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Real story lies beyond wealth creation

columns Updated: Mar 10, 2011 22:10 IST
Gautam Chikermane

Seeking out the billionaires rode in the Rs 5.5-crore Maybach in 2004. The Rs 3.8-crore Bentley followed in 2007. And through a journey that saw Rolls Royce and Porsche (both over Rs 2 crore) and the biggest of them all - the Rs 16-crore Bugatti Veyron last year - vroom into India, could the Rs 2.2-crore Ferrari be left behind?

These cars - and a whole industry catering to the 600 wealthiest Indians - driving in is merely a signal, a symptom of an economy that at 9% is soon going to be the world's fastest growing. And as the cultural barriers towards wealth creation and enjoyment fall by the wayside, Indian entrepreneurs are finding opportunities, from steel and oil to software and commodities, and turning them into islands of immense affluence.

At 55, the number of Indian billionaires - two of them in the top 10 list - is the highest-ever. This is in tune with the global trend, where the number of billionaires (1,210) as well as the value of their wealth ($4.5 trillion, up 25% over the previous year's figure) are at a record high.

With 100 out of the 214 new billionaires coming from BRIC nations, the growth of wealth is clearly happening in emerging markets. Problems of yesterday have overnight become opportunities of tomorrow. And as smart businesspersons get busy building roads and houses, running power plants and telecom services, they are converting great ideas into great wealth.

By going public with their enterprises, the billionaires are able to multiply every rupee of profit they make by 15-25 times into wealth on stock markets. While the multiple is the financial incentive for entrepreneurs, the country's ongoing fight against black money - so commonly found in real estate and gold, the traditional storehouses of wealth in the pre-1991 India - is catalysing the clean up.

But the bigger story is not the creation of wealth anymore. Hidden behind the numbers is the true wealth of the world's second-wealthiest man, Bill Gates ($56 billion). He is at the No 2 slot not because Carlos Slim ($74 billion) beat him to it. It is because Gates beat himself - he has given $30 billion away in charity. The next-placed Warren Buffett too has said that, "More than 99% of my wealth will go to philanthropy during my lifetime or at death."

Buffett and Gates will be in India shortly to speak to the wealthiest Indians about giving. Giving is not an easy business - apart from the sense of loss, there is an insecurity of the right use of the money. This is a discourse that our wealthy leaders need to get into and engage with. We'll be listening.