POST-GLOBALISATION, Indians are no longer squeamish about celebrating wealth. In the earlier socialist era, synonymous with controls and permits, they would not have feted a man called Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, at least not so very publicly with the country’s Finance Minister handing him an award for corporate achievement.
The demise of socialism and the rise of new billionaires have made money and its pursuit respectable.
That would explain why the London-based global steel czar would make a triumphant return home only to be welcomed by the rich and famous.
The world’s largest steel producer is the third richest man in the world.
Mittal has a personal wealth calculated at an astounding Rs130,000 crores (RM107bil).
His steel empire is spread over four continents and employs over 220,000 people.
Known as the takeover king, he buys rundown state steel mills and turns them around to produce quality steel at the most economical rates possible.
Mittal, who belongs to a middle-level business family in Kolkata, had left Indian shores while hardly out of his teens.
Now in his mid-50s, he is eyeing investment opportunities in his homeland.
Last week, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram presided over a function in Mumbai where about 600 captains of business and industry gathered to celebrate success on a grand scale.
The year under review saw an exponential rise in the number of billionaires.
Inherited wealth was no longer the only route to grand success.
There were many rags-to-riches stories, such as that of the undisputed telecom czar of India.
Nobody had heard of Sunil Mittal until two years ago.
But then the economy opened up and the government allowed the private sector to operate cellular phone services.
Mittal’s cellular phone company Airtel was quick to sense opportunity, entering into financial and technical partnerships with some of the best companies in the world.
Airtel is now the country’s largest cellular and fixed-line telephone service provider in the private sector with more than 15 million subscribers.
Another person who made it big in double-quick time is a former sales agent of the Lebanese International Airlines.
Naresh Goel, 55, who came from a small town in Punjab, went to Mumbai in search of a livelihood and stayed on to start India’s best private airline.
Jet Airways, launched post-economic liberalisation in 1993, soon became the favourite airline for domestic travel for the business community due to its excellent service and near-perfect record of punctuality.
Last year, the government allowed private airlines to fly abroad.
Jet Airways was among the first to do so.
In April, it made an initial public offering of its stock.
After listing on the stock exchange, Goel emerged the sixth richest Indian with a net worth of Rs8,100 crores (RM6.7bil).
His airline commands a market share of 46% and operates nearly 2,000 flights weekly.
Three thirty-year-olds who until the other day were offering financial advice and services from a rundown office in South Delhi have emerged the newest members of the billionaires club with their combined net worth valued at Rs1,150 crores (RM951mil).
With 140,000 clients and offices in 95 towns, the promoters of India bulls Financial Services do not regret leaving cushy jobs to launch the company six years ago.
Almost a year ago, they floated the shares of their company at Rs19 (RM1.60) per share at a face value of Rs10 (80 sen).
Today, that share has appreciated ten-fold, making them billionaires.
And they have branched into real estate, retail finance, home loans, etc.
Of course, the list of the super rich, like in the past few years, is headed by IT czar Azim Premji of Wipro.
A low-key gentleman entrepreneur, Premji’s personal wealth is valued at a staggering Rs41,888 crores (RM34.6bil) at the current market price of his company’s shares.
The point of the latest super-rich list is not that it added 17 more billionaires during the year.
But that thanks to globalisation, the entrepreneurial energies of Indians were released in all spheres.
From aviation to pharmaceuticals, to telephony and even new-life sciences, there were opportunities galore which Indians grabbed and came up trumps.