Billionaires: Mukesh Ambani joins the mega-wealthy's exclusive $100bn club

In our fortnightly round-up, Elon Musk overtakes Jeff Bezos as the world's richest person while Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest plans to build equipment to produce green hydrogen

Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, at the Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution session at the World Economic Forum. Photo: World Economic Forum
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Mukesh Ambani

Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest person, joined Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the world’s most exclusive wealth club with a fortune of at least $100 billion.

The chairman of India’s Reliance Industries entered the rarefied group of 11 men as his conglomerate’s stock recently climbed to a record high. He is now worth $100.6bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after his wealth increased by $23.8bn this year.

Since inheriting the oil-refining and petrochemicals businesses of his late father’s empire in 2005, Mr Ambani, 64, has been seeking to transform the energy giant into a retail, technology and e-commerce titan.

His telecommunications unit, which started services in 2016, is now the dominant carrier in the Indian market. His retail and technology ventures raised about $27bn last year, selling stakes to investors ranging from Facebook and Google to KKR & Co and Silver Lake.

Mr Ambani unveiled an ambitious push into green energy in June, with a planned investment of about $10bn over three years. And last month, the mogul said his company would aggressively pursue production of cheaper green hydrogen. The plan aligns with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitions of turning India into a global manufacturing hub for the cleaner fuel to combat climate change and slash energy imports by the world’s third-biggest oil consumer.

“Mukesh Ambani is at the forefront of creating new businesses with new emerging technologies,” says Chakri Lokapriya, chief investment officer at TCG Asset Management in Mumbai. “Creating businesses of scale at speed brings execution challenges, but he has demonstrated his capabilities.”

The story of Reliance dates back to the late 1960s, when Dhirubhai Ambani, who started out as a petrol station attendant in Yemen, began building his polyester business into a vast empire. When he died of a stroke in 2002 without leaving a will, a succession feud erupted between his two sons, Mukesh and Anil, 62, which was eventually settled by the siblings’ mother, Kokilaben, in 2005.

Mukesh Ambani is at the forefront of creating new businesses with new emerging technologies
Chakri Lokapriya, chief investment officer at TCG Asset Management

Under the truce agreement, Mr Mukesh got control of the flagship oil refining and petrochemicals businesses, while his younger brother got newer areas such as power generation, financial services and telecommunications services. Anil – once a billionaire – told a London court last year that his net worth was zero.

India’s billionaires are some of the largest climbers on the world’s rich list, as Asia’s best-performing major stock market this year gets a boost from a surge in initial public offerings.

Gautam Adani, founder of coal power and renewable energy conglomerate Adani Group, has added $39.5bn to his fortune this year, while the country’s third-richest person, technology tycoon Azim Premji, saw his wealth grow by $12.8bn.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk wants Jeff Bezos to know he No1. Tesla's co-founder responded to a tweet from Mr Bezos on October 11 with a silver medal emoji after the gap between the world’s two richest people increased last week as a result of the surging valuation of Mr Musk’s rocket company SpaceX. His net worth is now $222bn, while Amazon’s Mr Bezos is at $190.8bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The jab escalates the public spat between the two billionaires, who are both trying to revolutionise the space industry.

Mr Bezos’s Blue Origin is challenging a US government contract with SpaceX to develop technology to land people on the Moon again, while Mr Musk has previously taken to Twitter to call Amazon’s founder a “copy cat” for his e-commerce company’s space-focused ventures. In a recent filing with US regulators, Amazon’s satellite subsidiary accused Mr Musk and his companies of flouting regulations with a general attitude that “rules are for other people”.

Mr Musk, 50, added about $9bn to his fortune on October 8 after an agreement with investors valued SpaceX in excess of $100bn, more than quadruple the size of Blue Origin, according to Bloomberg’s wealth index.

Mr Musk still derives about three quarters of his wealth from Tesla, which he co-founded in 2003 after making a fortune from the sale of e-commerce site PayPal to eBay for $1.5bn.

Andrew Forrest

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest is planning an enormous factory to build equipment to produce green hydrogen in a key Australian coal centre.

Fortescue Metals Group's energy unit will build a plant with initial capacity to make two gigawatts of electrolysers a year in Gladstone, Queensland, home to one of the world’s largest coal-export terminals. Construction will start in February with manufacturing expected to begin in early 2023, the company said.

The initial capacity would make the plant among the largest in the world and vault Australia into early competition with China as a leading producer of the equipment. When paired with renewable energy, electrolysers can make hydrogen that can be stored and transported and eventually converted into carbon-free energy for power or transport.

“This initiative is a critical step in Fortescue’s transition from a highly successful pure play iron ore producer to an even more successful green renewables and resources powerhouse,” Mr Forrest says.

Investment by Fortescue Future Industries, initially $83 million and potentially rising to $650m, is part of a boom for the equipment, which runs an electric current through water to separate it into hydrogen and oxygen. About 16 gigawatts of manufacturing capacity could come online by 2024, according to BloombergNEF, which will probably leave the market oversaturated.

Soichiro Swimmy Minami

Soichiro Swimmy Minami came under the wing of Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder of the e-commerce Rakuten Group, when he worked at Rakuten’s professional baseball team in 2004.

Mr Mikitani told him businesses must fix a social problem – and Mr Minami took his words to heart.

In April, Mr Minami listed his own company, Visional, on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The entrepreneur is now worth $1.1bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, taking his place alongside Mr Mikitani in the ranks of billionaires.

It is another example of how the boom in IPOs is creating vast fortunes for founders around the world.

“He mentored me in a way,” Mr Minami, 45, says. He “taught me that business is meant to solve issues in society and make society better.”

As Mr Minami tells it, that is exactly what Visional is trying to do.

The businessman set up Visional, which operates the BizReach recruiting platform, in 2009 because he saw Japan’s lifetime employment system as a huge deterrent to the country’s growth.

Only about 2 per cent of full-time workers in Japan changed jobs last year, Mr Minami says, citing government data. The ratio of workers who have stayed in one post for more than 10 years was 48 per cent in Japan in 2017, the highest among 35 countries including the US, France and the UK, according to OECD data.

By contrast, a recent PwC survey in the US found that 65 per cent of employees are looking for a new job.

“I just felt that this outdated work style in Japan needed to be changed,” Mr Minami says. “There’s a lot of room to grow, a lot of room for improvement. And that’s what I’m betting on.”

BizReach allows job seekers to post their resumes on its site and be contacted directly by employers and headhunters. It targets full-time workers who make an annual salary of more than 6 million yen ($54,000), according to Mr Minami. It had about 1.4 million job seekers registered on the platform as of July 2021, according to a company presentation, with more than 17,000 employers subscribing to the service.

Visional’s stock is up 43 per cent since listing in April – most of which came from a first-day pop. That compares with a gain of about 8 per cent for Japan’s benchmark Topix index.

I just felt that this outdated work style in Japan needed to be changed
Soichiro Swimmy Minami, founder of Visional

Investors are waiting to see if the company’s earnings growth is sustainable, says Tomoichiro Kubota, a senior market analyst at Matsui Securities in Tokyo. If not, “it’ll probably be difficult to anticipate greater upside”, he says.

Visional reported revenue of 28.7bn yen for the 12 months ended July, an 11 per cent increase from the previous year. Operating profit was 2.4bn yen, 8.3 per cent higher than a year earlier.

Whatever happens with the stock, Mr Minami says he is just getting started in his plan to change the Japanese labour force, and by doing so make the country more productive.

“It’s very inefficient,” he says. “But if you could make it efficient, I think we’re back in business.”

Updated: October 17, 2021, 5:00 AM