NEW DELHI: Naresh Goyal’s descension from Jet Airways marks the end of his 26-year-long stint at the helm of the airline. After cutting his teeth as a cashier in his uncle’s travel firm in early 1960s, Goyal worked his way up and held important positions in a number of airlines in the coming years.
In 1991, when Indian economy was liberalised, Goyal seized the opportunity. He launched Jet Airways in 1993, along with five other airlines that came up during the same time to challenge the monopoly of Air India.
However, in the coming days, none but only two — Sahara Airlines and Jet Airways — survived in the Indian skies. From the mid 1990s to first decade of the new century, Jet registered an unprecedented growth and in its peak, controlled nearly half of the sky.
In 2004, Jet Airways started international flights, went public in 2005 and in 2007, it acquired Air Sahara. It became the largest carrier by passenger market share in the country by 2010, a position it held until 2012.
However, with the growth and riches, Goyal’s name also surfaced in many unpleasant places, be it influencing policymakers from time to time and his connections with the underworld. He came out unharmed through it all.
People who know Goyal describe him as a charming short man with a white moustache, who is very good in building connections and winning “friends”. It is this quality that, many describe, helped him to get Etihad on board in 2013, when the airline was going through one of its toughest phase.
Already hit by the rise of budget carriers IndiGo and SpiceJet, which have lower operating expenses and higher efficiency, and the turbulences of 2013 when fuel prices peaked, Goyal managed to bring in Etihad, which pumped in $379 million in Jet for a 24 per cent stake.
Post the cash infusion, Jet survived for some time and even managed to post profits. However, things turned ugly in 2018 when crude oil prices shot up significantly, touching $80 and simultaneously, the Indian currency lost nearly 20 per cent of its value against the dollar.These two factors really dented the airline’s cash flow, and it couldn’t recover from there.
All may not be lost for Goyal
While Goyal’s stake in Jet Airways has been cut down to 25 per cent and he lost control over the board, there is still a bright chance of him making a comeback. That too, in quick two months.
The lenders, who are going to float EOIs in April for their equity stake, have kept the room open for all potential buyers, be it airlines, financial investors and even Goyal, if he finds money and a new partner.
It is known that Goyal has been scouting for investors and has met heads of major airlines. Now with extra time in his hands, it won’t be a surprise if he manages to put the best bid and regain control. It won’t be an easy task for him though, as cash rich groups such as Tatas and Ambanis have shown interest in Jet minus Goyal.