Adani is first Asian to become third-richest man in the world

LONDON: Few outside of India had heard of Gautam Adani just a few years ago. But the Indian businessman, a college dropout who first tried his luck as a diamond trader before turning to coal, this week became the world’s third-richest person.

It’s the first time an Asian person has broken into the top three of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index – fellow citizen Mukesh Ambani and China’s Jack Ma never made it that far.

With a US$137.4bil (RM616bil) fortune, Adani has overtaken France’s Bernard Arnault and now trails just Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos of the United States in the ranking.

Adani, 60, has spent the past few years expanding his coal-to-ports conglomerate, venturing into everything from data centres to cement, media and aluminium.

The group now owns India’s largest private-sector port and airport operator, city-gas distributor and coal miner.

While its Carmichael mine in Australia has been criticised by environmentalists, it pledged in November to invest US$70bil (RM314bil) in green energy to become the world’s largest renewable-energy producer.

While his empire has expanded to one of the world’s largest conglomerates fuelling the remarkable gains in wealth, concerns have grown over the rapid growth.

Adani’s deals spree has been predominantly funded with debt and his empire is “deeply over-leveraged,” CreditSights said in a report this month.

Some lawmakers and market watchers have also raised concerns over opaque shareholder structures and a lack of analyst coverage at Adani Group companies.

Yet, the shares have soared – some of them more than 1,000% since 2020, with valuations hitting 750 times earnings – as the tycoon focused on areas that Prime Minister Narendra Modi deems crucial to meeting India’s long-term goals.

The pivot to green energy and infrastructure has won investments from firms including Warburg Pincus and TotalEnergies SE, helping Adani enter the echelons previously dominated by US tech moguls. The surge in coal in recent months has further turbocharged his ascent.

All told, Adani has added US$60.9bil (RM273bil) to his fortune in 2022 alone, five times more than anyone else. — Bloomberg

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