The only expression of emotion that the interviewer of The Financial Times can catch him in 2013 is “a little twitch of his moustache.” You don’t buy anything for emotions. Gautam Adani (60) is not only the richest man in India, but also perhaps the most ordinary, or even the dullest. “Either you’re extroverted or you’re introverted. If that’s the choice, I’m an introvert. I’m not a social person, and I don’t like parties.’
Adani has become rich with it, and that is much more important to him. Get rich, then be number one in everything. “Becoming number one, we are very focused on that,” he says in 2013, in a very rare interview with The Financial Times. He wasn’t nearly as rich then as he is now, but he was already quite rich. The pink business newspaper writes with admiration that Adani is already ‘one of the biggest tycoons in India’: ‘his company has become worth sixteen times as much in just 10 years.’
Everything a competition
That was in 2013. Adani has been moving through the world rankings of wealth ever since as if it were a game of auto racing, and he is Max Verstappen. This year he already became the number one in India and recently Adani even surpassed Bill Gates and Bernard Arnault (of Louis Vuitton) in the Bloomberg world ranking. In mid-September, he also passed Jeff Bezos, so that he is now number two, with a value of 146.8 billion. Between Adani and Elon Musk (number one) there is still a difference of more than 100 billion. That seems unbridgeable, but with Gautam Adani you never know. In 2022 alone, he became more than 60 billion richer.
Everything Gautam Adani does is a competition to him, but his mustache only quivers when he talks about the past. Therein lies his secret. The secret of a self-made man, fourth son of a small textile merchant from Gujarat. He was not fit for school. He was a dropout, ran away from school, dabbled in the diamond world of Mumbai and his brother’s plastic factory, and in 1988 started his own import and export company: Adani Enterprises.
As a child he already had big dreams. Adani describes a visit to the harbor: ‘I was still a boy, without any background, and I saw what in reality was already a small ship at the time, but to me it was a very large ship.’ That shiny, mighty sea-going vessel was a representation of success to him. A symbol of a world he wanted to be a part of.
The image of that grand ship has stayed with him all his life. Adani Enterprises was the humble beginning of this. He started his business, made it profitable, and with those profits he obtained loans to take over other, larger companies. That became his method of doing business. He piled company on company, made them profitable and in this way got new, larger loans.
He has the reputation of being a ‘takeover pirate’. He buys what he sees, with nothing but his simple trading wits, he says himself: ‘We calculate risks very quickly. I do that in my own way, in very simple language without jargon. I’ve never liked people who talk very complicated.’ The Adani group has thus become a mega-conglomerate that deals with almost everything: seaports, shipping, airports, oil, gas, coal, power plants, green energy, telecom, mining and railways.
And all financed with an opaque network of loans. Fitch’s credit tracker CreditSight calls Adani’s empire “heavily overfunded,” and fears that balloon will have to pop at some point. In any case, it is a risk for investors, according to CreditSight. Loans and a collapsing economy do not go well together.
In 2013, a dip in the economy almost hit Adani. Totally against his nature, he had to slow down the pace of acquisitions to restructure his finances. But he soon resumed his unstoppable takeover path at full speed.
Short and impersonal
He rarely gets personal in public. Also against The Financial Times he prefers to talk about his case, and not about the rest. For example, about 1997, when he was kidnapped for ransom, he just says, “There have been two or three unfortunate incidents in my life, and that’s one of them.”
He is equally curt about the horrific terror attack in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. He was dining at the Taj (Mahal) Hotel in Mumbai when Muslim terrorists raided and fired around him. The siege of the hotel would last four days, and 31 people were killed in the hotel (a total of 164 people were killed in actions in Mumbai).
Adani doesn’t want to say more about this than: ‘I couldn’t leave until the commandos came.’ Not a word about the heavily armed terrorists walking the halls, not a word about how he had to hide, not a word about the fear in the hotel. He doesn’t buy anything for that.
He is also, perhaps thanks to this absence from the media, fairly unspoken. Environmentalists complain about pollution at an Australian mine, and on the stock exchange they look at all those loans with suspicion, but at the same time they listen with admiration when Adani promises that he will invest 70 billion euros in green energy. He also wants to become the largest producer in the world in that area, he says.
Gautam Adani is 60, and still has only one motto: ‘Either you’re sitting on your pile of money, or you keep growing.’
3 X Gautam Adani
Gautam Adani is a real family man. Until his mother passed away in 2010, he had never been on vacation without her.
Adani shuns publicity. For him, media is merely a business opportunity. He made a ‘hostile’ bid for the authoritative New Delhi T . at the end of AugustV. A step towards becoming ‘number 1’ in the media.
His third place in the ranking only owes Adani to the fact that Bill Gates gave $20 billion to charity, and Warren Buffet $35 billion, Bloomberg says sparingly. However, Adani has promised to give away 7.7 billion on the occasion of his 60th birthday.