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The man who would be king

Anil Agarwal has shot to fame over the past 15 years. Like all first-generation entrepreneurs, he started small and turned his metals trading business into a conglomerate of copper, zinc and aluminium assets. Sometime back, he raised $825 million (Rs 3,300 crore) by listing his Vedanta Resources on the London Stock Exchange.

Amit Mukherjee        Print Edition: Dec 02, 2007

Anil Agarwal has shot to fame over the past 15 years. Like all first-generation entrepreneurs, he started small and turned his metals trading business into a conglomerate of copper, zinc and aluminium assets. Sometime back, he raised $825 million (Rs 3,300 crore) by listing his Vedanta Resources on the London Stock Exchange.

Today, he has homes in the UK and Russia and chairs the $3.7-billion (Rs 14,800-crore) London-listed metals and mining giant Vedanta Resources.

"The mid-1970s were a tough time for Indian businessmen. Licence Raj was at its peak and the overhanging cloud of bureaucracy ensured that no entrepreneur could move forward. Each expansion or purchase required a licence, inspection and review. A simple trip to the bank could become an all-day affair," Agarwal says.

In the early part of the 21st century, Agarwal laid some big bets. All these paid off and catapulted him into the billionaire list. He bought copper mines in Zambia when the metal was at its trough; he aggressively bid for and won the privatisation bid for BALCO. Now he wants to turn Vedanta into a mining and metals company at par with companies like the British giant Anglo American.

It has been 30 years since Agarwal started his small-time scrap metal trading business in Mumbai. The initial years were tough but he managed to expand his business. In the early '80s, Agarwal anticipated huge demand from the telecom industry for copper wires, and bought a mothballed copper cable manufacturing plant for about $2 million from the US. The new company that he formed. Sterlite Industries.became his launchpad into the big league. When environmentalists tried to stop Sterlite's copper plant from being put up in Maharashtra, Agarwal showed great strength of character. In a bold move, he moved his metal business to Tuticorin, where again he met with protests. An explosion in 1997 at the plant killed two workers and injured several others. But Agarwal dealt with it and moved from strength to strength.

He now plans to invest Rs 40,000 crore in the power sector through a subsidiary, Sterlite Energy (SEL), and build a 10,000 MW coal-based plant. Sterlite Energy has already bagged a 2,400 MW pithead project in Orissa and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chhattisgarh government for a couple of other projects. Given his track record, only the very foolish will bet against him succeeding.

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