(BIZ INDIA Editor’s Note: This appeared in the October 2020 issue of Forbes) – Amid the Covid-19 pandemic which hit India hard and led to a sharp economic contraction, half of the nation’s 100 richest on the 2020 Forbes India Rich List saw gains.
Their collective net worth rose 14 percent to US$517.5 billion from a year earlier, even as the benchmark BSE Sensex stock index remained flat from a year ago.
Mukesh Ambani accounted for more than half of those gains and remains at No. 1 for the 13th year. The tycoon added $37.3 billion, bringing his fortune to $88.7 billion, a rise of 73 percent
Shares of his Reliance Industries soared when, amid the nation’s lockdown, Ambani raised more than $20 billion from a string of marquee investors for Jio Platforms, Reliance’s fast-growing digital arm. Investors are now eyeing Reliance Retail, which has already raised more than $5 billion.
Infrastructure magnate Gautam Adani retains the second spot on the list by boosting his net worth 61 percent to $25.2 billion. Unfazed by the pandemic-induced travel slowdown, Adani, who aspires to be India’s airport king, acquired a 74 percent stake in Mumbai airport, the country’s second-busiest.
Tech tycoon Shiv Nadar, who ceded the post of chairman of HCL Technologies in July to his daughter Roshni Nadar Malhotra, jumps three places to No. 3 with $20.4 billion as shares of India’s third-largest tech firm surged.
Radhakishan Damani of Avenue Supermarts climbs three spots to No. 4 with a net worth of $15.4 billion. The Hinduja brothers with $12.8 billion, round out the top five.
With a global health crisis raging, it is no surprise that pharma entrepreneurs fared well. The fortune of vaccine billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla (No. 6), whose privately held Serum Institute of India—led by his son Adar—has joined the race to produce Covid-19 vaccines, was up 26 percent to $11.5 billion. Adar, who is CEO of Serum Institute of India, is featured on the cover of the October issue of Forbes Asia.
Listed companies making drugs to treat the virus saw their shares jump. The biggest percentage gainer on the list was Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (No. 27), founder of Biocon, which is set to start phase 4 trials of a potential Covid-19 drug. Her wealth nearly doubled to $4.6 billion.
The Covid-19 pandemic benefited fortunes in some other sectors as well. Increased data consumption by those stuck at home during the pandemic lifted telecom company Bharti Airtel’s share price by 42 percent in the past year and boosted the wealth of Chairman Sunil Mittal and his family. He climbs three spots to No. 11 with a fortune of $10.2 billion. The net worth of M.G. George Muthoot (No. 26, $4.8 billion), chairman of lending firm Muthoot Finance, also rose as the demand for gold-backed loans surged amid a pandemic-induced cash crunch.
There are nine newcomers on this year’s list. They include Sanjeev Bikhchandani (No. 68, $2.1 billion), cofounder of Info Edge (India), which owns popular job and property websites, as well as siblings Nithin and Nikhil Kamath (No. 90, $1.55 billion), cofounders of discount stock brokerage Zerodha Broking.
The new entrants also include three specialty chemicals producers Vinati Organics’ founder Vinod Saraf (No. 95, $1.4 billion); brothers Chandrakant and Rajendra Gogri (No. 96, $1.39 billion) of Aarti Industries, and Arun Bharat Ram (No. 99, $1.34 billion), the patriarch of SRF.
Naazneen Karmali, Asia Wealth Editor and India Editor of Forbes Asia, said: “Despite the double whammy of a plunging economy and a rising pandemic, India’s 100 richest managed to increase their combined wealth this year. The new faces on the list are further proof that the Indian entrepreneurial DNA has the will to surmount the odds.”
More than a third of India’s Top 100 saw their wealth decline, notably those with interests in real estate. A dozen dropped off the list, including Future Group founder Kishore Biyani, who sold the bulk of his debt-laden retail empire to Ambani’s Reliance Retail.
The minimum amount required to make this year’s list was $1.33 billion, down from $1.4 billion last year.
The top 10 richest in India (representing $218 billion or 42 percent of the total $517.5 billion of India’s top 100 richest families) are:
- Mukesh Ambani: US$88.7 billion
- Gautam Adani: $25.2 billion
- Shiv Nadar: $20.4 billion
- Radhakishan Damani: $15.4 billion
- Hinduja brothers: $12.8 billion
- Cyrus Poonawalla: $11.5 billion
- Pallonji Mistry: $11.4 billion
- Uday Kotak: $11.3 billion
- Godrej family: $11 billion
- Lakshmi Mittal: $10.3 billion
This list was compiled using shareholding and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges, analysts and India’s regulatory agencies.
The ranking lists family fortunes, including those shared among extended families such as the Bajaj and Godrej families. Public fortunes were calculated based on stock prices and exchange rates as of Sept. 18. Private companies were valued based on similar companies that are publicly traded.