New Delhi: India’s Gautam Adani, the school drop-out turned billionaire who rose to become Asia’s richest man, faces possibly the biggest challenge of his career after a US short seller cast doubts on his business practices, hammering shares in his companies and his reputation.
Adani, who hails from Gujarat, built his business empire from scratch after starting as a commodities trader. Adani’s business empire grew rapidly and his wealth ballooned. His interests span ports, power generation, airports, mining, edible oils, renewable power and more recently media and cement.
He rose to become the world’s third-richest person according to Forbes, with a net worth of $127 billion, trailing only Bernard Arnault and Elon Musk. Despite his riches, the 60-year-old, who comes from a middle-class textile family, was far lesser known than other billionaires in a country where many inherit their wealth. His business style was described as “very hands-on”, according to one person with direct knowledge of his dealings.
As Adani’s empire swelled, stocks of his seven listed companies surged – in some cases more than 1,500% in the last three years amid aggressive expansion. In recent years, the $220 billion Adani Group empire has attracted foreign investment – France’s TotalEnergies, for example, partnered with Adani last year to develop the world’s biggest green hydrogen ecosystem.
Appearing in a popular Hindi TV show this month called the ‘People’s Court’, Adani sat in a mock witness box inside a courtroom setup and answered questions about his conglomerate – offering an unusual level of scrutiny. He described himself as “a shy person” and credited the rise of his popularity in part to the political attacks he has faced.
Three weeks later, shares of his group’s listed companies plunged on Friday, taking their cumulative losses to $48 billion this week. Short seller Hindenburg Research on Wednesday accused Adani’s businesses of improper use of offshore tax havens and flagged concerns about high debt. Adani has called the report baseless and said he was considering taking action.
Adani Group’s website says its vision is to balance “growth with goodness” as it aims to build assets of national relevance and transform lives through self-reliance and sustainability.
Adani is no stranger to controversies. The most recent was months of protest by fishermen against the construction of a $900-million port in Kerala, in which he sued the state government and fishermen leaders. And in Australia, environmental activists for years protested against Adani’s Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland of concerns about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef.
His latest challenge is how to deal with an unprecedented share price rout as the group’s flagship firm Adani Enterprises launched the country’s biggest public secondary share offering this week, aiming to raise $2.5 billion.
The stock’s price on Friday fell well below the offer price, casting doubts on its success.