Prior to founding The Caravel Group in 2013, Mr. Banga was the Vice Chairman of Noble Group, a leading global supply chain manager of commodity products, which he helped establish in 1989.
As Vice Chairman, Mr. Banga’s responsibilities on the Board of Directors included membership on the Nominating, Corporate Governance, Finance and Operations, Government Relations, and Investment and Capital Markets Committees. Prior to his retirement from all executive responsivities at Noble Group in 2010, Mr. Banga was fully responsible for the Logistics (including Ship Owning, Chartering and Management) and the Metals, Minerals and Ores (“MMO”) operating units. Mr. Banga also sat on several Executive Committees including the Capex, Risk, and Management Committees.
Mr. Banga, a Master Mariner, is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Ship Brokers. He is on the Advisory committee of the Centre for Transport, Trade and Financial Studies at City University, Hong Kong. Mr. Banga is also a member of the Singapore Institute of Directors. Previously, Mr. Banga had served as an Executive Committee Member of the Hong Kong Ship-owners Association for a period of eight years.
In January 2011, the then President of India, Mrs. Pratibha Patil conferred the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award on Mr. Banga for his outstanding achievements in the field of business, valuable contribution in promoting the honor and prestige of India and in fostering the needs of overseas Indians.
In 2011, Mr. Banga was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Sea trade. In the same year, he was also named “Personality of the Year” by The International Bulk Journal Mr. Banga is currently the President of the Forum of Indian Professionals in Hong Kong, and is also involved in other Indian and Hong Kong organizations. He is also a devoted patron of several philanthropic and charitable efforts both in India and abroad.
Mr. Banga, our readers would be delighted to hear about your roots:
I was born in Amritsar in 1950 into a Gursikh family. My father was in the civil services and retired as a Secretary to the Government. My mother was a home-maker. As a family, we travelled throughout Punjab. As my father was promoted
within the Government we spent a lot of time in Shimla, relocating to Chandigarh in the mid-1960s’. I’d always felt that I needed to broaden my horizons and see the world, and after learning about the maritime industry through a dear friend, I decided to join T.S. Dufferin and join the Merchant Navy. Following my maritime and engineering education, I began my career as a Seafarer, which culminated in me being promoted to one of the youngest officers to Captain a vessel. Having spent time as a Captain, after getting married and having my first son, my wife and I decided to come ashore. With this, I ventured into Europe and began working for a large multi-national corporation in London, Geneva which then relocated me to Hong Kong in 1984. 30 plus years later, I’m still in Hong Kong.
Traditionally, parents aspire for their children to follow their footsteps. Would you the say the same was true for you?
Oh Absolutely! I was under tremendous pressure to join the civil services like my father or to become an engineer. My father was aghast when he realized that I had registered to apply to Dufferin. In hindsight, many years down the line, my parents realized that my decisions were sound.
Did your move from Chandigarh to Mumbai bring about a culture shock, thinking Punjab to be backward in its ways?
At the time, I was definitely in awe of Mumbai’s development, and hustle & bustle as a large city. At the tender age of 16, it was perhaps the first time I was exposed to the world outside Punjab. That being said, life on the University campus in
addition to the training vessels was all planned and laid out. It was very disciplined lifestyle, with very little time available to do much else.
Tell us about your first vocation as a Mariner.
During those days, before ‘officially’ becoming a Mariner, candidates had to complete a five year course after graduating with a pre engineering degree (in those days it was a minimum of pre-engineering). The first two years were spent at Dufferin in Mumbai, which was followed by an additional 27 months on board a vessel training as a cadet. 6 months after this, I took my exams and was inducted as a cadet officer.
You’ve lived far and wide, how would you rate Hong Kong?
We’ve lived in Hong Kong for 30 years. Today, Hong Kong is ‘home’, and both my children grew up here and have returned to Hong Kong to work after receiving their education from USA. To me, Hong Kong is a cultural melting pot of diverse nationalities, a world-class city that offers everything a family could want – quality education and healthcare, an unrivalled infrastructure, it is extremely safe, and ample career opportunities to create a great life for oneself and their families. So, for us as a family unit, we see Hong Kong as home and consider it to be the best combination of the East and West. I don’t think I could imagine our family living anywhere else in the world.
Tell us about the inception of Caravel & The Noble Group?
I joined Mr. Richard Elman, in 1989 to formally establish the Noble Group in 1989. Richard was Chairman, and I was the Vice Chairman, and we saw the business begin with 11 people in a small office in Hong Kong, which ultimately grew into Asia’s largest commodity trading company, and a Fortune 100 company. For the better part of 20+ years, building the Noble Group into what it is, was my life and took most of my energy and commitment.
The ties with Noble Group were hard to break, but by 2010, the company employed over 5,000 people in their global offices and also employed a further 20,000 people in mines, plants, and vessels across the world. The business was truly institutional and world class. After my official departure, I remained one of the largest shareholders and it took me further 36 months to transition out fully, including selling down my shares, and passing on my responsibilities to the up and coming senior management teams. The decision to begin the Caravel Group was not an easy decision. In fact, it was not even on the cards after I had chosen to retire from Noble.
Ultimately, the family decided to create a new business to institutionalize some of the other businesses that I owned, under one corporate umbrella, and to take on new challenges that I believed would allow us to create a leading company that could benefit from changing market dynamics, and a shift in the global maritime and commodity industries. Thus, the Caravel Group was born, and my two sons in addition to several old colleagues and business associates joined me to begin our new journey.
With your personal success felt at Noble, can you share with us challenging moments that shaped you?
When we began Noble, I did not have any safety net to fall back on. The success (or failure) of Noble would ultimately dictate the livelihood of my family. With this in the back of my mind, it truly shed a new light on how I had to manage a business, my family (with the unyielding support of my wife), and this helped cultivate a dedication towards driving Noble to success. One of the main challenges, as a result, was to accept that I had to focus on work, with my wife focusing on the family.
Knowing that I would not be able to spend as much time with my family was a huge challenge that I had to overcome.
From a business perspective, in the early days of Noble’s inception, banking facilities were extremely tight. We were doing something very new, and banks were extremely vigilant about lending money to start-up companies, and especially those which they perhaps did not understand fully. However, this did not stop us from thriving in our markets. We aimed at being leaders and innovators, which meant taking calculated risks. We were also delving into emerging markets, namely China and India.
The spread of globalization and opening of trade barriers presented its own challenges, but it also meant staying 10 steps ahead and setting the pace of changing trends. At a time when globalization had just begun, and we were looking to conduct business globally, I had to quickly adapt and truly become a global citizen. Although I am Indian to the core, I had to quickly understand Chinese, Japanese or other cultural values in order to conduct business. To be accepted by these different markets, was truly challenging, but also extremely rewarding, and I believe has also helped shape the person I am today.
What brought the Captain to Noble Group?
Shortly after my tertiary education in London, I began my career in the commercial management of ships, in addition to the beginnings of my experience in the trading and logistics of commodities and finance. This to me was the culmination of what Noble required from me at the time. It was a perfect marriage of commodities and shipping. Noble has since been a leading expert in these sectors.
My experiences, combined with my desire to create something and my view of where the world was heading, drove me to establish Noble with Richard. We both brought very different skill sets to the table, which when combined, was the
beginning of something great.
Did Caravel start with focused business lines or did you diversify as you did in Noble?
The genesis of Caravel was to create a business that was a truly global conglomerate, which a core expertise and focus on providing valueadded maritime services, and the trading and logistics of dry bulk commodities. This was to be the initial focus, and obviously where most of my experiences lay. I was joined by several old colleagues and friends from Noble, which would then allow us to grow this part of the business. In addition, we also began an Asset Management business focused on global investments in mainly liquid assets), to help diversify our overall risk concentration of the business away from just shipping and commodities. In addition, my children had come from careers in Finance, and so it was also a logical next step, given their experiences.
How easy was it to build your own corporation then, considering the instability of the markets?
Today, in a highly competitive and fast moving market, we are able to leverage on our historical track records, performance, people, and knowledge. Prices will see-saw but our mission has always been to be cutting edge in trading commodities, ensuring full pipelines and flexibility of investment to enable us to succeed. Volatility in markets is essential to our business. Our expertise in understanding the risks we are taking, and the challenge is to manage this, in order to succeed. Given what we were, and are continuing to see in global financial and commodity markets, I think it has been a great time to start the Caravel Group.
Caravel consists of a Maritime and Resources division, how are these run?
Under the Caravel Group, we have 3 primary business units – Caravel Maritime, which houses the Group’s shipping activities, Caravel Resources which focuses on the trading of industrial dry bulk commodities, and Caravel Asset Management, which is an institutional investment manager. Through these three units, we provide value added solutions in distinct but complementary areas, and look to identify and capitalize on select opportunities within each Caravel Maritime incorporates all of our shipping activities, namely ship management through Fleet Management Limited, and commercial and charting operations under the banner of Caravel Shipping, in addition to selectively looking at vessel ownership through our subsidiary, Caravel Maritime Assets. I previously founded Fleet Management under Noble Group in 1994, and acquired the business in 2011. We restructured it under Caravel Maritime in January 2014.
Caravel Resources is a leading provider of solutions across the industrial dry bulk value chain. We focus on the trading of raw materials principally used in the steel and energy industries – iron ore, carbons and minor bulks, such as nickel, chrome and manganese ores. Caravel Resources provides a seamless supply chain utilizing the synergies that our three business divisions provide. The business is focused on providing all of our client’s efficient and cost-effective solutions. We also tailor offerings to the individual requirements of producers and consumers. Caravel Asset Management employs a conservative investment strategy and has a core focus on making direct investments in global liquid markets including public equity and credit, across all industries.
Do you have bigger dreams ahead, such like Caravel?
Dreams and visions are when you have time to create something you know. And as life goes, my dream and vision is to pass the business to my children. You pass the baton to the next generation & hope that it becomes a bigger dream with a
brighter vision and I can be more of a supporter of what they do.
What is your bench strength looking like currently?
We have about 700 people across our global offices in Hong Kong, China, The Philippines, Singapore, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Cyprus, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.
In addition, we have around 11,000 people employed to help manage our ships. Most of these seafarers come from India, China, the Philippines and Eastern Europe. The businesses we run depend on our human capital. As such, we invest heavily behind our talent, and have created a very strong group of individuals, who work cohesively as a team to help drive the business on a day-to-day basis.
Does Caravel own vessels as well as managing fleet?
Yes, today, we are invested in 8 container vessels, through our joint ventures. In addition, we are actively looking at purchasing dry bulk vessels, given how we see the state of the market. In addition, we manage vessel fleets on behalf of owners, both from a technical and commercial perspective. We have clients globally, from Japan, the US, India, China, Korea and Europe.
Are your vessels bulk, raw or gas?
From an ownership perspective, Caravel owns its own container ships. We have 2 that are in the water, and 6 that have been ordered.
From the leasing end and chartering side, we operate bulk carriers for our own cargo as well as third party cargo. We have over 60 vessels on charter, and transport over 10 million tons of dry cargo.
We currently manage a range of vessels including bulk carriers, containers, oil tankers, gas carriers, and chemical tankers, ranging from 20,000 to 300,000 DWT – with many being young and energy-efficient with an age profile below the industry average. Currently, we’re managing over 350 vessels in our fleet.
Caravel must have a diverse set of people within the company?
Our people are our best investment. Today, we have over 28 nationalities across our businesses, across the 11 countries in which we have a presence.
So yes, I truly believe we have a global and very diverse net of people helping to manage our business.
What do you put your success down to?
It’s a combination of many things. One can be the very best at what one does; but at the other end of the spectrum, it’s consistency, retaining the best talent, innovative thinking and ‘giving back’. At other times, it’s about being in the right place at the right time.
How many associations are you attached with in Hong Kong?
I am associated with the Forum of Indian professional in Hong Kong as their President. I am also a member of CHIA –Council of Hong Kong Indian Associations and am involved with the Polytechnic University and CUHK.
How do you find time juggling between family and work?
I’ve become a juggler, squeezing in quality time, albeit a quick 10 minutes to extend myself during the day. Getting the most out in the shortest possible time adds minutes to the day. At the same time, it’s a tender balance between investing time and energy diligently.
It is said that businesses succeed when material needs are met by divine inspiration. We certainly are a god-abiding family, and are believers of the Sikh religion. Our family is staunch followers of Guru Nanak, and adheres to the Sikh raditions. My father and brother wear a full turban. We offer our obeisance to our Guru Granth Sabib at home, and my wife offers worship as part of our daily ritual. We derive so much energy and strength from our faith.
The Sikh community is a growing community in Hong Kong, do you think it has made its mark here?
Although a growing community in Hong Kong, the Sikh community has played a significant role in Hong Kong. The Sikh community is pervasive throughout Hong Kong– in the police force, in the retail industry, self-made entrepreneurs in hospitality, to leaders in leading corporations. The Sikh community is also very proud of its beautiful temple standing tall in the heart of the city, feeding thousands of people every week and giving back to its own community and Hong Kong at large.
We’d like to think there is room to grow for our community, where you do think the golden nugget lies?
The Sikh community plays a strong role in promoting education. A lot of money is donated to support organizations advocating education.
Compared to 20 years ago, the community has not only grown numerically, the next generation of Sikh youth are bright students working towards becoming lawyers, doctors and engineers. Early Sikh settlers were not as educated as the community today, so change is both positive and pervasive.
Your secret to staying exhilarated and youthful:
It’s how one see’s life; and I want to believe that your state of mind shapes your life. Certainly your health is important, and an integrated lifestyle of good friends and relationships bolster living. Yet all things external are changeable and most people react to changing circumstances. Living life around circumstances has an effect on mental and physical health. How one processes day to day events, and maintains a healthy sound mind is imperative.
Your family are your pride and joy?
Ah yes! I am very proud of my family. I am one of two brothers, my brother runs a successful corporation in India. Both my boys make me very proud having progressed with flying colors through school and university and are core parts of the business. My wife, who has always stood beside me and supported me through life’s ups and downs, is involved in various charity organizations and plans our social calendar. Last, but not least, my youngest daughter in law, a former banker has also joined the business.
How does the patriarch of Caravel spend his leisure?
I must say it’s been a struggle to find free time. With little or no time on the weekends except Sunday, any chance I can get is spent travelling. Spending Sunday with the family is a cardinal rule. As I move away from Caravel’s operations, I will pursue hobbies – what they are, I don’t know but surely I’ll find a hobby.
Do you watch movies?
Only on planes. When you are working 14 – 16 hours of the day for 40 years you don’t get a lot of time. I’d spend 20 days out of 30 days traveling at Noble.
What is the message you would like to give to the young generation?
Commit yourself to what you want to do, honesty, loyalty and ethics. Then play your best game!
Thank you so much!