‘India’s economy is more efficient than China’s’

India has emerged a clear winner over redland China in the global business plans of French MNC, the e35-bn Saint-Gobain group.

The group has decided to invest more in India in the next five years to grow its major businesses — flat glass, construction products and high performance materials.

In an exclusive interview to ET on his visit to India after five years, group chairman & CEO Jean Louis Beffa said, “In ’06, the turnover will exceed Rs 1,800 crore. We expect a significant growth to come from expansion of glass business (Rs 800 crore), GNO’s abrasives and other divisions and from the integration of India Gypsum.”

The group recently acquired India Gypsum, after its takeover of the UK major British Plaster Board (BPB) last year. The group started its operations in 1996 by virtue of inheriting Grindwell Norton (GNO) here as an offshoot of its acquisition of Norton of the US. The company had a turnover of Rs 161 crore then. Since then, it has grown to nine entities employing 3,000 people. The figure will read 3,500, if India Gypsum were included. Anand Mahajan, group general delegate, South Asia, said, “Since 1996, we are growing an at impressive 22% every year.

We are also able to achieve a profitable growth.” Among the businesses, the group is No 1 in five businesses — flat glass (SG Glass India), reinforcements (SG Vetrotex India) fused refractories (SEPR India), plasterboard (India Gypsum) and silicon carbide (GNO). It is No 2 in automotive glass (SG Sekurit India). Though it is No 2 in abrasives (GNO), it hopes to become a leader in the near future. It is also working on acquisition plans in India. Globally, the group has two lakh employees in 51 countries. It is looking for good growth with record net sales of e40bn. It is targeting a 20% growth in net profit at e1.5bn.

On India versus China, Mr Beffa said, “The market economy is working much more efficiently and clearly in India than in China. The market in China is not as clear as in India.” “The last time I visited India was in ’01. I must say now there is a sense of confidence and dynamism in India, which is really encouraging. I have been visiting various countries including Brazil, Mexico and China.

I find a new speed of growth in India. India is set to grow at the current fantastic rate of 7-8% in the next five years. It can even reach the level of China if it decides to overcome infrastructure constraints and high energy cost,” he said. Mr Beffa said, “India has been the most successful story for us. Profitability of our investments has been above the level of China.

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