2020: The Challengers
India Today|October 26, 2020
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2020: The Challengers
Nothing tests the true mettle of leadership better than adversity. If the already slowing economy were not enough, the Covid pandemic and the lockdown further crippled businesses and left millions unemployed. GDP contracted 23.9 per cent in the first quarter of this fiscal. It is in this light that we need to see India today’s annual Power List this year. The 50 personalities featured here have one trait in common: rising above the ordinary in extraordinary times. Corporate czars like Mukesh Ambani or K.M. Birla are thinking ahead at a time when new-age enterprises threaten traditional businesses. Others, like Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal or Byju Raveendran are using the crisis as an opportunity to grow their business. Superstars such as Amitabh Bachchan or corporates like the Tatas are doing their bit by donating funds, arranging meals for the needy or spreading awareness to tackle Covid. Voices like those of Rajiv Bajaj or Kiran Mazumdar Shaw or Prashant Bhushan are keeping our moral compass steady. The power these men and women wield furthers not just their own cause but also illuminates the lives of others. That has been the one bright silver lining to the dark clouds of Covid that have eclipsed a greater part of 2020.


63 Chairman & MD, Reliance Industries

The Ultimate Tycoon

Because he remains India’s wealthiest and most influential businessman, ranking No. 1 in the Forbes India rich list for the 13th consecutive year, with a $88.7 billion (Rs 6.5 lakh crore) net worth, his wealth growing 73 per cent in the past year

Because his game-changing Reliance Jio, launched in September 2016, is now India’s #1 mobile telecom operator by revenue and subscribers, who numbered 398.3 million as on June 30, 2020

Because even amid Covid, he stitched mega-deals with global investors like Google, Facebook and Intel, turning RIL into a nimble, futuristic enterprise via its digital arm Jio Platforms, raising over Rs 1.5 lakh crore since May this year

Because armed with Rs 1.75 lakh crore of cash as on March 31, 2020, he is expanding businesses, launching JioMart in May in 200 cities and acquiring the retail and wholesale business of Kishore Biyani’s Future Group for Rs 24,713 crore

BUSY BEE: Ambani added Rs 90 crore per hour to his wealth since the lockdown, as per the latest Wealth Hurun India Rich List 2020

BOOKWORM: Devours books on technology and renewables, identifying green energy as a future thrust area for RIL


53 Chairman, Aditya Birla Group


Because he has led the Rs 3.5 lakh crore ($48.3 billion) business conglomerate with interests in textiles, cement, aluminium, carbon black, telecom and financial services for 25 years, making it the world’s No. 1 in aluminium rolling, VSF or viscose staple fibre (a raw material for textile production) and carbon black, and the third-largest producer of cement (outside China) and insulators

Because with its cement capacity topping 100 million tonnes in 2019, UltraTech is now the world’s only company to have this kind of capacity in just one country, outside of China

Because he completed the biggest Indian outbound M&A deal in 2020—Hindalco’s $2.8 billion (Rs 20,440 crore) acquisition of Aleris, a mega cross-border deal that required regulatory approvals from the US, EU and China—amid a pandemic, making Hindalco the world’s top aluminum company in revenue terms

Because the Aditya Birla Group contributed well over Rs 500 crore to Covid relief, while its apparel business manufactured and supplied several hundred thousand masks and body coveralls for frontline Covid warriors

Because group company Grasim’s VSF business delivered the highest-ever sales volume of 554KT (kilo tonnes), recording a growth of 2.4 per cent, despite a decline of 18 per cent y-o-y in March due to the lockdown, taking Grasim’s revenues to Rs 77,625 crore in 2019-20

CAPTAIN COOL: Has famously said that he has lost his cool just three times in 20 years of work

GURUSPEAK: Curated the Chairman’s Invitation Series during the Covid lockdown, a virtual meet with top 10 management gurus, including Ram Charan and Lynda Gratton, over 10 weeks, attended by 10,000 employees worldwide


58 Chairman, Adani Group


Because a series of acquisitions and infrastructure projects have seen his fortunes swell despite Covid, with group revenues soaring to over Rs 1 lakh crore

Because he joins the big league after winning bids to operate the Ahm eda bad, Jaipur, Thiruvananthapuram, Mangaluru, Guwahati and Lucknow airports and buying a majority stake in Mumbai airport from GVK Airport Developers. Meanwhile, Adani Ports acquired Krishnapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh for an enterprise value of Rs 12,000 crore from the CVR Group this January

Because despite a tough global business environment, the group successfully placed seven bonds, totalling $4.26 billion (Rs 31,098 crore), in world markets in 2019-20

Because Adani Green Energy Ltd (AGEL) won one of the world’s largest solar contracts from Solar Energy Corporation of India this June to develop 8 GW of solar projects along with a commitment to set up 2 GW of additional solar cell and module manufacturing capacity for Rs 45,000 crore

BIG RETURN: A one rupee investment in Adani Enterprises in 1994, when the group issued its first IPO, has yielded returns of over 800 times

SHINING EXAMPLE: A college dropout, Adani made his first few millions as a diamond broker in Mumbai while in his 20s


61 MD & CEO, Kotak Mahindra Bank

Because he is sought both by industry and government, with the Centre renewing his appointment as the non-exe cutive chairman of the new IL&FS board to steer it out of the crisis, even as he took charge as president of the Con federation of Indian Industry (CII) in June this year

Because when he speaks on the economy, the coun try listens. For example, he says India can become both the world’s front and back office as manufacturing shifts from China

Because Kotak Mahindra Bank, the country’s fourth largest private lender, with advances of Rs 2.19 lakh crore as on March 31, 2020, has a Tier-I capital adequacy ratio of over 20 per cent, the highest CASA (current and savings account) ratio of around 57 per cent and among the healthiest balance-sheets across the world

Because as on March 31, 2020, Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd has a national footprint of 1,600 branches and 2,519 ATMs, two branches in Dubai, and profit after tax of Rs 8,593 crore for FY20

ICE-BREAKER: After a long-drawn legal battle with the RBI, Kotak sold 2.8 per cent of his family’s 28.8 per cent stake to comply with the 26 per cent limit stipulated by the central bank in June this year, reportedly for around Rs 6,900 crore

CLOSE TIES: In September 2020, he was reappointed co-chairman of the Indo-UK Financial Partnership constituted by the finance ministry, GoI and UK Treasury

NUMBERS MAN: Kotak was raised in a 60-member cotton-trading Gujarati family but ventured into financial servi ces given his penchant for mathematics



5 82 Chairman, Tata Trusts

Because he has invested in over two dozen startups, most recently in pharma start-up Generic Aadhaar in May, mentoring budding entrepreneurs after retiring as Tata Sons chairman in December 2012

Because Tata Trusts, which was the first to announce Rs 500 crore for Covid relief, topped by another Rs 1,000 crore by Tata Sons, launched a four-pronged plan to tackle the pandemic. It supplied 435 tonnes of PPE to 32 states and Union territories, upgraded two public hospitals each in UP and Maharashtra as Covid treatment centres, trained health professionals in critical care in tie-up with CMC Vellore and the CARE Institute of Health Sciences in Hyderabad, and created awareness messages that reached 21 million people

HANDS ON: Ratan Tata personally crafted the group’s Covid response during the lockdown. He might not be in his Elphinstone Building office, but he’s present virtually for all key Tata meetings


60 Chairman and MD, JSW Group

The Integrator

Because the Modi government seeks his advice; he played a role in getting the Indian PM and his then Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to meet in Lahore to improve ties

Because JSW Steel, one of India’s largest integrated steel manufacturers, produced 16.06 million tonnes of steel in 2019-20, operating its plants at 89 per cent capacity utilisation despite Covid disruptions

Because JSW Steel posted revenues of Rs 73,326 crore in 2019

20 and a net profit of Rs 3,919 crore. It spent Rs 10,200 crore on capital expenditure and saved Rs 450 crore through digitisation

COVID CARE: The group pledged Rs 100 crore to the PM-CARES fund to fight the Covid pandemic. It converted several facilities into isolation wards, sanitised 2,750 habitations and met the food needs of 390,000 people

FITNESS FIRST: Jindal never misses his morning workouts at his residential gym in Mumbai’s Walkeshwar. He is also a marathon runner


45 Global Senior Vice President & Country Head, Amazon India

The Juggernaut

Because he’s the man behind Amazon India’s success, helping it navigate an evolving policy framework for e-commerce. The company now has nearly half a million sellers with over 170 million products

Because he will take forward the plans of founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to invest an incremental $1 billion (Rs 7,300 crore) in India to digitally enable MSMEs and traders, taking total investment commitment to $6 billion (Rs 43,800 crore). Amazon also plans to use its global footprint to export ‘Make in India’ goods worth $10 billion(Rs 73,000 crore) and create a million jobs by 2025

Because he has launched unique initiatives such as Chai Cart to educate small business owners about selling online, and Project Udaan to teach offline shoppers to shop online

CLOSER TO THE TOP: The IIT Kanpur and Stanford graduate joined Amazon as a software developer in 1999 and was technical advisor to JeffBezos himself


75 Founder, Wipro


43 Chairman, Wipro

Soft Power

Because despite a challenging year, India’s third largest software firm posted revenues of Rs 61,020 crore for FY20, a 4.2 per cent increase y-on-y, and Rs 9,720 crore net profit

Because Wipro announced a $150 mn (Rs 1,095 cr) fund in 2019-20, to invest in emerging digital areas such as cyber security, analytics, cloud infrastructure and AI

Because they are among India’s most benevolent corporates, with Wipro, Wipro Enterprises and Azim Premji Foundation together committing Rs 1,125 crore for Covid relief. The senior Premji also has the ear of the government, be it on industry matters or social causes

EARLY STARTER: Azim Premji was 21 and a student at Stanford when he joined Wipro in 1966 after his father’s death

LIFE-CHANGER: Rishad says two things changed his life—exercise, including yoga, and seven hours of sleep



78 Actor

Because his name is still a top draw, even in the age of OTT, as with his last release Gulabo Sitabo, which had its world premiere on Amazon Prime

Because he remains the colossus of Indian entertainment, across mediums and regions. Thus, having recovered from Covid, he’s back shooting for Kaun Banega Crorepati for television and will be part of an as yet untitled multilingual southern production starring Prabhas and Deepika Padukone

Because his deep baritone is still powering public service initiatives, such as for Covid-19, TB and hepatitis, or over 30 brands. The latest Duff& Phelps celebrity brand valuation study pegs his brand value at $42.5 million (Rs 310 crore)

BADGE OF HONOUR: His bouquet with a personalised handwritten congratulatory note is much cherished in the film industry. Its last recipient was Radhika Madan for her work in Angrezi Medium


31 Cricketer

Dapper Skipper

Because he’s the world’s top batsman, scoring 2,455 runs across formats in 2019, and the fastest to score 20,000 runs. He was also the only Indian to make it to ICC’s 2019 ODI and Test teams

Because he is the only Indian (#66) in the Forbes 2020 list of world’s highestpaid athletes

Because he is the top celeb endorser for the third year in a row in the Duff& Phelps list, his star power further amplified by his actor wife Anushka, who is expecting their first child. Valued at $237.5 million (Rs 1,733 crore), he endorses over 20 brands. With 81.2 million followers, he is the most followed Indian on Instagram, which is why he earned Rs 1.2 crore per sponsored post. On Twitter, his fee is an estimated Rs 2.5 crore for a paid tweet

SPORT SUPPORT: His Virat Kohli Foundation supports 17 professionals in tennis, golf, table tennis and archery


57 Chairman, Tata Sons

Big Boss

Because he is the head of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group, with revenues of Rs 8.25 lakh crore in 2019

Because in three years under Chandra, as he is often called, the Tata Group’s market capitalisation soared 39.6 per cent to Rs 12 lakh crore (February 2020)

Because he aims to pull Tata Motors out of the net debt of Rs 61,900 crore over the next three years, in line with plans to cut expenses and curtail non-core investments

FAST TRACK: Chandrasekaran has participated in most of the top marathons in the world, including in Boston, New York, Berlin and Chicago


75 Founder, HCL; Chairman, Shiv Nadar Foundation


38 Chairperson, HCL Technologies; Trustee, Shiv Nadar Foundation

Tech and More

Because the father-daughter team heads HCL Technologies, the global IT giant with a market capitalisation of Rs 2.45 lakh crore. Its net profit in FY20 saw a 9.3 per cent year-on-year jump to Rs 11,062 crore while revenues grew 17 per cent to Rs 70,678 crore

Because Roshni Nadar is the first woman to head a listed Indian IT firm while Shiv Nadar has been at the forefront of building India as an IT hub, and is ranked 60th, as on October 13, in the Forbes Real Time Billionaires List, which has only two more Indians in the top 100

Because HCL constantly innovates to meet the changing needs of businesses in the tech world, such as partnering with IBM to help clients accelerate their digital transformation

Because the Nadars set the bar high in philanthropy. Shiv Nadar topped the EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List 2019 with a grant of Rs 826 crore in 2018-19

DIFFERENT STROKES: Before HCL, Roshni Nadar had stints as a news producer with international networks. Shiv Nadar was one of the world’s first few to introduce personal computers in 1978


65 Chairman, Piramal Group

Betting Big

Because he transformed the group from a pharma entity to a conglomerate, venturing into financial services, real estate and glass packaging. Piramal Enterprises posted revenues of Rs 12,410 crore in 2019-20, up 10 per cent from the year before

Because despite the NBFC debacle, he had total investments, loans and assets under management of Rs 66,500 crore (March 31, 2020)

TOP KNOT: Son Anand Piramal, who founded Piramal Realty, got married to Reliance scion Isha Ambani, daughter of Mukesh and Nita Ambani, in December 2018, bringing two of India’s richest business families together

GAME-CHANGER: Ajay Piramal joined the family textile business at 22 and went on to build a pharma empire through acquisitions. He sold his domestic formulations business to Abbott Labs for $3.8 billion (Rs 27,740 crore) in 2010


63 Founder & Chairperson, Bharti Enterprises

Global Connect

Because he leads the second-largest telecom company in India with 423 million customers, operating in 18 countries across South Asia and Africa

Because despite stiff competition from Reliance Jio and losing millions of subscribers to it, Airtel has risen to the challenge, countering Jio’s recent tariff cuts with a Rs 399 postpaid plan. Airtel’s average revenue per user has risen 23 per cent since October 2018


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October 26, 2020