The year 2023 was a significant year for Indian businesses, across segments. Start ups struggled with a funding winter as investments into tech startups was at a five-year low of $7 billion. For the auto sector, this has been a year when the domestic industry went through a major transition from conventional fuel-powered engines to battery-powered motors. After a lull Covid-induced lull, the aviation industry recorde robust passenger growth. But it was also a year when one of the significant players in the aviation industry went into bankruptcy. It was a good year for the government's Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC), as the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup helped hit a fresh peak of 53,000 orders.
Overall, it was a mixed bag year for Indian companies. Some sectors overcame post-pandemic blues, some are still struggling. Here’s a list of the most influential CEOs of 2023, some of whom made news for the right reasons, some not quite:
T Koshy - ONDC
T Koshy was probably the most interviewed CEO this year. The chief executive officer of Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) has been in the news for the past year for its rapid expansion and adoption. In January this year Koshy wrote, “Remember that today, only an estimated 6-7% of the consumers in India shop online, and on the other hand, maybe 1% of the sellers sell through digital channels. 2022 saw many large, successful companies along with a few hundred start-ups integrate with ONDC, and I expect many more to join ONDC in 2023 with a pipeline of around 700 entities already submitted an Expression of Interest.”
T Koshy, has been speaking about the revolutionary impact that the network is going to bring and celebrating various milestones in terms of number of transactions and addition of features throughout the year. While speaking to The Core, he called ONDC the HTTP of e-commerce and said, “For the next one year we will see an accelerated growth, not that exponential growth. And probably in a year's time, you'll see the exponential growth happening.”
Naresh Goyal - Jet Airways
It’s not a full year without someone landing in trouble with the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Naresh Goyal of Jet Airways, once the aviation industry’s blue-eyed boy, had ED knocking on his door in September. He was arrested in connection with an alleged fraud of Rs 538 crore with Canara Bank.
In November 2022, Canara Bank lodged a complaint of cheating, criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, and criminal misconduct, among others, against Goyal and his wife for using funds meant for Jet Airways (India) Ltd. (JIL) for personal expenses.
According to reports, Canara Bank alleged that the airline's forensic audit revealed that it paid ‘related companies’ Rs 1,410.41 crore out of total commission expenses, syphoning of funds from JIL. Subsequently in May 2023, a fraud case was registered against them by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The ED later filed a money laundering case.
Hari Om Rai - Lava International
Four people were arrested in the ED case against Vivo’ case in October which included mobile phone manufacturer Lava International’s managing director, Hari Om Rai.
ED alleged that Rai was approached by Vivo for helping them establish their business in India and that Rai was offered an initial funding of Rs 3.17 crore for setting up offices and residential accommodation of Chinese nationals of Vivo Mobile India Pvt Ltd and its state distributors, via Labquest Engineering Private Limited.
ED stated, “Furthermore, no collateral or security was given by Labquest towards Lava International for these fund transfers. This clearly shows that these fund transfers were not genuine business transactions. From May 2014 to December 2014 Lava International had transferred funds totaling Rs 2.62 crore to the account of Labquest Engineering Private Limited.”
Gautam Singhania - Raymond
Raymond Industries’ Gautam Singhania’s marital dispute made it to national news this year. In November, Nawaz Modi Singhania, his former wife, accused Singhania of assaulting her and their daughter after he announced his divorce. She has reportedly sought 75% of Singhania’s $1.4 billion fortune as part of a settlement.
Singhania maintained that his personal life won’t have any bearing on the company and “at Raymond it is business as usual." However, for the cautious investors, this development was a warning signal and this public dispute translated into $180 million being wiped off of Raymond’s market value while its stock prices took a hit of about 12%.
As per recent reports, the two have started talks for a “realistic” settlement.
Bhavish Aggarwal - Ola Electric
This year was the year of electric vehicles (EVs). Bhavish Aggarwal of Ola Electricwas one of the most talked-about business leaders in the country in 2023.
Ola Electric, the two-wheeler EV manufacturer, saw unprecedented growth as EV adoption surged. As of early December, Ola Electrics sold 2.36 lakh electric scooters. Once a new entrant in the EV segment, Ola Electrics now enjoys a 38% market share.
However, not all was good in terms of public image for Aggrawal. A much-debated statement by Narayan Murthy claiming that Indians need to work 70 hours a week was seconded by the startup founder while he praised his employees’ commitment. His tweet received mixed reactions too, and some accused him of glorifying overworking.
The thirty-seven-year old CEO also took some bold bets this year. He set up an AI chatbot - Krutrim, multiple rounds of funding and IPO plans are underway for Ola Cabs and Ola Electrics too. He was featured on the TIME 100 Climate List which said, “Some 70% of the vehicles on India’s roads are mopeds and scooters, and Bhavish Aggarwal is leading the path to electrifying them.”
Kaushik Khona - Go Air
It was a turbulent year for Go First (founded as Go Air). Uncertainty looms large over the now-grounded airlines. It filed for bankruptcy protection in May 2023, after repeated engine failures, mainly triggered by Pratt & Whitney engine issues. In an internal email notifying of his resignation he wrote, “The hopes reached high again on 21st July 2023 when the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) permission was received. Since then you have left no stone unturned to get the operations resumed.”
Its former CEO Kaushik Khona resigned seven months after the company filed for bankruptcy. This was Khona’s second stint at the company – the previous one was from 2008 - 2011. Khona had returned to Go First in August 2020 as its CEO.