Monday, 9 January 2017

An experience of wealth: Tales of the Kannadiga crorepatis

Four of us used to sleep in one room. Can you imagine that — in a 10ftx12ft room, with no air conditioner or fan! It was a marshy area and every morning we had to clear the water that had seeped in before doing anything else. It was like a Badu (Arabic for Bedouin, a nomadic group) house," reminisces B R Shetty, the richest Kannadiga in the world, about his days as a 31-year-old job seeker in Abu Dhabi in UAE.

Today, 40 years later, Shetty owns the entire 100th floor — 15,000sqft — of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and one of the plushest. "I also own flats on a couple of other floors in the same building," he says. He owns residential buildings in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Perth, Bengaluru, Mangaluru and Udupi.

This one-time job seeker now employs 38,000 people, mainly in the Middle East. His NMC Health is UAE's largest private healthcare provider, and his UAE Exchange is a leading global remittance and foreign exchange brand that bought the London-headquartered foreign exchange group Travelex for £1 billion two years ago.

Tulu-speaking Shetty, 72, has a net worth of Rs 18,700 crore, or about $2.75 billion. His only son got married last week in Mangalore, his hometown. It attracted the entire political top brass of the state. He is the only one among the ten on the TOI Rich List of Kannadigas who has built his fortune outside the country.

Eight started their businesses within their home state, and most are first-generation entrepreneurs or have built their businesses from scratch. We must clarify that since this is a list based on linguistic communities of the state, and not a list of the richest people who live in Karnataka at the moment, we are including those who speak not just Kannada, but other languages prominent in the state, including Tulu and Konkani, and anybody whose family has a history of at least 100 years in Karnataka.

So the No. 2 on our list is Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy, with a net worth of Rs 11,100 crore, or about $1.6 billion. Murthy is one of the IT outsourcing pioneers of India and can justifiably lay claim to some of the enormous global attention that India in general and Bengaluru in particular receives.

Murthy was born in Sidlaghatta in Kolar district and grew up in Mysuru where his father was a high school teacher. After completing his school education, he went to National Institute of Engineering, Mysuru, from where he graduated in 1967 with a degree in electrical engineering. He then did a Master's degree at IIT Kanpur.

Murthy was a strong leftist in his early days but, after a humiliating experience at the hands of communist Bulgaria's police during a train ride, renounced those beliefs in favour of what he today calls "compassionate capitalism".

He became convinced that the answer to India's underdevelopment lay in entrepreneurship. Spotting an opportunity in creating bespoke software for US clients using India's substantial engineering talent, he founded Infosys in 1981 with six others.

This pioneering IT services company is now one of India's most valued, and has made billionaires, or near-billionaires, of all its founders.

Two of Murthy's fellow co-founders — Nandan Nilekani and K Dinesh — feature in our list at Nos 4 and 5 respectively. Nilekani and family's net worth stands at about Rs 7,640 crore, and Dinesh and family's at about Rs 5,730 crore.

Nilekani was born in Bengaluru and attended Bishop Cotton Boys' School before studying electrical engineering at IIT Bombay. He had an outstanding stint as Infosys CEO between 2002 and 2007. Two years later, he left Infosys to serve as the chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a cabinet-rank position.

Nilekani is now also on the Niti Aayog panel on e-payments, working with chief ministers to promote the use of digital payment systems across the country.

Immediately following Murthy at No. 3 on the ToI Rich List, is a man who has built on an education and healthcare business he inherited — Ranjan Pai. His grandfather, T M A Pai, started Kasturba Medical College in Manipal in 1953 and Manipal Institute of Technology (where Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella graduated from) five years later. His father, Ramdas Pai, took it further.

All of that is now part of Manipal University. But Ranjan Pai, 43, has massively expanded the business and given it a corporate structure, inspired partly by what he saw in the US when he went to study hospital administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He's made some aggressive acquisitions. His Manipal Education and Medical Global owns and operates university campuses in Malaysia, Antigua, Dubai and Nepal. It owns and operates a chain of 15 hospitals in India and overseas. We estimate that all of these together will put Pai's wealth at Rs 10,200 crore, or $1.5 billion.

Sixth on our list is V G Siddhartha, whose family owned coffee plantations in Chikamagaluru and exported the coffee they grew. Siddhartha wasn't keen on the laid-back life of a coffee planter, so early in life, he focused on the stock market. Some of the money he earned was used to buy more coffee plantations and by 1995, he had become India's biggest coffee exporter. By the mid-1990s, he had begun to wonder how he could add value to his coffee.

On a visit to Singapore, he happened to see people in a cafe sipping beer and browsing the internet. "I thought this was an idea that could work in Bengaluru as the city had just begun to see the emergence of software companies with young professionals," Siddhartha says. The first outlet came up in 1996 on Brigade Road in Bengaluru; today there are 1,650 across the country — no other cafe chain comes anywhere close. Siddhartha also owns and manages more than 15,000 acres of coffee plantations and has major investments in tech companies, including Mindtree.

The 7th richest is also perhaps the biggest property developer in south India today — Irfan Razack. His great-grandfather had moved to Bengaluru from Kutch. The entrepreneurial story of this family began not with real estate, but with a small store for men's clothing on Bengaluru's Commercial Street. Razack's father opened the store, Prestige House for Men, in 1957. Razack joined that business after finishing college.

The interest in real estate started in 1981, when the family sold its ancestral property on Infantry Road. Encouraged by the money they made and the learnings from that experience, the family started buying and selling land in Bengaluru. In 1985, the government brought in tax rules that made land trading difficult. So the family moved to real estate development under a company that they called Prestige Estates Projects. Prestige became one of the early companies to exploit the real estate boom that followed the growth of the IT sector in Bengaluru. Irfan, as the eldest of the brothers in the family, leads the company and his stake is valued at over Rs 4,560 crore.

At No 8 on our list is Dr Devi Shetty, the cardiac surgeon who founded the healthcare venture Narayana Hrudayalaya. Shetty was born in Mangaluru and resolved to be a doctor when his fifthgrade teacher told the class that a South African surgeon had just performed the world's first heart transplant. He received a Master's degree in surgery from Mysore University in 1982 and then trained in cardiac surgery at Guy's Hospital in England. He returned to India in 1989 to set up the Birla Group's cardiac hospital in Kolkata, the B M Birla Heart Research Centre. In 1989, he performed the first neonatal heart surgery in the country, on a nine-day-old baby. He served as the personal physician of Mother Teresa.

Dr Shetty returned to Karnataka in the 1990s to set up the Manipal Cardiac Centre in Bengaluru. In 2000, he established Narayana Hrudayalaya, a multi-specialty hospital on the outskirts of Bengaluru, with the vision that healthcare costs could be dramatically lowered by adopting economies of scale.

The heart division is said to be the largest in the world with 1,000 beds and performs more than 30 major heart surgeries a day. Shetty is now trying to replicate this model in the Cayman Islands. This industrialization of healthcare prompted the Wall Street Journal to describe Dr Shetty as the Henry Ford of heart surgery. Early last year, Narayana Hrudayalaya was listed on the stock exchange, valuing the company at over $1 billion.

At No 9 is Ajit Prabhu, co-founder of Quest Global, a venture that emerged out of the outsourcing wave pioneered by Infosys and Wipro. Quest was founded by Prabhu and his friend Aravind Melligeri as an outsourced engineering services company in 1997.

The two grew up in Hubbali in Karnataka. Melligeri's father died young, while Prabhu's father used to lease a fruit tree for Rs 2 a day and made money by selling the fruit. They studied in a Kannada medium school, sitting on the floor with slates. Melligeri went on to study engineering at KREC Surathkal and Prabhu at BVB Engineering College in Hubbali. Both then headed to the US for their postgraduation and began working there, Melligeri at Ford and Prabhu at GE.

"The first time I spoke English was in the US," Prabhu, who now lives in Singapore, once told TOI, Quest counts Rolls-Royce, GE, Pratt & Whitney and Airbus among its clients, and is estimated to have closed 2015-16 with $385 million (approx Rs 2,600 crore) in revenue. The company raised $350 million from American private equity giants Bain Capital and Advent International and Singapore's GIC that is said to have valued Quest at over $1 billion. Prabhu is the primary shareholder in the company now, Melligeri having moved on to focus on an aircraft components manufacturing SEZ in Belagavi.

Rounding up the list is another Shetty, Shashi Kiran. Shettys belong to the Bunt community, traditionally a land-owning/farming community from Dakshina Kannada and Udupi in coastal Karnataka. Bunts are better known nationally for their Bollywood connection, courtesy actors Aishwarya Rai, Shilpa Shetty, Suniel Shetty and director Rohit Shetty. Shashi Kiran Shetty is the founder and executive chairman of Allcargo Logistics, part of the Avvashya Group, India's first multinational player in the logistics sector.

Shetty did his bachelor's degree in commerce at Shri Venkatramana Swamy College in Mangaluru and moved to Mumbai for employment. He started his career in the logistics industry in 1978 with Intermodal Transport and Trading Systems and subsequently moved to Forbes Gokak, a Tata Group company. At 25, Shetty launched a logistics venture called Trans India Freight Services with Rs 25,000.

In 1992, with the idea of creating an integrated logistics service provider, he started Allcargo Logistics. Allcargo is said to be the first company in India to introduce less-than-containerload (LCL) services. In 1995, Allcargo became an agent of Belgium-based ECU Line NV, the world's second largest LCL firm. Ten years later, Allcargo took a 33.8% stake in ECU, and in the following year acquired the entire company. At the time of the takeover, ECU Line's revenue was five times that of Allcargo's. In 2013, Allcargo acquired US-based Econocaribe Consolidators and a controlling stake in Netherlands-based FCL Marine Rotterdam. Today, Shetty's business is spread across 160 countries, connecting several thousand port points.

In 2014, Shetty made national headlines for his purchase of late Bollywood actor Rajesh Khanna's famous Carter Road bungalow in Mumbai, known as Vardan Aashirwaad, for Rs 85 crore, about 3% of his estimated wealth of Rs 3,040 crore.

(Source: ToI)

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