Rolls-Royces and tiger hunts to where super rich stand today | india | Hindustan Times
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Rolls-Royces and tiger hunts to where super rich stand today

india Updated: Mar 23, 2015 19:11 IST
Sitaraman Shankar
HT rich list


Rolls-Royces on dirt tracks and tiger hunts with beaters were emblematic of India's super rich a hundred years ago. Today's wealthiest Indians are mostly a less ostentatious lot, and create wealth not just for themselves but for a wide range of stakeholders.

It may still seem wrong that in a country of such wretched poverty, so much money is found in the hands of so few.

But there's no denying the fact that their capitalism has had its benefits: trickle down distributes wealth, in the absence of a better alternative.

No. 2 on the list Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries is widely recognised globally as a giant creator of shareholder value. The men who founded India's software companies all of three or four decades ago have made themselves rich, yes, but also created a sector that contributes more than a quarter of India's exports.

And the country's pharmaceutical chieftains, who have given this Rich List a surprise no.1, Dilip Shanghvi, earned the nation $14.8 billion in export revenues last year.

Those on this first-of-its-kind list - which also includes the Indian diaspora - embody our best qualities. There's brainpower, guts and sheer hard work.

And the breakup of this list is revealing: Nearly a quarter of the names come from the knowledge-intensive industries of pharmaceuticals, health care and software, showing that the "quality" of wealth generated is of a high order.

Business historian Gita Piramal notes that the 1991 economic reforms caused a massive shakeup in the top 50 business families, with 31 dropping off the list. They were replaced by today's IT, pharma, household goods and consumables czars.

The top three men on this list started off well before the reforms took hold, were well entrenched and ready to expand by the time they did.

Nearly a third of the super wealthy are based abroad, testament to the vitality of the Indian entrepreneurial streak. There's also impressive resilience on view. Some of those on the list were kicked out of Africa by dictators resentful of their clout; they picked up the pieces and set up UK-based empires.

"I believe that in today's world, possibly geography and technology have a larger impact than politics or policy on who becomes rich," says Piramal. Apart from the need to hit their profit targets and expand into new markets, there are clear challenges facing the super-rich, some internal and some external.

"The main one is: How do they instil in the next generation the values that created the wealth in the first place? This is more of an issue if they are still busy growing the business," says Anil Sainani, who advises rich families on family governance and succession planning.

More crucially for all of us, the fat cats need to generate ideas for India in addition to feathering their nests, generating jobs and paying taxes.

"How much leadership do they show? They're a pressure group, but I can't think of any leaders like JRD (Tata). Where is their social imagination?" asks social scientist Shiv Visvanathan.

India’s wealthiest embody our best qualities: brains, guts and the ability to work hard. Celebrate them, for they give us names to flaunt to the world. They’re creating jobs and distributing wealth; now they need to generate ideas for India.