Gautam Adani’s net worth soars, making the college dropout the third richest person

Few outside India had heard of Gautam Adani just a few years ago. Now the Indian businessman, a college dropout who first tried his luck as a diamond trader before switching to coal, has become the world’s third richest person.

It is the first time an Asian has broken into the top three of the Bloomberg Billionaires Index – fellow countryman Mukesh Ambani and China’s Jack Ma have never made it this far. With a fortune of $137.4 billion, Adani has overtaken France’s Bernard Arnault and now trails only Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos of the United States in the ranking.

Adani, 60, has spent the past few years expanding his coal-to-port conglomerate, venturing into everything from data centers to cement, media and alumina. The group now owns India̵[ads1]7;s largest private port and airport operator, city gas distributor and coal miner. While Australia’s Carmichael mine has been criticized by environmentalists, it pledged in November to invest $70 billion in green energy to become the world’s largest producer of renewable energy.

As his empire has expanded into one of the world’s largest conglomerates fueling the remarkable gains in wealth, concerns have grown over its rapid growth. Adani’s bidding spree has been largely financed by debt, and his empire is “deeply overleveraged,” CreditSights said in a report this month.

Some lawmakers and market watchers have also raised concerns about opaque shareholder structures and a lack of analyst coverage at Adani Group companies. Still, shares have risen — some of them more than 1,000% since 2020, with valuations reaching 750 times earnings — as the tycoon focused on areas Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees as critical to achieving India’s long-term goals.

The pivot to green energy and infrastructure has won investment from firms including Warburg Pincus and TotalEnergies SE, and has helped Adani enter ranks previously dominated by US tech moguls. The increase in coal in recent months has given his ascent a further turbo.

All told, Adani has added $60.9 billion to its wealth in 2022 alone, five times more than anyone else. He first overtook Ambani as the richest Asian in February, became a centi-billionaire in April and surpassed Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates as the world’s fourth-richest person last month.

Adani was able to overtake some of the world’s richest American billionaires in part because it has recently strengthened its philanthropy. Gates said in July that he was transferring $20 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while Warren Buffett has already donated more than $35 billion to the charity.

The two, along with Gates’ ex-wife Melinda French Gates, started the Giving Pledge initiative in 2010, pledging to give away most of their fortune in their lifetime. The billions of dollars spent on philanthropy have pushed them lower on Bloomberg’s wealth ranking. Gates is now fifth and Buffett is sixth.

Adani has also increased its charitable giving. He pledged in June to donate $7.7 billion to social causes to mark his 60th birthday.

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