For Akarsh Hebbar, the watershed moment came sometime in late 2017.

The son-in-law of metal and mining magnate Anil Agarwal, Hebbar had been carefully avoiding the lure of joining the family business since his marriage to Priya Agarwal in 2013. Instead, the 35-year-old went on to study at the London School of Business, before joining global consultancy McKinsey as an associate after a brief internship at Google.

McKinsey became his ‘target’ primarily because it had a business technology consultancy arm, which would allow Hebbar—a confessed aficionado of technology—to work with the world’s top technology companies. “I was traveling all over the world doing that,” says Hebbar, who had previously worked with Oracle in India, Japan and Jordan.

Then, the inevitable happened. “One day, my father-in-law, says, Yeh kya professional job kar raha hai? [Why are you doing this professional job?]. Let him see our business.” To begin with, Agarwal, the chairman of Vedanta Resources, with interests spanning mining, oil and gas, and electric utility among others, tried coaxing his son-in-law into the world of mines, the mainstay of the family fortune.

“I was very bored,” Hebbar says. “What am I going to do with the mines?”

Thankfully for Hebbar, Agarwal’s ploy came up at a time when the family had set its eyes on AvanStrate Inc, a financially struggling Japanese manufacturer of LCD glass substrates. The acquisition was expected to give a fillip to Vedanta’s plans of setting up India’s first plant to make flat panel displays for televisions (TV) through its arm, Twin Star Display Technologies. Coincidentally, the billionaire had engaged McKinsey for due diligence on the asset.

“I looked at it as part of McKinsey and found it amazingly interesting,” Hebbar says. “I thought it was a pearl in the ocean and I said you should definitely go for it.” That firm tone of approval from his son-in-law, who had by then become rather obsessed with the stunning Japanese technology to manufacture thin display glasses, certainly was music to the ears of 69-year-old Agarwal. He then asked Hebbar to lead the distressed AvanStrate, which Vedanta acquired for $158 million in December 2017.

“The future in India is only for two or three things,” Agarwal tells Forbes India over a video call from London. “Seventy percent of our import are between natural resource and electronics. For electronics, the basic raw materials are chips and glass. So, I thought that if I can hold on to AvanStrate, I can build on that foundation.”

Today, it’s that decision that has given Vedanta enough ammunition to try and build India’s first semiconductor and glass display manufacturing facility. It has set up two subsidiaries, Vedanta Foxconn Semiconductors Limited (VFSL), which will set up a fab foundry to manufacture 28 nanometre (nm) and 40 nm wafers (slices of semiconductor material used to make integrated circuits), and Vedanta Displays Limited (VDL) that will make glass panels for applications such as TV, IT, automobiles and smartphones.

The entire project is estimated to cost Rs1.54 lakh crore, with the central government providing a 50 percent subsidy to both projects, as part of its $10 billion (Rs76,000 crore) Indian Semiconductor Mission package to promote semiconductor manufacturing in India.

Vedanta has already tied up with Taiwanese technology company Hon Hai Precision Industry, commonly known as Foxconn, for its semiconductor business. The joint venture has also brought on David Reed as the CEO of Vedanta Foxconn Semiconductors Limited. Reed, an industry veteran with over three decades of experience, previously worked with Dutch chip company, NXP Semiconductors, and GlobalFoundries.

“Semiconductor chips are the brains of every device,” explains Hebbar, who is now the global managing director of Vedanta’s semiconductor and display business. “We're also looking at the display ecosystem, which are the eyes of everything. Together they make up 60 percent of any electronic device. With our project, we are becoming the nucleus for electronic manufacturing.”

What’s Vedanta’s plan?
Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw had said last August that a decision on semiconductor approvals often takes between 14 and 16 months. By that estimate, the Indian government, which accepted applications in January 2022, is likely to give project approvals in the next few months.

Therefore, Vedanta reckons its applications are in their last mile run, even as it has almost firmed up land for its project in Gujarat. “We are going ahead,” Agarwal says. “Land has been allotted and the partnership with Foxconn has been tied up.”

On its part, Vedanta says it has met all the criteria laid out by the government. Vedanta holds a 63 percent stake in the semiconductor project, while Foxconn holds the remaining. The partnership, a first-of-its-kind in India, was stitched on mutual trust, and a strong belief by Foxconn that Vedanta is swift with their act, Agarwal says. “There cannot be two drivers on a car,” Agarwal says. “Young Liu, (Foxconn’s chairman) suggested that, because you are the son of the soil, you drive the car, and we'll sit by the side. They will take full responsibility on the technology side.”

“We realised very early on that what Vedanta has, Foxconn doesn't, and what Foxconn has, Vedanta doesn't,” Hebbar explains. “We have different revenues and different business streams. The forte that we have in manufacturing and business in India and the forte that they have in the technology ecosystem are complementary to each other.” Foxconn will be fully responsible for the operations and sales, and also the entire technology of the project.

Besides, the partnership is looking to acquire new licenses as quickly as it can as semiconductor technology undergoes a significant shift. “Semiconductor is such a business that we're acquiring production licenses every single day,” Hebbar says.

Foxconn has roped in a technology partner with a production-grade licence and expertise in manufacturing, as per government requirements. Vedanta, however, doesn’t want to divulge details about this company, although there were rumours of talks with STMicroelectronics. The company has also roped in Terry Daly, an IBM veteran and former senior vice president at GlobalFoundries, as an advisor for its semiconductor business.

“We have a very strong partner whose name we will reveal later, but they are a high volume, industrial automotive grade, 40 nm technology player,” Hebbar says. “When you're talking about automotive grade and industrial grade, you are surpassing every other grade, because of the safety nature of automotive.”

VFSL’s integrated semiconductor fab foundry will have the capacity to manufacture 40,000 wafers per month to cater to mobiles, consumer electronics, automotives, and network equipment. “We have got the technology partner, we have got the technology agreements, the definitive agreements, and submitted them to the government,” says Hebbar. “As our application gets processed, it will go through the most stringent process, to make sure we are not only the first but also the example for 10 more companies to come.”

“I liken this (project) to a Wernher von Braun moment [father of space travel] for India,” says Reed, who has recently made the shift to India. “This is an opportunity to bring the world's best talent from around the world, and everybody's interested in the world's first Indian production wafer plant.”

Meanwhile, in its glass display business, Vedanta has tied up with Taiwan-based InnoLux Corporation as its partner. The Taiwanese company was already AvanStrate’s client, which made the partnership an easy one to stitch. VDL will focus on Gen 8.6 A-Si IPS fabs, including glass, panel, and module with a per-month capacity of 60,000 sheets and 10 nm modules to cater to TV, IT, automobiles and smartphones.

“India has 25 percent of the world's population, which means there is captive demand,” Hebbar says. “Our import bill for electronics was $53 billion, about two-and-a-half years ago, but now it's close to $100 billion and that's going to become $400 billion by 2026-27. We are making this in India because we have the required assets. India is going to be the fifth country in the world that's going to have this ecosystem.”

Founded in 1966, the 718 Research Institute is affiliated to China Shipbuilding Corporation, covering an area of ​​more than 1,600 acres, distributed in "two places and six districts". The headquarters is located in Handan City, Hebei Province, and the branch is located in Beichen District, Tianjin City. A national key scientific research unit integrating scientific research and development, design, production, and technical services, it has won 2 first prizes and 2 second prizes of the National Science and Technology Progress Award, nearly 300 scientific and technological progress awards above the provincial and ministerial level , and nearly 700 authorized patents . The Institute has more than 2,400 employees and more than 1,200 scientific and technical personnel , including 108 researchers, more than 720 doctoral and master students ; more than 150 high-level talents such as special subsidies from the State Council, Hebei Provincial Government special subsidies, and senior experts from the group company .

         As a professional chemical defense research institute in China, it has always focused on the first responsibility of strengthening the military. It has complete military research and development, production, testing, and support capabilities and systems. It has provided various types of advanced and reliable equipment for the navy, land, air and space police, and has made outstanding contributions to my country's national defense.

         With "chemistry" as the foundation, "gas" as the core, and "materials" as the expansion, it has formed three pillar industries of special gases, hydrogen energy application, and new materials, and three key industries of instrumentation, special equipment, and health care Cultivate industry. Among them, the comprehensive strength of the special gas industry is domestically and internationally leading; the hydrogen energy application industry focuses on green hydrogen preparation technology, and is a major supplier of hydrogen production equipment systems at home and abroad.


So, is Vedanta looking to capitalise on the first-mover advantage once its approvals come through? “We are not here to occupy the whole pie,” Hebbar adds. “There's enough pie for people to share. It will be a miss if India doesn’t take an opportunity like this and immediately capitalises on it.”


Recommended Companies