We must search for the opportunities in the constraints we face....
Dropping out of college and leaving home for a metropolis to make it big in life, with uncertainty writ large along every step one put forward, are aspects often associated with vagrants. And experience shows that, invariably, not being able to find their feet -in the big, bad, and sometimes cruel cities-they end-up as mere tramps. Well, not if you happen to be Gautam Adani. One can't say, for sure, that family circumstances played their part in shaping the future of this burly man from the city of Amdavad (Ahmedabad) in the western part of India. For he belonged to a business family which dealt in oil-seeds & textiles and, as far as is known, it wasn't doing all that bad. But fate did. He just wanted to break-out, which he did and how: created an empire of his own, which is an astonishing story of success, growth, and prosperity. Today, he stands out as one of the very few self-made billionaires with an estimated personal net worth of $6 billion (first billionaire from the city of Ahmedabad that prompted delirious celebrations by some city-folk), easily making him one of the richest of the rich in the country. Not only that, he is also said to be among the 100 most influential businessmen worldwide in the shipping trade and, developing shipping related infrastructure.
It's been more than three decades since he began his enterprising sojourn during which he almost single-handedly shaped the fortunes of the Adani Group which ranks amongst only a handful of professionally-run, world-class Indian conglomerates, and it doesn't look likely that he will relinquish the top-post just yet. And why should he: with business interests in fields ranging from edible oil, logistics, power generation, coal, oil and gas exploration, gas distribution, real estate, ports, Special Economic Zones, and IT enabled services, the Group would continue to do grow and prosper with help from Mr. Adani's unending reserves of entrepreneurial flair, energy, enthusiasm, and ambition --which he makes explicitly clear when he says, "I want Adani Enterprises to be India's number one company in power generation, mining, ports and logistics."
Mr. Adani was born in Ahmedabad (24 June, 1962) to Shri Shantilal and Smt. Shantaben Adani. He has seven siblings. The family is said to have been originally from the Tharad region of north Gujarat, dealing in oilseeds and textiles, which had migrated to Ahmedabad looking for better prospects. Mr. Adani did his schooling from the Seth C.N. Vidyalaya School, where he was not a brilliant student at all. In due course he joined the Gujarat University to pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce, which he quit mid-way into his second year and, at barely 17, left for Mumbai (then Bombay) to start work on creating a life for himself like he wanted to. Understandably, like for any other nondescript migrant, the beginnings were more or less humble for Mr. Adani too. He took up a job as a diamond sorter with Mahindra Brothers in the famous Zaveri Bazar. It was here in the by-lanes of this market that, in less than two years during which he had learnt the tricks of the diamond-cutting trade, its nuances, and the general practices, he set-up his own diamond trading unit. This was such a successful venture that he is believed to have earned his first 100 grand (Rs. 1 lakh – a huge sum even in the early 80s) within a year of its functioning.
Pleasantly surprised, but more than that, encouraged, and perhaps inspired, by his brother's enterprise, Mr. Adani's elder brother, Mr. Mahasukhbhai, who ran a plastics business in Ahmedabad, called the young Gautam back to join him and take forward the business. This was the platform for Mr. Adani to put into use all his knowledge and experienced gained from his trading days in the narrow lanes of Zaveri Bazar.
Soon after, Mr. Adani started global trading in commodities beginning with importing Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), which was a key ingredient in the manufacture of plastics. This served as platform to launch Mr. Adani's career as a commodities trader; it helped hone his skills further, and add onto his knowledge and experience. His extensive commodity trading, especially the PVC import had at one point, some believe, pitted their company against the mighty Reliance, a major player in the polymers market.
And after half-a-decade of rigorous work with his brother, Mr. Adani, possessed of unbridled ambition, entrepreneurial instincts, and the zeal and energy to slog it out, established the Adani Exports Limited (now called as Adani Enterprises Ltd) in 1988. Started as a partnership firm with a seed capital of Rs. 5 lakhs, it gradually went to add to its stable various other commodities thus making it one of the leading players' in the power and agricultural commodities market of India.
As the nation entered the last decade of the 20th century, its economy, whose doors were hereto not very open for international trade – something that was expressly needed for a country with an ever-growing population and depleted natural resources- went through a transformation. The liberalized economy paved the way for growth of business in a multitude of sectors, yielding huge profits for the Adani's trading business. This automatically meant large capital infusion for the Group's expansion plans into other areas.
Although, it is said, Mr. Adani was able to -with creativity, imagination, and loads of patience- work out ways to propagate his import-export business even during the stringent so-called ‘License Raj' era, the liberasilation helped catapult the Group's operations and businesses to unprecedented success.
As can be the case with any flourishing business, there were hindrances which were, according to Mr. Adani, affecting the overall operations of the Adani Enterprises, which was the flagship company of the Group, consequently hurting to some extent its performance and profitability. As it were, being a global trading enterprise, it was utilizing various ports in the country. Mr. Adani realised that there was severe congestion at those ports, and his own company's cargo was getting delayed. So, something very drastic and concrete indeed, had to be done to strengthen the company's global trading.
Also, there was another aspect that always lingered on his mind, even during the hectic early days of open-up Indian economy. It was the fact that upto that point, although diverse, his Group was only a trading company, which he likened to an empty box (during an interview). He felt that people viewed the Group as a finance company without assets. So, to correct this apparent anomaly, he wanted to develop an asset base that would take the company, in his own words, ‘into the next orbit.'
In 1993, the Gujarat government presented Mr. Adani with exactly the opportunity that he was looking for to realise his two objectives (above). The Gujarat government invited private companies to run the Mundra Port, and in 1995 the contract was given to Adani Group.
After receiving a Letter of Intent (LOI) from the Government of Gujarat, he started work on the 64km long rail track, at a cost of Rs.250 crore, which would help connect Mundra port with the rest of the country. It was certainly not a piece-of-cake. He had to burn midnight's oil for a number of years; garnering capital and acquiring pieces of land for pet project by, reportedly, befriending business partners and politicians alike, selling them his idea and impressing upon them the significance of the port.
And now, after a decade-and-a-half later, Mr. Adani's idea to set up a private port has proved to be a stroke of genius. For, the Mundra Port is currently India's largest private port, providing Mr. Adani an edge over a number of other businesses. The Mundra port, which is also the world's largest coal receiving terminal (for Tata Power), was selected as the best port in 2006 by the reputed and oldest British publication for shipping business, Lloyd.
The journey so far and looking ahead
With his insatiable desire for success, and the Mundra port as his trump card, he forayed into many other businesses. Although an introvert, he is believed to be a good observer, good listener, and one who absorbs anything good that he observes. This coupled with a gift of gab that is not crippled by his apparent discomfort with English, and the ability to seize opportunities when they present themselves, or better still, to create opportunity(s) out of adversity, have helped him succeed in the various other sectors that he lead his Group into such as mining, oil and gas exploration, infrastructure development, power generation and distribution, development of special economic zones, gas distribution, trading and business process outsourcing.
By 2007, the Group also had under its stable a multi-sector SEZ spread over 100 sq km in the vicinity and listed as Mundra Port and SEZ (MPSEZ) after merging the port and SEZ into a single entity. Mr. Adani serves as the Managing Director of Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. (formerly known as Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone Limited) since January 28, 1999, and his term was extended for a further five years upto 2017. He also serves as its Chairman.
His 4-pronged approach for successfully running a public entity has been simple: Do it yourself, choose the right time to go public (list on the stock exchanges), go global, and cut your losses.
Obviously, it is his unparalleled expertise in international trade, solution oriented approaches, innovation and endurance in an increasingly competitive and rapidly expanding trading market that has seen the Group metamorphose itself from a trading house to an infrastructure builder and basic utility provider. But for sure, he also respects the significance of a team and professionals in running his business successfully, and therefore, gives a free-hand to managers allowing them the space and authority to make decisions for the Group's businesses.
With his leadership, enterprise, and the quest for yet more success, is it any surprise then that he is a director of, or has forged partnership with, many entities that operate under the aegis of the Adani Group?
His other directorships/partnerships include: Adani Energy Limited, Adani Logistics Limited, Adani Petronet (Dahej) Port Private Limited, Adani Power Dahej Private Limited, Adani Power Maharashtra Private Limited, Adani Power Rajasthan Limited, Adani Shipyard Private Limited, Adani Welspun Exploration Limited, Adani Wilmar Limited, Dholera Port And Special Economic Zone Limited, Jain International Trade Organisation and Adani Investments.
Aiming to grow its utilities business, the Group bought Australia's Abbott Point coal terminal for $1.8 billion in May (2012), acquired interests in coal projects in Indonesia and for exploration of oil and gas in Thailand, purchased coal assets from Linc Energy (Australia). Its power generation unit Adani Power, which plans to produce 20,000 megawatts by 2020, expanded into solar energy.
Tryst with Destiny
His eventful, and often tumultuous, journey from being a University drop-out to becoming one of the most influentially rich business leaders of India has seen him encounter many situations that many would be happy to let just pass-by. This is manifest in almost every phase of his life. While the search for livelihood brought him to the world of commodities trading, where instead of just going about his job, he picked up precious knowledge and experience which proved to be the foundations for his rise as a commodities trader; his brush with polity, unlike other businessmen who detest the time and cost that entails in getting things done through this channel, Mr. Adani, has been able to keep a very good working rapport with politicians, and patiently waited for the results to kick-in and enjoy the fruits of success. Further, the presence of his business interests in Gujarat facilitated his entry into the shipping business; likewise there are quite a few instances where destiny has stood by him.
While that being so, destiny can also be said to have sometimes played with his nerves, leading to some very anxious moments both for his family and his well-wishers. For instance, in 1999 it was reported Mr. Adani was kidnapped and held hostage by a noted Mumbai underworld gangster, and was only released for a ransom (reported to be a sum of Rs. 3 crore). Then, in 2002, he was believed to have been detained for a brief time by India's police over a case relating to a business fraud, which was filed by a rival. He even had an encounter with a near-death moment while inside the famous Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai in November 2008, when terrorists went on a rampage.
Another interesting bit of destiny in the life of Mr. Adani is manifest in his marriage, or the efforts for it. It is said that when Mr. Adani sought an alliance for marriage from his now father-in-law, he wasn't very excited about the prospect. But, as fate would have it, an astrologer informed the father of the soon-to-be-bride that Mr. Gautam Adani is destined to be a successful man in the near future, blessed with health, wealth, and fame. Well that clinched the matter for Mr. Adani!
Mr. Adani is known to having been always responsive to the concerns of employees, society and stakeholders. He has tried to harmonize all the activities of his companies with the global environment and actively working to reduce their load on the environment.
Further, Mr. Adani is also known for his philanthropy, particularly the relief work during the earthquake which struck Bhuj (Gujarat) in 2001, and his charitable school project in Ahmedabad.
Under his leadership, the Adani Group, established the CSR arm in 1996 called the Adani Foundation, which actively helps in improving fundamental education, promoting health and developing infrastructure in rural areas across India. The foundation consists of a team of committed professionals whose work is to plan & implement developmental and growth programmes in rural communities.
He is married to Dr. Priti Adani, a Bachelor in Dental Surgery, who is also the Chairperson of the Adani Foundation. They have two sons. The elder one, Karan Adani is a graduate from the Purdue University, USA and is presently the Executive Director of Adani Ports and SEZ, and the younger son Jeet Adani, is still pursuing his studies.
* Awarded the Excellence in Management Award 2007 by Chief Minister of Gujarat.
* Conferred with the Excellence in Management, 2007, by N.R. Institute of Business Management, Ahmedabad.
* Newsmaker of the Year, at Annual Indian Maritime Gateway Awards 2008.
* "Dealing with the government does not mean you have to give a bribe. From my experience of working with bureaucrats and politicians, if you are a credible business group, they will definitely help you. At the end of the day, they too want development of their constituency, state or country
* "Every era has its own constraints and opportunities. Dhirubhai saw opportunities in the constraints he had. Today, we must search for the opportunity in the constraints we face."
* "My philosophy is not to go and cry to the government. You must work with the government. Whatever is left to be done, continue to address it. In time those issues get addressed."