From being a college dropout who cleaned diamonds for a living, to owning some of India’s biggest infrastructure projects and being a close friend of the prime minister—Gautam Adani is a rare but real underdog story.
On Tuesday, his meteoric rise continued, as the 60-year-old business magnate was confirmed as the world’s third-richest person. Adani, who wasn’t even among the world’s top 10 richest people last year, becomes the first-ever non-Westerner to break into the formerly all male and all white top tier of the world’s super rich club.
Bucking the global trend, enjoying steep success during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bloomberg analysis shows Adani’s net worth sat at $8.34 billion in March 2020, rising to surpass the $100 billion mark in April this year.
The Bloomberg Billionaires Index revealed that Adani, who also became the richest man in Asia last month, overtook French business magnate Bernard Arnault of Louis Vuitton, and climbed the top global ranks behind only American business giants Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. His net worth now stands at $137.4 billion, while Musk, who is the richest man on earth, has a net worth of $251 billion.
For many years, Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani stood out far in front as India’s richest man. But Adani’s rise has been swift, and remarkable.
From working in diamond trade, then entering the import-export business in the 1980s and 1990s, Adani’s companies control India’s largest private sector port, are the largest thermal power producer, and operate one of the country’s busiest airports. His friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—both of whom hail from the same Indian state Gujarat—is well known, and his company objectives are said to be closely aligned to the vision of Modi’s government. The rapid diversification of his business interests started in 2015, a year after Modi came to power.
Adani’s projects have faced controversy, especially his coal mine in Australia, which has been linked with environmental degradation. His recent acquisition of nearly 30 percent of an influential Indian media house has also triggered concern about corporate control over free press. At the same time, credit watchers say Adani’s empire is massively overleveraged and mostly funded with debt. His company Adani Green Energy Ltd has been listed among the world’s most indebted, with experts saying this could spiral into a debt trap, and possibly result in the firm defaulting.
The meteoric rise in his wealth during the pandemic has also raised eyebrows. While COVID-19 raged, the wealth gap widened exponentially in India, a country with an average household net worth of $12,361. One of the most unequal countries in the world, Adani—a follower of Jainism, a religion that promotes frugality—is among India’s 1 percenters who held over one-fifth of the total national income in 2021.
The world’s richest people doubled their collective fortunes during the global health crisis, and Adani was no different, adding 60 percent to his wealth—beating both Bezos and Musk in terms of gains.
Adani has also been in the news for non-financial reasons. In 1997, he was abducted at gunpoint and held for a ransom of $1.5 million. He was later released and his abductors were charged in 2014. In 2008, Adani then survived the deadly terrorist attack in Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace, which killed over 160 people. At the time of the attack, Adani hid in the luxury hotel’s toilet for over 12 hours.
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