Cash-rich pharma billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla who got wealthy making low-cost vaccines that his Serum Institute of India sells around the world, has put in a $937 million bid for London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. The 494-room property, located in the Mayfair area and managed by J.W.Marriott, is owned by the Sahara India Group whose controversial boss Subrata Roy has been languishing in an Indian jail since March for dues owed to the market regulator, the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
Sahara has put three of its hotels up for sale, The Plaza in New York and the Dream New York Hotel apart from the Grosvenor, in a bid to raise funds to the tune of $1.7 billion, being the amount that Roy must pay SEBI, to get out of jail. Roy had bought the Grosvenor for $725 million in 2010 and then went on to snatch the New York hotels for c lose to $800 million in 2012. Poonawalla is one of three bidders, the other two being an investment arm of the royal family of Qatar and the Sultan of Brunei who have reportedly bid for all three properties.
This is not Poonawalla’s first foray overseas-he bought Dutch vaccine maker Bilthoven Biologicals in 2012- and nor is it his first hotel investment; he owns a 50% stake in an upcoming Ritz Carlton in his hometown of Pune. That hotel is a project of property magnate Atul Chordia of Panchshil Realty, who features among India’s wealthiest and was in the news recently for partnering Blackstone Group to snatch a Mumbai office tower for $140 million. But this bid, for which Poonawalla has teamed up again with Chordia, is his most ambitious to date.
When I asked the vaccine tycoon what had spurred him to aim for the Grosvenor, he said that the hotel is a “trophy” and that he and son Adar who helps him run Serum, have been on the lookout for such assets for a while. “ We are keen to diversify into brick and mortar and this property seems like good value for money. “ said the billionaire who is a regular visitor to London especially during Indian summer months.
He ruled out any likelihood of being drawn into a price war with the Sultan and the Qataris. The latter duo seem to have a better chance since they are interested in the trio of hotels and Sahara may be disinclined to sell the assets piecemeal and do a quick deal for the whole lot. Meantime, India’s Supreme Court turned down Roy’s plea for a 40-day parole to complete the sale, saying he would be released only for a few hours during the day under police escort.