Super Seven

The alchemist

The Adani group founder who built a trading conglomerate from scratch wants to keep playing for high stakes

Soumik Kar

Every man has his weaknesses, even if he is one of India’s richest men. And who will know it better than his wife? “Though he doesn’t have any favourites, Gautam just can’t resist good food,” smiles Priti Adani. But Gautam Adani’s appetite is not confined to just gastronomical pursuits, it’s amply visible in his business too. And that largely explains how a one-time small trader today straddles a business empire with interests in resources, logistics and energy. From ₹674 crore in FY95, group revenues, comprising the listed trading, ports and power businesses, have surged over ₹47,000 crore as of FY13, a CAGR of 27% in 18 years. The breakneck growth, though, has come on the back of a gigantic leap in leverage within the group over the same period: from ₹33 crore to around ₹49,000 crore — which investors are jittery about. Not surprisingly, the market cap of Adani Enterprises, Adani Power and Adani Ports & SEZ has tanked by 74%, 67% and 17%, respectively, since November 2010 (when the Sensex hit a closing high of 21,000) as the economic slowdown, coal supply and tariff issues, environmental controversies and concerns over the progress of overseas mining assets came to a boil.

But the first-generation billionaire, who turned 51 this June, seems far from perturbed when Outlook Business catches up with him on a balmy Saturday evening at his modest office at Adani House in the heart of Ahmedabad, the nerve centre of India’s most industrial state. “It’s an unfortunate situation when a minority investor’s interest works at cross-purpose to the long-term asset creation pursuit of an entrepreneur. Infrastructure projects are all about long gestation and high leverage in the early days, but when investors are so focused on short-term returns, there is bound to be disappointment,” says Adani.

Those who have worked with Adani point out that while the business environment appears daunting, the man himself continues to be focused on his vision of achieving his publicly-stated 2020 targets — 200 million metric tonne (MMT) of coal trading, 200 MMT of cargo handled and 20,000 MW of power generation capacity. And if past performance is any indication, the days of guts and glory are far from over for the

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