“To be a successful professional one has to have a fire in the belly and eyes on the target.” – Embark on a journey through the professional milestones of Prakhar Sharma, General Counsel of Kotak Alternate Asset Managers

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

Could you share a bit about your professional journey, from your early days in the legal field to your current role as General Counsel at Kotak Alternate Asset Managers?

I still remember that when I started my career as an intern, the first task assigned to me was to draft a joint venture agreement and I had no clue what to write in the contract other than the name of the parties ! Unfortunately there was no google to help so it took me a week to do my research and then draft my first contract at work which was quite appreciated. 

I’ve grown up with middle class values and started my professional journey from ground up, whether it was drafting contracts or plaints, attending courts, doing legal research or conducting due diligence exercises. 

Subsequently, my international experience of leading complex cross border M&As as well as handling litigations in foreign courts further helped me in taking a more holistic approach on various legal issues. 

Legal profession has gone through a sea change in the last two decades. Advent of technology and evolving regulatory framework has made the profession quite interesting. While complexities may have increased, the fundamental principles remain the same.

As someone who has successfully navigated the realms of litigation, dispute resolution, and complex investment banking transactions, how do you approach the challenge of balancing these contrasting worlds, and what strategic approaches have you found effective in doing so?

It’s just like when we are in school, we learn all the subjects with the object of excelling in each one.  As a chartered accountant I love finance and numbers that helps me understand complex business transactions, while law has been my passion. So I’ve always adopted a holistic approach towards managing litigations as well as investment banking transactions. I believe that every contract, at inception itself needs to be analysed with the “what if this were to test the courts” scenario to ensure it is robust.

You’ve been a key player in numerous cross-border M&A deals, private equity transactions, and capital market transactions. What insights can you share about the evolving landscape of such transactions, and how do you stay ahead of the curve in this dynamic environment?

M&A and private equity deals have definitely become more complex and that is because the business landscape is dynamic and the regulatory framework has to keep up with the changing pace. But the root of even the most complex deal is a simple business transaction. The effort should be to understand that underlying basic transaction and the rest will fall in place.

Technology is another aspect that one needs to imbibe in the legal profession, as early as possible, to stay ahead of the curve. Use of central repositories, data analytics tools, AI have become a necessity for developing and analysing various alternatives for strategic decision making.  

Your involvement in the CII panel for insolvency and bankruptcy laws showcases your thought leadership. How do you contribute to industry forums, and what motivated you to recently publish a research paper on IBC in the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Board’s publication “Anusandhan” (2022)?

I regularly contribute to various industry forums through paper presentations in various seminars and conferences, writing articles in books and journals, providing my inputs on policy matters to market regulators and government bodies through discussion papers etc. This also helps me in staying updated on the latest market as well as regulatory trends.

I have been actively practising and advising on matters relating to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) for quite some time now and my research paper on IBC, which got published, was an attempt to discuss the emerging trends in the bankruptcy law.

You’ve achieved notable success in NPAs recovery and litigation at Kotak Mahindra Bank. What challenges do you typically face in these areas, and what principles guide your approach in dealing with complex cases?

Litigations whether in relation to contractual breaches or NPA recoveries are like edge of the seat thrillers which keeps you hooked on to them till the climax i.e till a final court verdict is not received. One has to pursue each matter diligently on its own merits till the last. Like one of my seniors once aptly put it “there are only a few arrows available with you in your armoury, the trick is to know which one to shoot and when to shoot”.

Apart from your professional achievements, you’ve been awarded the “Super Mentor” in the ‘Evolve’ Mentoring Program at Kotak Mahindra Bank. How do you approach mentorship, and what advice do you offer to mentees aspiring to succeed in the legal and banking industries?

“Evolve” was an excellent initiative by Kotak Mahindra Bank, in which there was a mentor assigned to each mentee for a year. The aim was to create an informal, meaningful and interactive relationship between the mentor and the mentee to ensure that the mentee is able to utilise the practical insights from the learnings and experience of the mentor. 

I believe it’s very important that one constantly shares one’s  learnings and experiences with their team members and younger colleagues. This is a two way process in return one also gets to learn from their experiences.

Now, as the General Counsel at Kotak Alternate Asset Managers, what aspect of your current position excites you the most, and how do you foresee the future of PE in India evolving?

Being a part of the strategic decision making process and acting as a business enabler is quite exciting. The role of the General Counsel is that of a “solution provider” and not that of someone who merely “identifies a problem”. Everyday brings new challenges and learnings, so I feel like a student going to school and eager to learn something new.

The PE industry has just started shaping up in India and galloping its way to stand in line with banks and NBFCs as a major source of capital for the industry. A lot can be credited to the “India Story” and the continuous economic reforms coupled with conducive regulatory framework that has drawn the investors towards alternate assets (PE investments). Kotak Alternate Assets, being the largest domestic asset managers today manages assets way over USD 18 billion ( AUM exceeding USD 18 billion). What is now required is that this momentum should carry on.

How do you unwind or indulge your personal interests to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and could you share a bit about your hobbies or leisure activities?

I like reading and watching movies. One can relate to a lot of work life scenarios from books and movies and they can serve as a good break out from the monotony. My other passion is sports, and whenever I get a chance, I play badminton and squash. It’s a natural stress buster.

Given the evolving landscape, how do you see technology influencing the legal profession, especially in areas like alternative assets?

Technology now plays a key role in the legal profession and alternative assets is no exception. We leverage standardized templates for most of the routine contracts and maintain centralized repositories. Proactive communication with all stakeholders is a must to ensure clarity and consistency throughout the investment lifecycle. With continuous risk analysis, transparency, and data-driven insights, we optimize efficiency and resource allocation. One can remain ahead of the curve by continuously learning and embracing emerging technologies.

Given your extensive experience and expertise, what suggestions or advice would you offer to the upcoming generation of legal and financial professionals, especially those aspiring to take on leadership roles in the industry?

I believe that to be a successful professional one has to have a fire in the belly and eyes on the target. A constant hunger for work and learning and by working I mean working smartly, hard work is a given. 

Get in touch with Prakhar Sharma-

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