Few outside of India had heard of self-made billionaire Gautam Adani a few years ago. Now, the Indian businessman, a university dropout who first tried his luck as a diamond trader before turning to coal, has become the world’s third-richest person.
Mr Adani has spent the past few years expanding his coal-to-ports conglomerate, venturing into everything from data centres to cement, media and alumina.
The group now owns India’s largest private-sector port and airport operator, city gas distributor and coal miner.
While its Carmichael mine in Australia has been criticised by environmentalists, it pledged in November to invest $70bn in green energy to become the world’s largest renewable energy producer.
As his empire has expanded to become one of the world’s largest conglomerates, fuelling the remarkable wealth gains, concerns have grown over the rapid growth.
Mr Adani’s deals spree has been predominantly funded with debt and his empire is “deeply overleveraged”, CreditSights said in a report this month.
Some legislators and market watchers have also raised concerns over opaque shareholder structures and a lack of analyst coverage at Adani Group companies.
Yet the shares have soared — some of them more than 1,000 per cent since 2020, with valuations hitting 750 times earnings — as the tycoon focused on areas that Prime Minister Narendra Modi deems crucial to meeting India’s long-term goals.
The pivot to green energy and infrastructure has won investments from businesses such as Warburg Pincus and TotalEnergies, helping Mr Adani to enter the echelons previously dominated by US technology moguls.
The surge in coal in recent months has further turbocharged his ascent.
All told, Mr Adani has added $60.9bn to his fortune in 2022 alone, five times more than anyone else.
He first overtook Mr Ambani as the richest Asian in February, became a centibillionaire in April and surpassed Microsoft’s Bill Gates as the world’s fourth-richest person last month.
Mr Adani was able to move past some of the world’s richest US billionaires partly because they have recently boosted their philanthropy.
In July, Mr Gates said he was transferring $20bn to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while Warren Buffett has already donated more than $35bn to the charity.
The two, along with Mr Gates’s former wife Melinda French Gates, started the Giving Pledge initiative in 2010, vowing to give away most of their fortunes in their lifetimes.
The billions of dollars spent on philanthropy has pushed them lower on the Bloomberg wealth ranking. Mr Gates is now fifth and Mr Buffett is sixth.
Mr Adani has also increased his charitable giving, pledging in June to donate $7.7bn to social causes to mark his 60th birthday.
World's top 10 richest people
- Elon Musk - $251bn
- Jeff Bezos - $153bn
- Gautam Adani - $137.4bn
- Bernard Arnault - $136bn
- Bill Gates - $117bn
- Warren Buffett - $100bn
- Larry Page - $100bn
- Sergey Brin - $95.8bn
- Steve Ballmer - $93.7bn
- Larry Ellison - $93.3bn
Source: Bloomberg Billionaires Index