Harindarpal "Harry" Banga, a billionaire businessman who carved out a 20-year career at commodities trader Noble, plans a return to the industry in a new trading firm with his two sons.
The 63-year-old former sea captain has amassed a $1 billion war chest to splurge on the newly formed Caravel Group while luring 10 to 20 former Noble Group Ltd colleagues to join the venture, sources said. They include former Noble staff in Hong Kong and at its iron ore business in Beijing.
The move will put Harindarpal Banga - once described as "the heart and soul of Noble" by company founder Richard Elman - in competition with his former employer, which reported operating income of $624 million in the first half of 2013.
Harindarpal Banga was Noble's vice chairman emeritus until he stepped down as a non-executive director in April 2013 and he still holds about $116 million worth of shares. He sold 225 million Noble shares in November 2012 for S$248 million ($202 million).
Harindarpal Banga will formally launch Hong Kong-based Caravel on Friday. The firm - named after a 15th and 16th century Portuguese exploration and trading vessel - has already set up its headquarters, including trading desks, in a swish building in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district, less than 500 metres from Noble's offices.
Caravel will rate as "a very sizeable company. It's not kid's stuff, it's the real deal," said Martin Rowe, managing director of shipping services and shipbroking firm Clarksons Asia.
Indian-born Harindarpal Banga joined Noble in 1989 to head up its ship chartering division two years after the company was founded in Hong Kong by Elman, a former scrap metal man in Britain. The firm specialised in ores, steel products, coal and coke, before listing in Singapore in 1997 and expanding into grains and physical assets such as mines and farms.
Harindarpal Banga, well respected in shipping circles for his business savvy, told Reuters that Caravel will trade commodities and related derivatives, and will also be active in shipping, asset management and private equity investment.
But Caravel would not follow Noble into agribusinesses or investing in commodities assets, Harindarpal Banga said. This is a target growth area for Noble, which has invested in facilities such as oilseed processing plants in China and sugar mills in Brazil.
"It will be like the old Noble used to be," Harindarpal Banga said in a phone interview. Caravel will concentrate on trading and shipping commodities such