Only a few years ago, few outsides of India had heard of Gautam Adani. But the Indian businessman, a college dropout who started off as a diamond trader before switching to coal, became the world’s third-richest person this week.
It’s the first time an Asian has reached the top three of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index; fellow Indian Mukesh Ambani and China’s Jack Ma never got there. Adani has surpassed France’s Bernard Arnault in the ranking, trailing only Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos of the United States.
Adani, 60, has spent the last several years diversifying his coal-to-ports business, diversifying into industries ranging from data centres to cement, media, and alumina. The business currently controls India’s largest private-sector port and airport operator, as well as the country’s largest city-gas distributor and coal miner. While its Carmichael project in Australia has been criticized by environmentalists, it committed in November to invest $70 billion in green energy to become the world’s largest renewable-energy generator.
While his enterprise has grown to become one of the world’s greatest companies, creating spectacular income gains, worries have emerged about the rapid expansion. Adani’s acquisition binge has been primarily supported by debt, and his business is “seriously over-leveraged,” according to CreditSights in a study this month.
Some politicians and market analysts have also expressed worry about Adani Group firms’ opaque shareholder arrangements and a lack of analyst coverage. Nonetheless, the tycoon’s shares have risen – some by more than 1,000% since 2020, with prices reaching 750 times profits – as he has focused on sectors that Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes are critical to India’s long-term aspirations.
The shift to green energy and infrastructure has attracted investments from corporations such as Warburg Pincus and TotalEnergies SE, propelling Adani into the ranks once held by US IT titans. The recent jump in coal prices has accelerated his rise.
Overall, Adani has increased his fortune by $60.9 billion in 2022 alone, five times more than anybody else. He beat Ambani as the richest Asian in February, became a billionaire in April, and last month topped Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates as the world’s fourth-richest person.
Adani was able to surpass some of the world’s wealthiest US billionaires, in part because they had recently increased their charity. Gates said in July that he would be transferring $20 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while Warren Buffett has previously committed more than $35 billion to the foundation.
The two, together with Gates’ ex-wife Melinda French Gates, launched the Giving Pledge campaign in 2010, committing to give away the majority of their wealth throughout their lifetimes. The billions of dollars they have spent on philanthropy have pushed them down the Bloomberg wealth ranking. They have risen to fifth and 164th place, respectively.
Adani has also boosted his charity contributions, vowing in June to contribute $7.7 billion to humanitarian organizations in honor of his 60th birthday.