The list of the world's billionaires is loaded with household names, from Bill Gates to Richard Branson, Carlos Slim to Warren Buffett. But one of the fastest up-and-coming international tycoons is a relative unknown: India's Mukesh Ambani.
That could soon change. According to Forbes, Ambani could be the richest man in the world by 2014. The 53-year old Indian mogul doesn't really have that far to go: with a personal fortune estimated at $29 billion, he is already the fourth wealthiest person in the world, behind Slim, Gates and Buffett. It also doesn't hurt that he is chairman, managing director, and the largest stockholder of fast-growing Reliance Industries, India's second-largest company with more than $44 billion in annual revenues.
Ambani's Climb to the Top
Started as a small textile business by Mukesh's father Dhirubhai Ambani in 1966, Reliance has expanded into a massive global conglomerate offering everything from petrochemicals to fabrics. The company's growth has been awe-inspiring: this year, it ranked 175th in Fortune's annual Global 500 list of the world's largest corporations, up from 264th place in 2009
With the price of petroleum likely to remain high and a strengthening economy in India fueling the stock market, Forbes asserts that Ambani's wealth will increase to $62 billion in just four years. Moreover, as economic instability continues to plague the U.S. and political instability continues to plague Mexico, Gates, Buffett and Slim all stand to lose ground as Ambani's star rises.
From left are: Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim; Microsoft chairman Bill Gates; Wall Street investor Warren Buffett; Oracle CEO Lawrence J. Ellison; Bernard Arnault, head of French luxury group LVMH; owner of the Zara clothing chain Amancio Ortega; chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, Mukesh Ambani.
Ambani topped Forbes' list once before. In 2007, a bull run on the stock market sent Reliance's price soaring, briefly increasing Ambani's personal fortune to $63.2 billion. At the time, Carlos Slim -- the world's wealthiest man before the run -- was worth $62.3 billion, which pushed him into second place. While receding share value has sent Ambani back down to fourth place, it's reasonable to expect that his fortunes may rise again.
Ambani's steep ascent has been marred by some even steeper hurdles. After the death of Dhirubhai in 2002, Mukesh and his brother Anil Ambani fought very publicly over control of Reliance. In 2005, their mother split the conglomerate in two, forming two new companies: Reliance Industries and Reliance ADA Group. Each son took control of one of the new businesses, and the pair continued to fight until earlier this year, when they issued a truce in the form of a non-compete agreement, a move that most analysts agree will be profitable for both companies.
Beyond the sibling rivalry, Ambani also made headlines when, in 2009, he agreed to a 66% pay cut. The executive said he wanted to "set an example of personal moderation" after India's government called upon its citizens to be more austere. But even with a slashed salary, the mogul still took home an estimated $3.3 million, and his family's holdings in Reliance netted them $216 million in dividends.
By no means was Ambani roughing it. In addition to the Airbus 319 that he bought his wife in 2007, he is -- quite literally -- living large. His Mumbai home (pictured right), Antilia, is a 27-story tower that looks down on one of the poorest cities in the world. With more than 400,000 square feet, it is the world's largest home, and its price tag -- estimated to be between $1 billion and $2 billion -- makes it the world's most expensive.
Based on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient world, Antilia has three helipads, a health spa, a 50-seat theater, and a ballroom. There is also room for plenty of visitors: six floors of the house are dedicated to parking, and another floor contains a full-service garage for maintaining Ambani's vehicles. A huge house requires a huge staff, but with an estimated 600 servants, Antilia's visitors should be well taken care of.
Of course, a lot can happen in four years and Ambani may not be the richest man in the world come 2014. But with economic growth in Asia propelling more Indians and Chinese into the middle class -- and the ranks of the world's billionaires -- the face of the world's wealth is decidedly changing.