Just a few years ago, Gautam Adani was mostly unknown outside of India. The Indian billionaire, who dropped out of college and tried his luck as a diamond trader before switching to coal, is now the third-richest person in the world.
It’s the first time an Asian has entered the top three of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index; Jack Ma of China and fellow citizen Mukesh Ambani have never done so. With a fortune of $137.4 billion, Mr. Adani has surpassed Bernard Arnault of France and is now just behind US billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in terms of wealth.
The 60-year-old Mr. Adani has invested the last several years in growing his coal-to-ports conglomerate by foraying into a variety of industries, including data centres, cement, media, and alumina.
The group today controls the largest private-sector coal miner, city-gas distributor, and operator of ports and airports in India. Environmentalists have criticised the company’s Carmichael mine in Australia, but it promised in November to invest $70 billion in renewable energy to become the greatest generator in the world.
Concerns about the quick expansion have grown as his empire grew into one of the largest companies in the world, fueling the incredible wealth gains. According to a report released this month by CreditSights, Mr. Adani’s deal-making frenzy has been largely supported by debt and that his enterprise is “seriously over-leveraged.”
Concerns over ambiguous ownership structures and a dearth of analyst coverage at Adani Group companies have also been voiced by certain lawmakers and market observers.
However, as the billionaire concentrated on areas that Prime Minister Narendra Modi views as essential to achieving India’s long-term goals, the shares have soared—some of them by more than 1,000% since 2020, with prices reaching 750 times earnings.
With investments from companies like Warburg Pincus and TotalEnergies SE, Mr. Adani has been able to move up the corporate ladder and into the formerly held by US tech moguls. His rise has been accelerated even further by the recent jump in coal prices.
In total, Mr. Adani increased his wealth by $60.9 billion in 2022 alone, five times more than anyone else. In February, he first passed Mr. Ambani as the wealthiest Asian. In April, he attained the status of millionaire. In May, he passed Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates as the fourth-richest person on Earth.