On 15 December, news outlets reported that 219 employees of Air India have submitted their Expression of Interest in bidding for control of the airline. This is the first time in corporate history that employees of a public-sector undertaking have decided to be part of the bid process.
Regardless of whether or not they are successful, the fact that they chose to be part of the bid process is monumental in itself. Amongst the many contenders they’re up against are erstwhile owners Tata Sons.
Meenakshi Mallik, the airline’s first woman Director (Commercial), member of Air India’s board, and a key player in the employees’ bid, says, “We always believed Air India could be a profitable set up. The government has removed a huge part of the debt, so we thought, who better than us? We know the airline inside out, and where the problems lie. We’re not bidding to win or lose, we’re doing it because we believe we can run the airline well.”
Looking beyond numbers
The bidding process is underway, and financial bids are to be submitted subsequently. What is interesting is how a group of public sector employees is fearlessly breaking stereotypes and creating history.
While there is a lot of chatter around how much money is being invested and what the stakes are, this is also a story driven largely by human emotion and strong convictions. Speaking to The Better India, Vivek Raja, the legal counsel for the employees bidding, says, “I have been witness to some phenomenal stories while working with these 219 individuals. Their passion for and connect with the airline is what is driving them to make this bid.”
This group represents a cross-section of the airline, from office assistants to ground staff, pilots, cabin crew, and board members. Each participating employee may have to furnish a maximum of Rs 1 lakh to be part of the final bid, a source informs us. For many members of the support staff who are part of this consortium, raising this amount may be tough. However, what has driven them to somehow manage to gather money is the sheer belief in the company, and in those who have come together to make the bid.
“A gentleman who was part of the bidding process drove with his children to submit the bid. All the children did was drive with their father and watch him go up a lift to submit the papers, but he wanted his children to be witness to the entire thing – history as it was being made. This is the spirit being displayed, the fuel that’s driving this process. For many employees, Air India has been their home for decades. It isn’t just an airline and certainly isn’t just a job,” Vivek says.
What Does the Bid Mean?
This cannot be compared with ESOPs or other employee shareholding structures, Vivek says, “Employees typically get an ESOP (Employee Stock Option), which usually amounts to a very minor portion of the company’s share. In this case, the employees are bidding for a majority stake (51 per cent) and a chance to run the company. It speaks of the conviction that they have in the company and their ability to run the business well. They’re literally putting their money where their mouth is.”
Adding to this, Meenakshi says, “The attitude with which the bid was submitted was not one of superiority by the employees, but one of great humility – keeping the company’s benefit in mind. It is purely for the love for the company.”
In conclusion Meenakshi adds, “Air India is my family and all I am doing, together with 218 others, is for the betterment of this family. This is not an emotional decision, it is a purely commercial call. We believe this company can be a profitable concern.”
All eyes are now on the government, who will, in all likelihood, release the names of those bids that have qualified on 5 January 2021.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)