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Andy Mukherjee

An Old-Money Billionaire Rises Up Against Adani

Birla has learned some lessons from tangling with India’s other top billionaire. He’s not going to cede the cement industry without a fight.

Kumar Mangalam Birla.

Kumar Mangalam Birla.

Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Gautam Adani’s meteoric rise to the world’s ninth-richest person began with a port on India’s west coast in the 1990s and an abiding friendship with a politician who’s now prime minister. The rest has been all about finding the next industry that will make his debt-fueled empire a little bigger.

The port brought in coal, liquefied gas and palm oil — and so Adani got into them and adjacent businesses. For example, once he had begun supplying coal to power plants, he entered mining — in India, Indonesia and Australia — and his own electricity generation and distribution. He supplied piped gas to Indian cities, and set out to harvest solar and wind power. Extending his dominance in logistics to owning airports, grain silos and data centers was only logical; as was selling a cooking medium to Indians to fry their samosas: He just had to refine the Indonesian palm-oil landing at Indian ports, of which he now owns 13.