The High & Mighty - 50 Power People
India Today|November 01, 2021
High & Mighty 50 Power People

CALL IT THE POWER OF RESILIENCE, but many of the 50 stalwarts featured in these pages have been around for several editions of our High and Mighty annual. No doubt it’s good to be insulated with a carapace of power, wealth and fame during a global health crisis and the attendant economic meltdown—and this is already our second ‘Power People’ list since the pandemic began. Still, holding on to the reins of success in a year when so many have been laid low is not a feat of privilege alone. In these precarious times, the most prominent figures of Indian business, culture and entertainment—call them the civilian elite—can only remain at the pinnacle by staying relevant. Veterans of industry kept the wheels of manufacturing turning while responding to the crisis of the second wave by helping to supply essential equipment and services. Those with a digital orientation got a massive boost due to the pandemic. Pharma majors have inevitably acquired a new aura of celebrity and influence by delivering the most necessary medicines. And as the terrors of the pandemic give way to a fragile sense of hope, our list also acknowledges the talent and character of those who kept us entertained, optimistic, even united through our darkest days.

1 MUKESH AMBANI, 64

Chairman & MD, Reliance Industries

AUDACIOUS AMBITIONS

BECAUSE he is seeking to future-proof Reliance Industries’ (RIL) hydrocarbon portfolio by moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy with Rs 75,000 crore in investment, and setting up the 5,000-acre Dhirubhai Ambani Green Energy Giga Complex in Jamnagar, slated to be among the world’s largest such integrated renewable energy facilities. Plans include investing in an integrated solar photovoltaic module factory besides others for advanced energy storage batteries, electrolysers and fuel cells, and has already stitched up deals worth Rs 9,300 crore with firms such as Ambri, REC Solar, Sterling & Wilson Solar, NexWafe and Stiesdal A/S in the past four months

BECAUSE India’s largest private-sector company posted a consolidated turnover of Rs 5.39 lakh crore for FY21 and profits of Rs 53,739 crore despite a challenging business environment. RIL, which owns the world’s biggest oil refining complex in Jamnagar, capable of processing 1.4 million barrels of petroleum a day, rebranded its refinery & petrochem interests as an O2C (oil to chemicals) business in 2020-21 to accelerate decision-making and pursue focused opportunities

BECAUSE he raised Rs 2.6 lakh crore in FY21 to fund his big plans, including Rs 1.52 lakh crore from Facebook and Google for Jio Platforms, Rs 47,265 crore from global private equity funds for Reliance Retail, Rs 53,124 crore by way of RIL’s rights issue and Rs 7,629 crore from UK energy giant BP for a fuel retailing partnership. In August 2019, Jio had announced a 10-year deal with Microsoft to set up a countrywide network of data centres

BECAUSE he turned RIL’s telecom and retail businesses profitable, with Jio Platforms’ consolidated net profit at Rs 12,534 crore on revenues of Rs 86,493 crore in FY21, and India’s largest fashion retailer Reliance Retail’s net profit at Rs 5,481 crore on revenues of Rs 1.58 lakh crore, even as traditional businesses prospered

BECAUSE the RIL stock continues to be the darling of investors, with its market capitalisation (share price multiplied by the number of publicly held shares) at Rs 17.11 lakh crore as on October 14, the highest among listed Indian companies

BECAUSE he is India’s richest person, who has a net worth of $92 billion (Rs 6.9 lakh crore), as per the latest Forbes list

HIGH ON ENERGY A voracious reader, he devours books on new energy, often reading till late into the night. He also consumes videos and podcasts on the subject

GRANDPA DUTY He sets aside a few hours every day for grandson Prithvi, son of Akash Ambani and Shloka Mehta

COVID FIGHTER Reliance Foundation set up India’s first dedicated Covid hospital in Mumbai. It also rapidly scaled up its operations to provide 2,300 Covid beds

2 GAUTAM ADANI, 59

Chairman, Adani Group

THE RISE AND RISE

BECAUSE when most businesses are conserving cash and curtailing investment, this first-generation businessman is aggressively expanding the Adani empire in infrastructure sectors such as roads, power, airports and solar energy, creating over $100 billion (Rs 7.5 lakh crore) in shareholder value

BECAUSE the group’s six listed firms in the areas of ports, roads, power, clean energy and mining generated an income of Rs 96,754 crore in FY21 and had a market capitalisation of $122 billion (over Rs 9 lakh crore) as on October 19

BECAUSE he has emerged as India’s biggest private airports operator in three years, with group subsidiary Adani Airports taking over operations of seven airports last year, including the country’s second busiest, Mumbai, and will also operate the under-construction Navi Mumbai airport

BECAUSE he is giving a big push to the clean energy business, announcing investments of over $20 billion (Rs 1.5 lakh crore) to set up equipment manufacturing units and infrastructure over the next 10 years

BECAUSE he forayed into the transformational digital business linking data centres, super apps and industrial clouds during the pandemic, creating AdaniConneX, a data centre joint venture between AEL and EdgeConneX, to develop 1 GW of data centre capacity over the coming decade

HELPING HAND Used the group’s air, land, road, rail and sea-based logistics network to distribute oxygen across the country to needy Covid patients, procuring 48 cryogenic tanks capable of carrying 780 tonnes of liquid oxygen in May. The Adani Foundation pulled 33,000 children out of malnourishment, one of the largest private programmes of its kind in the country

FAST LANE Proud owner of a fleet of luxury cars, including a red Ferrari

3 KUMAR MANGALAM BIRLA, 54

Chairman, Aditya Birla Group

CAPTAIN COOL

BECAUSE his timely intervention through a letter to the Centre on the health of the telecom sector and his meetings with officials and policymakers highlighting Vodafone-Idea’s woes paved the way for a range of relief measures to Indian telcos

BECAUSE he has invested ahead of the cycle in India’s growth story despite the pandemic, with the over $45 billion (Rs 3.37 lakh crore) Aditya Birla Group committing to invest $5 billion (Rs 37,500 crore) in fresh capex in just the past 12 months

BECAUSE his companies have consistently created value for shareholders, with the group clocking the second-fastest growth in market capitalisation this year at $73.5 billion (around Rs 5.5 lakh crore) as in mid-October

BECAUSE the group’s flagship company Grasim, born 10 days after Independence, is flourishing at 75, with annual sales of over $10 billion (Rs 75,000 crore) across sectors as diverse as textiles, chemicals and cement

BECAUSE he is taking India’s ethnic fashion and traditional craftsmanship to high-street New York. The past 18 months have seen the group acquire iconic luxury brands such as Sabyasachi, Tarun Tahiliani and Shantanu & Nikhil

BECAUSE he made a bold foray into the fast-growing, highly-competitive paints industry with a Rs 5,000 crore investment in January

ECO-FRIENDLY Group company UltraTech became India’s first and Asia’s second company to raise global capital through green bonds in February. The sustainability-linked issue was oversubscribed 7 times

FUTURE PERFECT BITS Pilani, backed by the Aditya Birla Group, launched a world-class business school in Mumbai, BITS School of Management, with global faculty in January

FAST FORWARD The group’s studio Applause disrupted the OTT space with binge-worthy shows like Scam 1992, Hostages, Criminal Justice in the past year

PAPA’S FAVOURITE Daughter Ananya teamed up with music composer A.R. Rahman to release a cheer song for the Ind ian team headed for the Tokyo Olympics

4 RATAN TATA, 83

Chairman Emeritus, Tata Sons

SPREADING WINGS

BECAUSE Tata Trusts, of which he is chairman, swung into action when the pandemic began, committing an initial Rs 500 crore, upgrading four government hospitals in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra into Covid treatment centres and handing them to the state governments, and tying up with CMC Vellore and the Care Institute of Health Sciences in Hyderabad to assist healthcare professionals. The curated online training programme, offered for free, covered staff from over 2,340 hospitals in 28 states and Union territories

BECAUSE Tata Trusts initiated a support programme to assist migrant workers in the aftermath of Covid-19, linking them with government schemes. About 1.6 million households were registered under the project, 1.9 million applications were submitted, and a monetary benefit amounting to Rs 125 crore was delivered

BECAUSE all actions of the salt-to-software Tata Group last year had his stamp of approval, including the bid for Air India, which the group won on Oct. 8

LOST LOVE A sworn bachelor, Tata almost got married to someone he met in Los Angeles where he worked as an architect, in the 1960s, but her parents were unhappy about her going to India due to the 1962 Indo-China war

SWEET SUCCESS Grew emotional after winning the Air India bid, saying JRD, his mentor and predecessor at Tata Sons, “would have been overjoyed if he was in our midst today”

ADVISOR IN CHIEF Remains a significant mentor to startups, with personal investment in over 20 Indian companies, including Ola Electric, Cure.fit, FirstCry and Urban Company

5 UDAY KOTAK, 62

MD & CEO, Kotak Mahindra Bank

RACHIT GOSWAMI

THE MONEY MASTER

BECAUSE he helped recover over 60 per cent of IL&FS’s outstanding debt of around Rs 94,000 crore by October this year after the Centre called upon him to revive the troubled non-banking financial firm as its chairman in 2018

BECAUSE Kotak Mahindra is India’s fourth-largest private bank with Rs 2.23 lakh crore in advances as on March 31, 2021; Rs 6,965 crore net profit, Rs 2.8 lakh crore deposits in the year and Rs 65,472 crore capital reserves

BECAUSE he is building the group’s muscle through acquisitions such as taking over Volkswagen Finance’s vehicle financing portfolio in September, Kotak Mahindra Bank acquiring a 9.99 per cent stake in investor and issuer servicing platform KFin Technologies, and a similar stake in Tata firm Ferbine

BECAUSE the digital disruption in financial services saw his bank’s mobile app transaction volumes grow 128 per cent and value up 51 per cent in FY21

BECAUSE he was the world’s richest banker with a net worth of $16 billion (Rs 1.2 lakh crore) in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index in December 2020

BECAUSE with the RBI giving him a three-year extension as CEO last December, he’d have spent 20 years at the bank’s helm when his tenure expires in 2023

UNWIND TIME Loved Netflix series Medici about the medieval Florence banker. The Crown is his other favourite

6 SAJJAN JINDAL, 61

Chairman, JSW Group

Heavy Mettle

BECAUSE JSW Steel, India’s second-largest steelmaker, is eyeing the top slot and started production at a new 5 million tonnes (mt) per year hot strip mill at its Dolvi plant in Maharashtra in April, taking the company’s steelmaking capacity to 23 mt

BECAUSE JSW Steel became the first company in the steel sector globally to issue a sustainability linked bond in a hard currency and raised $1 billion (Rs 7,500 crore) in the dollar bond markets in September

BECAUSE group firm JSW Energy is betting big on renewables and signed a contract with GE Renewable Energy in October to supply 810 MW of onshore wind turbines for its under-construction pipeline of around 2.5 GW of renewable projects in India. JSW Energy has set a target of 50 per cent reduction in carbon footprint by 2030, carbon neutrality by 2050

BECAUSE the World Steel Association has elected Jindal as its chairman for 2021-22, the first representative from India to serve at the association’s helm

PROUD MOMENT When Neeraj Chopra, who trained at the group’s Inspire Institute of Sports, won Olympic gold. Takes an active interest in sports through JSW Sports, which is associated with teams such as Bengaluru FC, Delhi Capitals and Haryana Steelers and top athletes like Chopra and Sakshi Malik

7 SUNIL BHARTI MITTAL, 63

Chairman, Bharti Enterprises

THE FIGHTER

BECAUSE in a year that saw major telcos, such as Vodafone Idea, struggle for survival, Bharti Airtel took market leader Reliance Jio head-on, adding 3.8 million subscribers this June to take its mobile user base to over 350 million. Some analysts say the company may report better average revenue per user and stronger sequential growth in mobile revenue than Jio in the second quarter of FY22. The group plans to invest $673 million (Rs 5,050 crore) to expand its data centre business

BECAUSE the planned fleet of 648 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites of its subsidiary OneWeb will bring high-speed, low-latency connectivity to India’s remotest corners, on land, water and air. OneWeb is the first private player to launch satellites from ISRO facilities

BECAUSE Mittal has, in many ways, defined India’s telecom story—from calling out abysmally low tariffs to recommending that telcos share infrastructure so that the Indian telecom market is not reduced to a duopoly

BUSINESS MANTRA Employee first. “In the past few years, I have realised that people who work with you are the most important. In a service industry, if my employees aren’t happy, we’ll never satisfy our customers,” he says

8 AZIM PREMJI, 76

Founder Chairman, Wipro

MR GENEROSITY

BECAUSE he topped the 2020 EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List with a donation of Rs 7,904 crore

BECAUSE at a time of few international deals, Wipro bought UK management and tech consultancy firm Capco for $1.5 billion (Rs 11,250 crore) in March. It also acquired the IT units of leading German wholesale firm Metro AG for $700 million (Rs 5,250 crore) last December, and Australian firm Ampion, a provider of cyber security, DevOps and quality engineering services, this April

BECAUSE the company plans to invest $1 billion (Rs 7,500 crore) in cloud technologies, capabilities, acquisitions and partnerships over the next 3 years

BECAUSE at the beginning of the pandemic, Wipro, Wipro Enterprises and Azim Premji Foundation together committed Rs 1,125 crore for Covid relief, increasing it to Rs 2,125 crore in May 2021 to expand its work on vaccination

HUMBLE START With just Rs 2 per week, his grandfather M.H. Hasham Premji managed to build one of the largest rice trading businesses that has evolved into a diverse, multibillion-dollar enterprise 75 years later

9 N. CHANDRASEKARAN, 58

Chairman, Tata Sons

ON A MISSION FOR ‘ONE TATA’

BECAUSE under his watch, group companies have turned around, with 29 publicly-listed Tata firms touching a combined market capitalisation of $242 billion (around Rs 18 lakh crore) as on March 31. At Rs 13.54 lakh crore (as on October 19), TCS had the second-highest m-cap among listed companies

BECAUSE Tata Motors registered 69 per cent year-on-year growth in FY21 despite zero sales in lockdown-hit April 2020, and posted revenues of Rs 47,031 crore, up 7 per cent over the year before. It is planning a portfolio of 10 electric vehicles in five years

BECAUSE as part of his ‘One Tata’ strategy to simplify, synergise and scale-up Tata businesses, the group is working towards massive debt reduction, digitisation and acquisitions. In May, Tata Digital acquired a majority stake in online grocery firm BigBasket, and in fitness startup CureFit in June. The group will soon launch TataNeu, a “super app” for all consumer services

LONG HAUL Taking up running at the age of 44, Chandra, as he’s fondly called, often goes running with staff and business partners while on business trips

10 CYRUS S. POONAWALLA, 80

Chairman & MD, Cyrus Poonawalla Group

ADAR POONAWALLA, 40

CEO, Serum Institute of India

VACCINE VICEROYS

BECAUSE the Serum Institute of India (SII) has been a leading player in helping India reach its Covid vaccination targets. Close to 89 per cent of the 977 million doses administered so far have been of Covishield, manufactured by SII

BECAUSE the Poonawallas are working with CII to supply Covid vaccines to India’s remote parts. SII has reduced the price of Covishield for states by Rs 100 to encourage more vaccinations

BECAUSE the Poonawallas took a calculated risk and invested heavily in Covid vaccine production. SII spent Rs 4,000 crore on building the world’s largest multifunctional product facility in Pune. In February 2021, the Adar Poonawallacontrolled Rising Sun Holdings acquired a 60 per cent stake in NBFC Magma Fincorp

SCALING IT UP The Serum Institute has machines that fill 500 glass vials a minute, and steel bioreactors almost two storeys high that can produce over 10 million vaccine shots a month

WINGS OF DESIRE The family owns two ultra-longrange business jets—a Gulfstream G550 and a Bombardier Global 6000—costing over $60 million (Rs 450 crore) apiece

11 AMITABH BACHCHAN, 79

Actor

Our Forever Idol

BECAUSE he gets busier as he gets older. Be it TV, where he hosts the popular quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati, or the big screen, where he will be seen alongside Ajay Devgn (Mayday), Ranbir Kapoor (Brahmastra), Prabhas (untitled project) and Deepika Padukone (remake of Hollywood film The Intern), Big B is a long way from hanging up his thespian gloves

BECAUSE he aces even the good samaritan act. From arranging oxygen concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment for hospitals to donating money to set up Covid facilities in Mumbai, the star has been in action throughout the pandemic

BECAUSE if there’s a health issue to advocate for, he is the favoured candidate. Bachchan lent his voice to telephone messages for a government campaign promoting Covid-19 safety protocols, motivated frontline workers and raised awareness about mental health

BOL BACHCHAN Became the first Indian celebrity to have his voice featured on Amazon’s Alexa. On the device, ‘Amit ji’ narrates anecdotes, recites his father’s poems and motivational quotes

WRITE WAY On Twitter, he numbers his tweets, on Tumblr he categorises his entries by day

UP NEXT Jhund with Sairat director Nagraj Manjule, Ekta Kapoor’s Goodbye

12 NANDAN NILEKANI, 66

Co-founder, Infosys; former Chairman, UIDAI

DIGITAL EVANGELIST

BECAUSE Nilekani has emerged as troubleshooter #1 for the government— from giving inputs on the ongoing fintech revolution in India to resolving issues with GSTN and the new income tax portal. He had convinced Prime Minister Modi and former finance minister Arun Jaitley to persist with Aadhaar and the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme. Nilekani was called back to Infosys—the second-largest Indian IT company after TCS—in 2017 after the sudden departure of its CEO and a boardroom shake-up

BECAUSE he has been at the forefront of India’s digital revolution, from setting up Infosys in 1981 to now steering the digital payments campaign as head of the RBI committee on digital payments

BECAUSE Nilekani, among the 100 richest Indians in 2021 with a net worth of $3.4 billion (Rs 25,585 crore), has pledged half his wealth to philanthropy. He teamed up with Ratan Tata to launch Avanti Finance and offer microloans to the poor

BECAUSE Nilekani has been nurturing start-ups in India. He backs Fundamentum Partnership, a $100 million (Rs 750 crore) venture capital fund for tech companies

LOOKING AHEAD “Covid-19 widened the digital divide. We must design applications in a way that even people who don’t have access to devices can participate”

13 SHIV NADAR, 76

Founder and Chairman Emeritus, HCL Technologies

ROSHNI NADAR MALHOTRA, 39

Chairperson, HCL Technologies

SOFT POWER

BECAUSE HCL Technologies continues to innovate and ranks among the top 20 largest publicly-traded companies in India, with a market capitalisation of $50 billion (Rs 3.76 lakh crore) as in September 2021. According to Roshni Nadar Malhotra, the company has had its highest compounded annual growth rate over the past four years, with exceptional performance across all metrics in 2019- 20 as compared to other technology players around the world

BECAUSE the Nadars are among the select few Indian billionaires on global rich lists. With a net worth of $31 billion (Rs 2.33 lakh crore), Shiv Nadar ranked third in the 2021 Forbes India’s 100 Richest List. Roshni Nadar Malhotra was 54th on the Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women List in 2019

BECAUSE the Nadars have been consistently setting benchmarks in philanthropy. In 2019, Shiv Nadar topped the EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List, with a contribution of Rs 826 crore in 2018- 19. In 2020, he was ranked second (Rs 795 crore contributed in 2019-20). Nadar follows the concept of ‘creative philanthropy’—the creation of institutions that go beyond the lifetime of their founders to bring about long-term social transformation. Since its inception in 1994, the Shiv Nadar Foundation has invested $988 million (Rs 7,410 crore) to create institutions of transformational education

WORK OF ART Shiv Nadar’s wife, Kiran Nadar, gave India its first philanthropic private art museum in 2010— the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. She has also been working for the education of girls in the backward districts of Uttar Pradesh. She is a bridge player as well and represented India at the 2018 Asian Games

14 AJAY PIRAMAL, 66

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