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Teeling the scene

books Updated: May 21, 2012 15:04 IST

Hindustan Times
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Friday, 13 January 2006, 6 pm 18-19 Kengsington Palace Gardens, London

Guy Dollé and [Dollé's international emissary Alain] Davezac pulled up outside Lakshmi Mittal's large front door, where the two men were greeted and welcomed discreetly inside by a servant. Dollé had visited Mittal's home once before and felt uncomfortable in its overt splendour, just as he did when forced to attend functions in the plush drawing rooms of Paris, where he was happier renting a modest flat.

Number 18 and 19 Kensington Palace Gardens had once housed the Russian and Egyptian embassies. It was David Khalili, the Iranian-born Jewish property developer and renowned Islamic art collector, who turned the two dilapidated buildings into one of the most remarkable houses in London.

The 55,000 sq ft of floor space included 12 bedrooms, a ballroom, a picture gallery parking for 20 cars, Turkish baths and a jewelled swimming pool in the basement.

Ranked four places behind Mittal on the Sunday Times Rich List at £ 4.5 billion, Khalili imported marble from the same quarries as used for the Taj Mahal and swathed the palm-tree pillars in gold leaf. In 1998, Mittal tried to buy it, but Khalili wanted too much money.

In 2001, he sold it to diminutive Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone for £ 45 million. Mittal brought it from him for £ 57 million in 2005, London's costliest house.

Of all the houses the Mittals had bought this was the only one that Lakshmi had chosen. [His wife] Usha had not been keen to move from the Summer Palace, where she felt happy and settled. Then the children started to lobby "Mummy you always have your say in houses," they said. "If Papa likes it, just say yes.'"

Mittal chose to move because this house with its mixture of large formal rooms for greeting and entertaining and private family quarters was ideal for a man whose two great loves, his only loves, were his work and his family In a garden room a sculpture of six . arms with upturned palms cradled a steel globe.

The piece was commissioned by Mittal. A close look revealed its true symbolism. Each arm and hand was different. One was moulded from Lakshmi. Another was Usha's. The four remaining arms were those of Aditya and his wife Megha, and Vanisha and her husband Amit.

As Davezac complimented him on his ormolu furniture, fine porcelain and Impressionist paintings.... Mittal explained: "I chose the house but Usha furnished it. Everything you see in this house has a history so it would take me years to understand the history of everything she has done."

Guy Dollé glanced up at one of the massive chandeliers twinkling like a constellation, and blinked. He was not in the mood for interior design.

Lakshmi and Aditya invited their guests to sit. Drinks were ordered. The four men sat facing one another on large formal sofas by the fireplace, nursing their champagne. They kicked off with steel industry small-talk, second guessing the market, iron ore supply personalities on the move, politicians on the make or the meddle, and how the consolidation of the industry was going to pan out.

When it came to the facts and figures of their business Davezac found that he was increasingly captivated by Aditya Mittal's grasp of a complex and globally fragmented industry For somebody so relatively . inexperienced he seemed to know deals inside out.

Guy Dollé had no time for Aditya. As far as he was concerned he had just been born rich and lucky But, even if . they were poles apart as people and he did not trust his charm, he admired Lakshmi as a steelman. Aditya had not worked his way up as he and his father had.

What Daveszac took for brilliance Dollé regarded as an irritating brash ness. Sometimes, like right now, he found it hard to be in the same room as him. He could not even call Aditya by his name, always referring to him as ‘the son'. Clash of civilisations "I have something very important to tell you. Our two companies are both undervalued in the market. We share the same consolidation goals. We should discuss how we could work more closely together. Let's discuss on a friendly basis," [said Mittal].

"The cultures of our two companies are entirely different," Dollé said, barely able to hide his disdain.

Mittal shrugged and smiled patiently "There is only one thing we can do for the benefit of both companies and the steel industry and that is to merge.

Where we are strong you are weak, and you have great strengths that we don't have. If we joined forces we could be a great steel champion."

Davezac looked at Dollé and grew concerned. The normally assured Frenchman had slumped into the sofa. ... "Lakshmi, you are the owner of your company I am just an employee.

I cannot take such decisions. I have to talk to my board, and to others. And even if we were to merge you would become the dominant shareholder. My board would not appreciate that. They have their own strategy ."

"OK," Mittal said. "We will meet to discuss this again."

The large dining table was covered in an armada of Indian dishes. On the wall was a large painting of a Mughal emperor with a hawk on his arm. Dollé was a devotee of Indian food, and of the country which he had visited several times.

The big glasses were filled with the best French red. "We should make Guy feel at home," Lakshmi Mittal had instructed. As the four men ate, he set about putting Dollé at his ease. A decision is made sittingin the back of Mrs Mittal's car, Guy Dollé was non-committal. There was a silent surliness about him. He had visions of his host's smiling face, the food, the opulent surroundings, and of being pole-axed. He did not want to talk any more about getting into bed with Lakshmi Mittal.

As Lakshmi and Aditya watched the car pull away into the night, father turned to son. "Adit," he said, "we must acquire that company ."

Excerpted with permission from Hachette India LITTLE BROWN? RS 650 ? PP 340

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