initial years as functioning as a “one-man army”.
Coming from a lower-middle-class background where financing one’s education was a challenge, he says, “Every human being has certain characteristics and for me, every obstacle was a wall to break to move forward.”
Today, he’s the Founder and Managing Director of Singhi Advisors, a Mumbai-based investment banking firm that offers merger, acquisition, divestiture, and corporate advisory services to domestic and international companies, and formalises multibillion-dollar transactions.
Singhi Advisors today is an investment banking firm with 40 professionals in its team, and has completed over 125 assignments in the last eight years with an aggregate transaction value of over $5 billion. These transactions span across 18 sectors that covered 20 countries.
The sectors covered by Singhi Advisors is a long list with the likes of power equipment & electricals, energy & infrastructure, energy, gas, metal, ports, shipping, automotive, textile, pharmaceuticals, IT, financial services etc.
But the company that now has a global presence had a local beginning.
A mechanical engineer by training, the only thing Mahesh knew when he started out was how to set up any industrial project. He started by getting into the project consultancy domain, to advise owners of small-scale industrial units on how to turn around their businesses.
It was not easy – especially convincing the owner of any industrial unit to trust a 23-year-old engineer to turn around the business. However, his persistence along with a thorough understanding of a client’s business saw him winning his early deals.
“I have always believed that things that come easily do not belong to me,” Mahesh says. He adds that the period between 1989 to 1993, it was literally a one-man show as he started taking up various projects for consultancy.
His motto focused on client engagement and was very simple: “If they succeed, we are also successful.”
The next step of his journey began as he pondered what would be the next area to get into.
Mahesh, a man of action, did not believe in wasting his time by thinking too much about the future. One thing led to another and he felt that the next logical step was to get into project financing as this was a “big requirement for clients”.
This meant getting into areas like corporate finance, restructuring, venture incubation among others.
By 2000, Mahesh realised that the market was wide open and needed a domestic merger and acquisitions advisory firm, and he stepped in.
The evolution of Singhi Advisors was “not part of some great design”, says Mahesh, adding that he always believed in action.
“I do not believe in too much planning. Our focus is much more on implementation as if we do well today, it will open a lot more doors tomorrow,” he says.
There were challenges along this journey but Mahesh believes “every failure is a deferred success”.
Thinking ‘three steps ahead’
The world of mergers and acquisitions is a very tricky business, with multiple things that need to be looked at before making any decision.
Mahesh believes one needs to be “precise and clear” about how one will deal with the situation. In many cases, the business problem persists due to the owner and this could be solved with a new buyer.
He compares the relationship with his clients with that of a horse rider — the person in the saddle has to provide the right decision and trot along the path.
“We are always in sync with clients but also need to think three steps ahead otherwise they will not find any value in working with us,” Mahesh says.
This would also mean giving clients honest advice as Mahesh believes “their success is our success and their failure is our failure”. “We are a solution company and not a product firm that we have to sell our services.”
This ideology has helped Singhi Advisors get clients on an organic basis and the founder claims that they often reject business proposals if the firm believes it will not be able to add any value.
Explaining further, he says the two key differentiators of Singhi Advisors are the strength of conviction and execution. He believes these come with a deep understanding of the client’s requirements and how to go about getting the job done.
“We measure ourselves in terms of how well we are doing in terms of our capability and whether it was better than last year.”
The founder believes that competition is good for everybody as this leads to expansion of the market and says there’s “no pressure of acquiring new clients”.
“One should have the ability to select the client and not the other way around as we believe whatever we do should be done well,” he says.
Looking back at the 30-year journey of Singhi Advisors, Mahesh says he has created a culture of self-belief at his firm where “employees see themselves as enablers with an entrepreneurial flavour in their actions”.
The journey continues and Mahesh remains excited about what comes next.
“One has to be excited about what they do. No one can defeat you unless one accepts this in their minds,” Mahesh says.
Edited by Teja Lele