Tim Wright was asked to join a new venture. PK Iyer and his fellow promoters wanted to put the IPL franchise into a new company.
At a table outside Scott’s, in Mayfair, on the sort of spring day where there is nowhere quite like London, I sat down for lunch with PK Iyer, managing director of Deccan Chronicle Holdings (DCH). This was the listed holding company for India’s third-largest newspaper, the Deccan Chronicle, and the Deccan Chargers of Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise. Its stock was doing well on both the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange. I was managing director of the sports management company, IMG, in India. Since the beginning of 2008, I had been in Mumbai helping to create the IPL at breakneck speed in face of a rival tournament being created by the satellite channel, Zee TV. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needed to see off this rival and that urgency had inspired this land-grab setting up of the IPL
During a hectic previous few months, I had spent time with all of the franchise owners representing the Indian ‘metro’ cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata – plus Rajasthan and Chandigarh. After meeting PK Iyer before a Kolkata Knight Riders v Deccan Chargers IPL match in Kolkata, he had asked me to meet with him in London to discuss a new venture. He and his fellow promoters wanted to put the IPL franchise into a newco. and to use that vehicle to build a ‘sports city’ in Hyderabad. A business plan suggested the newco could be worth $4 billion. PK Iyer was excited. He told me:
“We would like you to be the CEO of our new company. You will be granted 3.5% of the equity, marketable from day one. I want you to be a wealthy man. Why? Well, I sold my first business for $100 million in cash when I was 30. Financial independence gave me confidence that has allowed my career to properly flourish; I want you to have that same confidence. Why? Because you will have a small part of equity, we will have a large part. Your confidence will be good for us all. Do the maths: 3.5% of the new company will be worth more than $140 million. Get used to it: Tim is going to be a very wealthy man.”
Mr. Iyer offered a generous salary and assured me all the decisions would be mine to make:
“Chargers will be yours to run.”
“May I change the team’s colors and the Captain?”
“Done! Change anything. IPL team will be yours.”
Equity in IPL franchises was extremely valuable: the teams had been bought for about $100 million ‘off-plan’ only a few months earlier and, because of the success of the inaugural season, were quickly worth two or even three times that. I would be well-paid to work in a sport I knew and loved. I could see that lifting Chargers from the last place towards glory was achievable: IPL was new, the tournament’s format was very open with four out of eight teams qualifying for the semi-finals: a 50/50 chance of making these playoffs. After that, it would be a shoot-out. Another 50/50. In a shoot-out, any result is possible, especially in a short format match. I thanked PK Iyer for his offer.
On May 13, 2008, almost a week after our lunch meeting, a bomb blast in Jaipur killed 63 people. 213 were badly injured. I decided the region was too politically charged and that I couldn’t work in India. So, at 10.00 on May 14, at the St James’ Court Hotel, I thanked Mr. Iyer for his offer but told him that I had decided against it. Before my opening sentence was even complete he interrupted and tried to take my stated reason – the terrorist bomb and the general instability in the region – out of play. He was apparently reading a book by Thomas Friedman called The World is Flat and said:
“I have no issue with where you are based. Anywhere, Tim. Anywhere with a cellular network and access to broadband internet.”
He then said I probably knew that Indian owners interfered so that even senior employees never had control of decisions. I said nothing. I listened. Iyer wanted me to have a ‘substantial’ severance guarantee to protect me against that possibility eventuating at Deccan. I asked for his definition of ‘substantial’, trying to sound only casually interested. He threw the question straight back at me.
“Well, on the basis of the $140 million of equity you are offering – £10 million seems a reasonable figure.”
“Done! Have your lawyer put that in a contract.” Iyer replied, instantly.
My lawyer, I thought. That’s a good advantage to give me. Employment contracts are invariably drafted by the employer. I then told PK Iyer I had been advised by an Indian businessman working in London who had told me that if I was planning to accept, I should negotiate a signing-on fee. Again, Iyer immediately asked me a for a number:
“£250,000,” I told him.
“Is that the right number?”
“Are you sure?”
“I am sure,” I replied, wondering where he was heading.
“Done! And Tim, if you had asked me for £500,000 I would have given you £500,000.”
I was being offered the enlightened support of a man whose company owned an IPL franchise over which I would apparently have control. The promoters would invest $100 million into the new venture. I would shape the strategy towards an IPO, which PK Iyer hoped would raise $900 million. I would be well paid to run the company from London. All this would be front-loaded by the signing-on bonus, and a decent chunk of the value of my equity would be under-written by the severance guarantee. I instructed Michael Burd, head of employment, at the law firm Lewis Silkin to draft my contract. During 2007 the department Burd led had been Employment Department of the Year according to The Lawyer magazine. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, first, when I arrived to start work in Hyderabad a few short weeks later, PK Iyer seemed like a different man to the one with whom I had agreed on this deal. And when I say different I mean completely and utterly different– he had gone from charm personified in London to cold, sullen and aggressive. Something I may never fully know had changed completely. Everything he did on day one seemed calculated to undermine and unsettle me.
He told me: “We are the government of Andhra Pradesh. Chronicle gives us the power to make and break politicians.”
He showed me a dossier on Lalit Modi and told me, “All newspapers have the same. Your friend is not as clever as he thinks he is.”
Lalit Modi had been my client. He was not my friend. What was this about?
If this was unsettling, within a few months we were facing up to the sub-prime issue, Lehman Brothers, and the biggest financial crash in history. And, as Warren Buffet said, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you see who’s not wearing pants.”
Stock analysts continued to recommend Deccan as a ‘buy’ but something wasn’t right in Hyderabad…the signals were hard to ignore. Then, when Mumbai was attacked by terrorists in November, PK Iyer ordered me back to London and told me not to return until March 1st.
“Not March 2nd, but March 1st itself.” He said, with dramatic effect.
Venkat Reddy, a cousin of the owners, who in theory reported to me, then called me in London in late December to say he had received a call from someone from the government, asking about my visa. He asked me to send him a copy of every page of my passport. He was going to send those pages to this man from the government.
“Well, who is he?” I asked.
“He is from the government.”
“Well, I suggest we do this: you give me his name and his email. I will deal with him directly.”
“I don’t have his details.”
“He called on my mobile telephone when I was outside India. Therefore, his number did not show up on my screen.”
“A man from the government of India called your mobile? And left no details for you to contact him?”
“So you have no means of doing so.”
“Of doing so?”
“If you have no means of contacting him, there is no point me sending you a copy of my passport: where will you send it? We will wait until he makes contact again. And when he does, you will get his contact details and send them to me.”
He then sent an e-mail suggesting that an “unknown Mumbai based organization” was looking to cause trouble for IMG and IPL on the basis of widespread visa misuse.
He wrote: “Matter little serious.”
I called Lalit Modi, the Chairman & Commissioner of IPL, who knew nothing of any visa investigation. In his direct style he asked:
“What’s this about?”
When I told him, he laughed.
“They are blackmailing you!”
I called Peter Griffiths at IMG, who was a senior executive on the IPL project. He knew nothing of any visa investigation. Then I received a copy of an email forwarded to me by the coach asking: “What’s your view of this, Boss?”
The email he attached set out plans for a Chargers tour to Dubai about which I knew nothing.
By January 15, 2009, the signals from Hyderabad were sufficiently odd that I needed to flush PK Iyer out. I wrote setting out the key decisions which needed to be taken, highlighting overdue payments to players and members of the coaching staff. I wrote about the company’s continued failure to grant my equity or to set up my private health cover etc. I sent a copy to Michael Burd at Lewis Silkin, who replied:
On the morning of Monday, January 19, PK Iyer called me. He sounded subdued:
“Have you seen my letter?”
“I have not.”
“It should be in your inbox. Read it and call me.”
Deccan Chargers Sporting Ventures Limited
January 17, 2009, PK lyer’s letter to Tim Wright
It has been a long silence since your communication on January 15, reached me. Much has flown down the Ganges since then and the turn of events has all been adverse. The economic meltdown was just a jerk which we were capable of withstanding. But the Satyam Episode has seriously eroded the confidence of the investors/lending banks incorporates, more particularly, those headquartered in Hyderabad. Never in our corporate history have we witnessed a downturn as we are seeing today. The tough get going only during tough times. Leadership has to be visible and should lead from the front and be ever-present at the site of action. Ours have always been a 24/7 commitment. Your long absence from Hyderabad is making things difficult for Chargers. I have also taken a conscious decision in view of the liquidity crunch not to make additional investments in Chargers during the year but keep the show going.
Chargers have been at the bottom at IPL Inaugural Edition, it can only be progression upwards in the Second Edition in April/May 2009. I have a gut feeling that the team would sparkle during this summer.
What disturbs me most is an organized effort from unknown quarters to close in on IMG and through it IPL-BCCI. I learn from Venkat that the immigration authorities in Hyderabad have opened up a dossier on your extended stay in India during IPL team auction and would soon launch criminal prosecution if prima facie case is made out that you stayed on without a valid visa. In this situation, it appears that your coming to India is not advisable. Once arrested, it would be too difficult to extricate out of the situation. I strongly feel that we should have an interim Business Head to lead Chargers as quickly as possible.
Tim, I have full faith in your abilities to turn Deccan Chargers not only into a winning team but also to enhance its profitability and enterprise value. This not only requires a commitment which you have but relocation to Hyderabad permanently which in the present circumstances is loaded with risk, The Board of DCSV Ltd, have also resolved to direct your relocation to Hyderabad immediately, I would, therefore, suggest that we mutually agree to rescind this contract effective February 01, 2009, When the dust that has been kicked settles down and the Second Edition of IPL concludes, we shall meet again at London and consider crystallizing our understanding into a fresh agreement which would if finally approved vest you with enough authority to lead Chargers with full autonomy and responsibility only towards achieving approved budgets while maintaining integrity team ethics and conforming to the laws of the land.
Yours sincerely PK lyer
How could I trust these people?
Could I risk arrest, even though I knew my visa was fine? I had seen all the movies in which strange things happen to people. Would they plant drugs on me? Would they find some other way to discredit me? I couldn’t take the risk and I didn’t need to. I issued proceedings against Chronicle Holdings, which had given a parent guarantee on the financial and other obligations made in the contract pursuant to which I became CEO of the subsidiary, Deccan Chargers Sporting Ventures.
During the 2009 IPL season, which began two months after I left, Chargers, which had finished last in season one, became IPL Champions. Chumps to champs in short order! Darren Lehmann the head coach (who would go on to be the head coach of the Australia cricket team) said,
“Without Tim Wright, Deccan Chargers would not have won the IPL.”
Kind, very kind, and greatly appreciated, but nothing could quite compensate for the thrill of being there to see the work that Lehmann, Adam Gilchrist, and I had developed, bear fruit.
The litigation was protracted. As litigation is, the ground was won slowly and painfully. But there were occasionally great breakthroughs. During 2011 a Mr. Balraj, who had filed a complaint against my visa, admitted at the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh that he had done so on behalf of Deccan. My employer had brought the false and entirely without substance assertions against me. Classy.
At the High Court in London, in 2012, I was awarded £10.53 million in damages plus £956,000 in legal costs. Simple interest on the award was set at 8%. Interest in the costs at 4%.
Deccan sent lawyers to 44 successive Section 13 enforcement hearings in Hyderabad at which a succession of judges considered themselves too busy to address their minds to the issue at hand. This is all detailed in the separate document entitled ‘Enforcement Chronology.’
As at the end of May 2020, I am owed £17,477,322.47.
Read Timothy Wright v Deccan Chronicle Holdings Enforcement Chronology below:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.