India's Best Fund Managers 2017

Curious buyer

For Ajay Garg, investing is a 24/7 activity, even when he is out shopping 

Soumik Kar

In the busy world of managing funds, sometimes it can be difficult to maintain a work-life balance. But, you can have the best of both worlds if you follow Ajay Garg’s lead. “I have started enjoying shopping now. Visiting stores with your family over the weekend can give you good insights about how consumers are behaving and which products they are likely to buy,” he says with a smile.

Garg, 46, has been managing funds at Birla Sun Life since 2006. Although he started managing the Birla Sun Life MNC fund officially in 2008, he started taking investment calls from 2006 under the supervision of A Balasubramanian, who was then the chief investment officer. Working with Bala sharpened Garg’s focus on quality investments. “He would tell us to avoid leveraged companies and focus on quality companies,” recalls Garg.

Since then, Bala went on to play a larger role as CEO, while Garg became a successful fund manager at Birla Sun Life. While Garg prefers to call himself a bottom-up stock picker, he took a more sectoral view in his early years as a fund manager. This was a time when the MNC fund bought Honeywell Automation in 2007. The US-headquartered Honeywell had several factors in its favour. The company was operating in a niche segment. It offered products and solutions for certain critical operations in projects. In India, Honeywell’s business is spread across four verticals — aerospace, home and building technologies, safety and productivity solutions and performance materials and technologies. What gave further comfort was that since these solutions were critical, the project owner would never compromise on quality. It looked like a long-term secular compounding story. According to data from Value Research, the stock, bought as part of the fund portfolio, is trading more than 450% above its average investment price, raking in a profit of Rs.200 crore for the fund.

Another investment that Garg made during this period was in credit rating firm ICRA, Moody’s arm in India. India needed infrastructure and companies needed to raise funds for that. The bond market needed to be deepened and that required ratings from credible agencies to instill confidence in investors. The fund made a profit of Rs.181 crore on the stock. It bought ICRA in April 2007 when the compa

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