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Meet India’s 53 Forbes billionaires: 19 newcomers, 28 ‘self-made’

Meet Sameer Gehlaut, 34. Engineer from IIT-Delhi. Self-made entrepreneur who launched online brokerage Indiabulls...

Written by Gautamchikermane | New Delhi |
March 7, 2008 1:19:24 am

Meet Sameer Gehlaut, 34. Engineer from IIT-Delhi. Self-made entrepreneur who launched online brokerage Indiabulls in 2000, diversified into real estate, picked up high-end land in high-end auctions in Delhi and Mumbai. And, almost as a by-product, is India’s youngest billionaire, according to Forbes which released its list of 1,125 wealthiest people today.

At $1.2 billion, Gehlaut is the world’s 962nd wealthiest person, and India’s 45th — above inheritors of fortunes like the Habil ‘Wockhardt’ Khorakiwala, Anu ‘Thermax’ Aga and Rahul Bajaj. Among other self-made billionaires in the list, Gehlaut beats Nandan Nilekani and Senapathy Gopalakrishnan of Infosys, Jignesh Shah of Financial Technologies and investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala.

All told, the 53 billionaires from India take the country to the No. 4 rank, after US’ 469, Russia’s 87 and Germany’s 59. At 42 and 18, China and Brazil are behind India. Of the 53, 19, including Gehlaut, are newcomers, 28 are self-made. Among the self-made, and beyond the usual suspects — Sunil ‘Airtel’ Mittal ($11.8 billion), Ramesh ‘Unitech’ Chandra ($9.6 billion), or Gautam ‘Mundra’ Adani ($9.3 billion, Asia’s wealthiest newcomer) — the list throws up new insights, defines a new India.

Mukesh Ambani’s (at $43 billion and just $2 billion short of Lakshmi Mittal, India’s wealthiest person) long-time friend and plastic sacks maker Anand Jain, at $3.4 billion, is the 34th wealthiest Indian. The list includes airport and infrastructure developers G M Rao (son of a commodities trader, now worth $5.2 billion) and G V Krishna Reddy (son of a farmer, now worth $1.5 billion).

The four Tanti brothers individually — Tulsi ($3 billion), Girish and Jitendra ($1.3 billion) and Vinod ($1.2 billion) —broaden the list and show how wealth can be created literally out of, well, wind. After energy and infrastructure billionaires come self-made billionaires from software, finance, media, real estate and pharmaceuticals.

The total wealth of India’s billionaires stands at $334.6 billion, a fourth of which comes from self-made entrepreneurs. But if you remove the top four wealthiest Indians from the list (Lakshmi Mittal’s $45 billion, Mukesh Ambani’s $43 billion, Anil Ambani’s $42 billion and KP ‘DLF’ Singh’s $30 billion), the $85.2 billion strong wealth of 28 self-made billionaires is 13 per cent more than the combined wealth of 21 inheritors like Shashi, Ravi Ruia ($15 billion), Azim Premji ($12.7 billion), Kumar Mangalam Birla ($10.2 billion) and Adi Godrej ($5.5 billion).

Zoom out and you clearly see that the pressure from the bottom of the entrepreneurial pyramid is rising. Armed with a hunger to grow, experimenting with career risk and taking decisions that are in tune with a new India, these entrepreneurs are cashing in on opportunities and creating huge wealth. But these big numbers mask a bigger story of Indian enterprise still being told.

That story is of risk taking, following a dream — dropping out of college (Gautam Adani), spurning the family business (Uday Kotak), identifying and following opportunities as they come (GMR). But equally, the story is of selling that story to lay investors and proving once again that the money-raising function of stock markets is only a step towards its far greater function: wealth creation.

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