Asian Enterprise

Asian Billionaires – Forbes List 2009

Last year India dominated the top 10 of Forbes Rich List, but this year sees just two Indians achieve the top 10 status. Dr Spinder Dhaliwal looks at how what happened to the country’s top entrepreneurs.

RankNameCitizenshipAge Net Worth ($bil)Residence1 William Gates IIIUnited States 53 40.0 United States 2 Warren BuffettUnited States 78 37.0 United States 3 Carlos Slim Helu & familyMexico 69 35.0 Mexico 4 Lawrence EllisonUnited States 64 22.5 United States 5 Ingvar Kamprad & familySweden 83 22.0 Switzerland 6 Karl AlbrechtGermany 89 21.5 Germany 7 Mukesh AmbaniIndia 51 19.5 India 8 Lakshmi MittalIndia 58 19.3 United Kingdom 9 Theo AlbrechtGermany 87 18.8 Germany 10 Amancio OrtegaSpain 73 18.3 Spain       Source: Forbes 2009

In a turbulent economic landscape where many have endured financial meltdown the world’s richest are also a lot poorer. Their collective net worth is US$2.4 trillion, down by US$2 trillion from a year ago. The world has indeed become more challenging and also more controversial. This has been a year where the economy has teetered on the brink of recession, where global stock market values have declined sharply and where faith and trust in institutions and role models has been significantly diminished. It’s been a tough year for everyone and not even the world’s rich could manage to escape. Last year there were 1,125 billionaires, while this year there are just 793 people rich enough to make the list.

Bill Gates lost US$18bn, which is more money than some of us will see in a lifetime, but still regained his title as the world’s richest man. Warren Buffett, last year’s table-topper, saw his fortune plummet by US$25bn. Mukesh Ambani, one half of the Ambani brothers, and Lakshmi Mittal still make the grade with US$19.5bn and US$19.3bn respectively.

Wealth has clearly disappeared all over the globe, but it is Poland and Kazakhstan that have sustained the largest percentage losses of wealth. And while the US had the largest net loss of billionares, it is an Indian who is the world’s biggest loser this year, by dollars. Anil Ambani lost US$32bn, an estimated 76% of his fortune, as shares of his Reliance Communications, Reliance Power and Reliance Capital collapsed. The Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, are no strangers to headlines, holding one of the most expensive family feuds in history, and this latest news has put them back in the spotlight.Ambani is one of 24 Indian billionaires who are poorer than a year ago. Another 29 Indians lost their billionaire status entirely as India’s stock market tumbled 44% in the past year and the Indian rupee depreciated 18% against the dollar. It is no longer the top spot in Asia for billionaires, ceding that title to China, which has 28. The global financial crisis has hit Asian entrepreneurs hard. These are painful times for India’s richest as the ongoing global turmoil drastically reshapes their fortunes. So who’s who on the list?


RankNameCitizenshipAgeNet Worth ($bil)Residence7 Mukesh AmbaniIndia 51 19.5 India 8 Lakshmi MittalIndia 58 19.3 United Kingdom 34 Anil AmbaniIndia 49 10.1 India 59 Sunil Mittal & familyIndia 51 7.7 India 83 Azim PremjiIndia 63 5.7 India 86 Shashi & Ravi RuiaIndia 65 5.6 India 98 Kushal Pal SinghIndia 77 5.0 India 124 Kumar BirlaIndia 41 4.2 India 183 Adi Godrej & familyIndia 66 3.3 India 205 Dilip ShanghviIndia 53 3.0 India    Sunil Mittal, the self-made son of a politician, founded and runs Bhartigroup with his two brothers and is worth an estimated US$7.7bn. Their flagship Bharti Airtel is India’s largest mobile phone operator. Delhi-based Sunil is a rival of Anil Ambani and backed out of deal to take over South Africa’s MTN last year, opening the door for Ambani’s own unsuccessful bid. Sunil’s Airtel Digital TV, a direct-to-home digital television service, competes with rival Anil’s Reliance BIG TV. Bangalore-born Azim Premji inherited a modest cooking-oil company, Wipro, from his father in 1968 and converted it into India’s third-largest outsourcing firm. He has handed over the day-to-day business, but remains the chairman with a net worth of around US$5.7bn. The company suffered in the global economic slowdown with stock down 45% this past year. However, the resolute Premji went on to buy Citigroup’s Indian IT services arm for US$127m in December 2008.

Brothers Shashi and Ravi Ruia inherited construction firm Essar Group’s. The firm’s most valuable asset is its 33% stake in mobile phone operator Vodafone Essar, India’s third-largest with 63 million subscribers. They also have a stake in rival telecom firm BPL Mobile and Kenyan telecom firm Econet Wireless. The group’s other holdings include shipping, steel, oil and gas, construction, power. The superstitious brothers never travel on the same plane together and although their fortune has taken a beating they still have a net worth of US$5.6bn.

Billionaire Kushal Pal Singh joined his father-in-law’s real estate business and later took over. He acquired cheap farmland and built it into thriving townships boasting  tenants such as the  multinationals GE, Microsoft and IBM. Singh had a brief spell as the world’s richest real estate baron when stocks of his DLF peaked last year. However, he has lost US$25bn since the real estate market slumped. His son Rajiv now runs the business with Singh as chairman with a net worth of US$5bn.

Kumar Birla inherited Aditya Birla Group, the commodities conglomerate at the age of 28 years. He is also the world’s largest producer of rolled aluminium. With plummeting stock prices and fall in the value of aluminium, his net worth is reduced to US$4.2bn.

Those that dropped off the billionaires list include Ramesh Chandra. The Unitech and real estate tycoon suffered losses amounting to US$9bn and has strived to raise cash this year. His net worth remains just under US$10bn.  Tulsi Tanti saw his shares in Suzion Energy drop by a staggering 85%. The wind power entrepreneur fortune is left with a mere US$3bn. Nimesh Kampani, the financial wizard once partnered with Morgan Stanley, is now caught up in a crisis of economic confidence and allegations of fraud.Former rising star Sameer Gehlaut, worth an estimated US$1.2bn, derived his fortune from real estate and financial services, but saw it evaporate as both those sectors collapsed. Companies of his Lakshmi Mittal-backed Indiabulls group lost over 80% of their market values.Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher suffered the downturn in his airline business but remains upbeat.  The philanthropist recently acquired memorabilia of Mahatma Gandhi at an auction that he will donate to the Indian government. Gautam Thapar, worth US$1.4bn, runs Avantha group, a successful offshoot of old-line family conglomerate with stocks of Crompton Greaves, his engineering flagship, tumbling by 50% this past year. However, the signs are out for India’s entrepreneurs to get back on top with the resurgence of the Indian stock markets. Being a billionaire is more than just about the number. Being a billionaire brings status and responsibility, both inside and outside the community. It brings respect and acceptance on the basis of achievement and it sets an example for others to hopefully follow. The world has turned upside down and, regardless of how many commentators have developed 20:20 hindsight, most of us never saw it coming. Banks fail, banks are nationalised, credit has been crunched and credit has disappeared, oil and food have risen dramatically in price and the property market has slid. The wealth we are writing about is earned and not speculated, is grounded and not hollow and, on this I am willing to bet, is here to stay.

Dr Spinder Dhaliwal is the author of Making a Fortune – Learning from the Asian Phenomenon (Capstone) and compiles Britain’s Richest Asians. To hire Spinder to speak at your events contact her on

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