Gautam Adani says determined to build world-class infrastructure and facilities for India and Indians
Ahmedabad, December 28, 2022
Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani said today he was determined to use every opportunity to build world-class infrastructure and facilities for India and Indians.
"I was born in a middle-class family and I lived through the 1970s and 80s when we had to struggle for bijli, sadak and paani. That was a time when India had a huge infrastructure deficit in ports, airports and other areas," he said in an interview to India Today Group Editorial Director Raj Chengappa. The interview was telecast on India Today TV news channel this evening. The India Today magazine has named Adani as its "Newsmaker of the Year.
"In contrast, China, which also became independent around the same time as India and had a lower per capita income than India in 1990, began leapfrogging ahead of India in development. All these issues instilled a huge desire in me to do whatever I could to transform India, particularly in infrastructure, and make India stronger," he said.
"Meanwhile, starting from 1991, policy changes created an enabling environment for the entry of the private sector in the infrastructure space," he said.
Responding to critics who have alleged that his success was linked to his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Adani said they both belong to the same state and that made him an easy target for such "baseless allegations"
"When I look back at my entrepreneurial journey, I can divide it into four phases. Many will be surprised to know that it all began during the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister when he first liberalised the Exim policy and, for the first time, several items were brought in the OGL list. That is what helped me to start my export house. But for Rajiv Gandhi, my journey as an entrepreneur would never have taken off.
"The second big push I got was in 1991, when the duo of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh initiated sweeping economic reforms. Just like many other entrepreneurs, I too was a beneficiary of those reforms.
"The third turning point for me came in 1995 when Keshubhai Patel was sworn in as Gujarat Chief Minister. Until then, all development in Gujarat was only around NH 8 from Mumbai to Delhi via cities like Vapi, Ankleshwar, Bharuch, Silvassa, Vadodara, Surat and Ahmedabad. He was a visionary and focused on coastal development – and it was that policy change that took me to Mundra and prompted me to build our first port. The rest, as they say, is history.
"The fourth turning point was in 2001, when Gujarat witnessed a massive focus on development under Chief Minister Narendra Modi. His policies and their implementation went on to not only change the economic landscape of the state but it also brought social transformation and development of previously underdeveloped areas. It also allowed industries and employment to take off like never before.
"Today, under his able leadership, we are seeing a similar resurgence at the national and international levels, where a new India is now asserting itself," he said.
Adani said it was unfortunate that such narratives were being pushed against him. He said the allegations were baseless and suffered from recency bias which saw the group's success through a short-term lens.
"The fact of the matter is that my professional success is not because of any individual leader but because of the policy and institutional reforms initiated by several leaders and governments during a long period of over three decades," he said.
The industrialist also addressed concerns expressed in various quarters that the Adani Group has very high levels of debt, to the tune of about Rs 2 lakh crore.
"I must confess that I am greatly surprised by the conversations around our debt. We are financially very strong and secure. Such noises are coming from two categories. The first category is of the people who are not doing deep diving to understand the detailed nuances of debt and finances of company. I am sure if they make an effort to understand the financial statements, all the misgivings about debt will disappear. However, there is the second category of people with vested interests deliberately creating confusion and misunderstanding to tarnish the reputation of the group.
"The fact of the matter is that, in the past nine years, our profit has been growing at twice the rate of our debt, because of which our Debt to EBITDA ratio has come down from 7.6 to 3.2, which is very healthy for a large group where most of the companies are in the infrastructure space with assured and predictable cash flow unlike in manufacturing.
"It is for this reason that not only national but international rating agencies have rated us equivalent to India’s sovereign rating. It is a matter of great pride for me that no other business group in India has as many companies as the Adani Group which has sovereign ratings," he said.
Adani said the rating agencies, particularly the international ones, were very conservative and stingy in giving ratings and have a very rigorous and robust system and process of financial analysis.
"It is for these fundamental financial strengths of my group that we were able to close the ACC and Ambuja deal of $10.5 billion in a record time of just three months," he said.
About concerns that Indian banks, including public sector banks, had huge exposure to Adani debt, he said these were again raised by people without verifying the facts.
"The fact is, nine years ago, out of our total debt, 86% was lending from Indian banks. But now, the exposure of Indian banks in our total lending is reduced to only 32%. Almost 50% of our borrowing is through international bonds. You will appreciate that international investors are very astute and subscribe after proper due diligence and deep study," he said.
Adani has a personal net worth of about $ 150 billion and he is now ranked as the richest Indian and the third richest man in the world.
Looking back on 2022, the industrialist said the year was exceptional in many ways for the group.
"We had a successful Adani Wilmar IPO and, thus, Adani Wilmar is becoming the seventh listed company in the Group. We have built a business model where we start a business from scratch, make it profitable and then go public. This IPO was another example of that.
"We also became India’s second largest cement manufacturer when we acquired ACC and Ambuja Cements for around $10.5 billion. It is the largest acquisition we have ever made, and it is also India’s largest-ever M&A transaction in the infrastructure and materials space," he said.
However, Adani said rankings and numbers did not matter to him and were only media hype.
"I am a first-generation entrepreneur who had to build everything from scratch. I get my thrills from handling challenges – the bigger they are, the happier I am. For me, the opportunity and ability to make a difference in the lives of people and contribute to the growth and building of the nation is far more satisfying and important than being on some wealth ranking or valuation list. I am thankful to God that he has given me a great opportunity to serve the nation through infrastructure building," he said.
He recalled that he had celebrated his 60th birthday during the year and his family had committed Rs 60,000 crore to the Adani Foundation to support three social causes close to his heart—education, healthcare and skill development. "(These) are foundational for any nation. This has given me immense satisfaction and happiness which no professional achievement can ever give," he said.
About the protests and criticism he has faced in Australia, Sri Lanka and in some parts of India, Adani said he was a product of a democratic India.
"Protests, criticism and allegations are essential parts of a vibrant democracy. In fact, they define democracy. I am a firm believer that our democracy has given us economic freedom and opportunities and we all have benefited from it. Now we can’t complain and do cherry-picking about other aspects of democracy which have their own functional values within the boundary of law.
"You would appreciate that we are in the infrastructure sector which is the most difficult space to work in. I have faced such challenges many times. I have a very open mind towards criticism. For me, the message has always been more important than the messenger. I always introspect and try to understand the other’s point of view. I am conscious that neither am I perfect nor am I always right. Every criticism gives me an opportunity to improve myself," he said.
He said "giving up" was never part of the Group's culture. "Over the years, the Group has developed a strong and professional team with endless energy and a problemsolving approach. We are always looking at solutions. Having honed my skills in such a dynamic democracy like India, my Group and I are confident that we can deliver and do business in any part of the world.
"I have faced adversity and crisis from my childhood. Each of these occasions has taught me several valuable lessons and made me stronger. It is for this reason that I always tell my team: ‘Never waste a crisis’," he said.
Asked about Prime Minister Modi’s leadership style, Adani said he had provided a visionary and inspirational leadership to India.
"He has not only brought about significant policy changes but also through various programmes and schemes directly touched the lives of every Indian. There is hardly any aspect of governance which he has not touched," he said.
"He is trying hard to bring transformative changes not only in the Indian economy but also pushing for social transformation and inclusive growth. He has through several innovative schemes and their effective implementation, given a strong push to industrial and economic development of India. Schemes like Aatmanirbhar Bharat, Digital India and Start-up India, have acted as economic multipliers and have not only created endless business and manufacturing opportunities but have also created millions of direct and indirect jobs.
"The Prime Minister’s equally strong focus on social sector, agriculture economy and underdeveloped areas of the country with a safety net for the poor has ensured that the growth is inclusive and sustainable. His schemes like Swachh Bharat, Jan Dhan Yojana, Direct Benefit Transfer and Ayushman Bharat have brought transformative changes in India," he said.
Adani said all the businesses of the group were run by professional, competent CEOs. "I do not interfere in their day-to-day functioning. My role is limited to formulating strategy, capital allocation and their review. It is for this reason that I have time to not only manage such a large and diverse organisation but also incubate several new businesses and also look for new opportunities for acquisitions," he said.
Asked about his recent takeover of the NDTV media group and whether he would follow the style of non-interference in it, too, he said, "On editorial independence, let me say categorically that NDTV will be a credible, independent, global network with a clear 'lakshman rekha' between management and editorial. You can endlessly debate and interpret each and every word of what I am saying, as has been done by many, but my fundamental point is that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, please allow us some time before you start judging us," he said.
On his betting big on green energy, especially solar and hydrogen, he said, "Green energy is very close to my heart and energy transition is not only a huge business opportunity but also our responsibility to the future generations. The Government of India has brought a very attractive production linked incentive scheme (PLI) which has made the green hydrogen business viable and attractive. In fact, I am very confident that with this enabling support we will not only meet domestic demand but soon become a green hydrogen exporter.
To another question, Adani said the late Dhirubhai Ambani, who was also a first-generation entrepreneur and had laid the foundations of one of the biggest business conglomerates in India, he said, "Dhirubhai Ambani is a source of inspiration for millions of budding entrepreneurs in India. He has shown how a humble man without any backing or resources and against all odds can not only set up a world-class business group but also leave a legacy. Being a first-generation entrepreneur and having a humble beginning, I am deeply inspired by him."
On India's growth in the years ahead, Adani said that it had taken the country 58 years after independence to get to its first trillion dollars of GDP, 12 to get to the next trillion and just five for the third.
"But now, if you look at our pace of social and economic reforms, I see India adding a trillion dollars to its GDP every 12 to 18 months within the next decade.
"I am very optimistic about the growth and prosperity of India. This optimism comes from the fact that, in 2050, we will have a young India of 1.6 billion people with a median age of 38. We will also have the world’s largest middle- class population. This demographic dividend combined with the largest middle class will spur growth and prosperity in India making it a $30 trillion economy. So, clearly, this century belongs to India.
He said he was optimistic that the next Union Budget would provide a great opportunity to address various concerns about a global recession and such issues.
"A strong focus on capital expenditure, employment, social infrastructure and social security will help in facing the global headwinds of recession and India will emerge stronger," he added.