Less than a year after joining back consultancy firm McKinsey & Co in India as senior advisor, Leo Puri is now set to head UTI Asset Management Company, the investment manager of the fifth largest mutual fund in the country with assets of around $10.8 billion (average assets under management during April-June 2012).

UTI Mutual Fund has been headless for more than year after UK Sinha moved on to become chief of market regulator Sebi in early 2011. The board of the trustee for the mutual fund had earlier shortlisted three names which included Puri, Punita Kumar Sinha (who was earlier with Blackstone’s India-focused mutual fund) and AIG India chief executive and country head Sunil Mehta. Puri’s name has been chosen by the board of the trustee as per various media reports on Friday evening.

Puri, former head of McKinsey in India who was also a part of the financial services practice in Asia, had joined as managing director at Warburg Pincus India Pvt Ltd in March 2007. After a four year stint he had quit the PE firm, interestingly, just a couple of months after UTI Mutual Fund lost its chief.

During his presence at the PE firm Warburg Pincus invested (and reinvested) in close to a dozen firms including Punj Lloyd, Amtek Auto, Havells India, Laqshya Media, Unique Affordable Homes, Metropolis Healthcare and Continental Warehousing.

Puri’s exit from the PE firm last year was the third such movement at senior level from Warburg Pincus over the previous five years. Rajesh Khanna left in 2010 to set up his own private equity firm Arka Capital (which recently abandoned its maiden fund raising activity). The first to go was Pulak Prasad, who quit the firm in 2006 to set up his own firm Nalanda Capital.

Puri holds Master’s degrees in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University and also has a law degree with first class honours from Cambridge University.

The new role for Puri would catapult him into one of the most high profile seats of asset management business in India. UTI Mutual Fund is the fifth largest player in the business behind HDFC Mutual Fund, Reliance Mutual Fund, ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund and Birla Sun Life Mutual Fund. Unlike the four other larger players, UTI Mutual Fund does not have its domestic fund-of-fund business.

UTI Mutual Fund counts five shareholders including four public sector organisations. Its shareholders include insurance behemoth and the country’s biggest asset management entity LIC besides three PSU banks State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank and Bank of Baroda. The single largest shareholder is US-based investment firm T Rowe Price.

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