Gautam Shantilaladani: Audacity is the name of the game for him
Reams and dreams have, are and will be written about the spectacular rise and rise of Gautambhai Shantilal Adani, the quintessential soft-spoken Gujarati Jain billionaire who ousted Mukesh Ambani to become the most rich in India. The $10.5 billion deal to acquire Holcim’s cement assets in India over the weekend catapulted the unassuming family man into his own orbit, alongside greats like Warren Buffet.
Still the child of destiny who has survived at least two assassination attempts – once when he was kidnapped in 1998 and once when he was caught in the crossfire at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai during of the November 2008 terrorist attack and dodged bullets while hiding under a table – Adani, it seems, was always meant to be an outlier.
It’s that primal survival instinct of a smart fighter that has shaped 59-year-old Adani’s proverbial journey from rags to riches. In a meeting with this correspondent in the lavish confines of the brand new Adani house in the upscale Mithakhali circle more than two decades ago, he spoke of his vision for the future port of Mundra, painting the picture of a world-class port on a backdrop of acres of barren marshland. It was clear he was dreaming big and daring was the name of the game for him. He remembered how, as a young prankster, he once broke many bones after slipping off galvanized sheets while running after kites. “There were no parental controls and that, I think, gave me the freedom to thrive in an unrestricted environment,” he recalls. “I’ve always wanted to do something different without anyone’s help. I was also clear that I didn’t want to get into the family business and for that I was ready to work hard,” he recalls.
He was already a name to be reckoned with, but not necessarily in the most flattering terms in business circles. A few years later, he had his first mega date with fate – at the inauguration of Mundra Port, the gathering included politicians who crossed party lines and the who’s who of Indian business. The world-class port spoke more eloquently than rising star Adani’s words.
In 2009, Adani House was bustling with activity after the prodigious opening of Adani Power’s highly anticipated IPO, the group’s second public offering and the largest to hit the Indian market at the time. By then, Adani Group was already among the fastest growing industrial houses with a turnover of over 15,000 crore and its growing proximity to Gujarat CM Narendra Modi was creating ripples in the country. Scrolling through a popular business channel, perhaps trying to assess the impact of the big-ticket IPO on the group’s fortunes, Adani smiled disarmingly when asked how life would change after. IPO. Pat came the answer: “I never trust that theory of market capitalization and I don’t believe in the numbers game.” He continued to elaborate the philosophy that stimulated him. “It’s creation that kicks me.” He however happily recounted how while interacting with stock brokers, one of them informed him that his 1 lakh investment in Adani stock in 1995 touched Rs 2 .5 crore in market value. “Numbers are incidental, a by-product and not the main focus because they don’t change my lifestyle in any way,” he joked.
The passing years have shown that Adani’s ambition is nothing short of bold. And not without reason: today, the Adani group has a finger in every pie – from ports to infrastructure, including electricity, hydrocarbons, logistical support, real estate, edible oils, airports, clean energy and now cement.
The son of a small businessman who dabbled in futures trading at a time when it wasn’t legal, his desire to think outside the box shaped this dropout’s destiny. Adani believes his lack of formal education helped him sharpen his instincts and hone his native intelligence. “I think some things are innate, like intuition, opportunity sensing and the ability to take risks. To that extent, education makes you more careful when you get bogged down in various options,” he said. – he said one day to this correspondent.
While many say he has an astonishing ability to maneuver a complex machinery of government to his advantage, everyone agrees that he put his “intuition” and “innate” talent to good use.