In the pyramid of wealth, there are first those who would be worth more than a crore. It might not be a big number in terms of dollars because India remains a developing nation but any comparison should therefore be with what it used to be. Or what it is about to become. If you term ₹1 crore as the marker to be called wealthy, then it is self-evident that this is a population growing at an exponential rate. You just have to look around you. Most middle-class couples having jobs for a couple of decades, with some conservative financial planning, should be able to touch this number, and most do. But even take the more rarefied air above this category and it is still a very rosy picture. The real estate consultancy Knight Frank came out with their annual Wealth Report about six months ago and they looked at what is happening with high net worth individuals (HNIs), the ultra high net worth individuals (UHNIs), and at the very top the dollar billionaires. They defined UHNIs as people with over $30 million in net worth, which would translate in rupee terms to somewhere around ₹250 crore. The number of Indians in this category, they estimated, would go up by almost 60 per cent in five years. By 2027, as per a Mint article on the report, there would be 19,119 men and women in India who would have more than $30 million. The number of billionaires would be 195 from 161 at present. But, perhaps, the most remarkable number was of those who were worth over $1 million or ₹8 crore roughly, the category dubbed HNIs. There are currently over 7.9 lakh of them in India. In five years, this number was expected to straight off more than double to 16.5 lakh Indians.
Wealth has the characteristic of going down the chain the more it is made—the principle by which capitalism became the dominant economic system and why living conditions improved immeasurably in recent centuries. The ₹8 crore of this 16.5 lakh Indians does not go into a chest under the bed. It is kept in banks which lend them out to others and the circle of multiplication continues. Or the wealthy spend their money on goods and services which then leads to new businesses and employment. Or it is invested directly into companies as equity which leads to the business sector becoming even bigger. India has been seeing this picture of the spread of money ever since it unleashed the energies of liberalisation. People suddenly realised that there were multiple opportunities now to become richer. Working hard at a job could lead to lucrative pay packages after a while. But the ones who really propelled this revolution were the entrepreneurs. Traditional business families reinvented themselves to be competitive and thrived. Those who couldn’t do so became footnotes. There was also an entirely new flood of entrepreneurs who saw the opportunities that had now become available.
Last month, in October, Hurun India published its annual rich list which does a deep dive into the wealth of India and the people who make it. And it once again showed the scale of how business acumen drives India’s wealth. They found that there were 1,319 Indian individuals whose wealth was over ₹1,000 crore. This was 216 more than the previous year. But of the 1,319, as many as 66 per cent, or 871, were self-made entrepreneurs. The wealthiest man in India was Mukesh Ambani, who on last year’s list had been overtaken by Gautam Adani, but now reclaimed the top spot because share prices of some of the Adani stocks had decreased. Ambani is a second-generation entrepreneur. His father Dhirubhai Ambani built the Reliance empire from scratch and, after his death, even though the companies in the group were split among his two sons, Mukesh Ambani not only made his companies the most valuable in India but also turned them future-ready, pivoting from oil refining, which will eventually become a sunset sector, to green energy, telecom and cutting-edge technology-based platforms. He now has an astonishingly wide footprint, including OTT platforms, new and old media, ecommerce, retail, finance, and more. Ambani might have had a forerunner in his father but he still thinks like an entrepreneur, the reason for Reliance’s continued growth despite its size. Meanwhile, Adani is a first-generation entrepreneur who, beginning with commodity trading, has propelled himself into fields like ports, power, energy, airports, mining. Recently, he acquired the biggest cement company of India, Ambuja. The drives exhibited by people like Ambani and Adani reflect in terms of their worth. Hurun valued Ambani’s wealth at a whopping ₹8,08,700 crore while Adani’s was ₹4,74,800 crore. At third place was a group whose fortunes took off into another orbit following Covid. Cyrus Poonawalla and family, who own the Serum Institute of India that manufactured a large proportion of the vaccines used during the pandemic, are now worth ₹2,78,500 crore, a 36 per cent jump over the previous year. These figures, though mind-boggling, become even more astonishing when you consider how much the wealth of the richest Indians has grown over the last five years. Ambani added ₹4,28,000 crore in this period while for Adani and Poonawalla it was ₹3,80,300 crore and ₹1,89,700 crore respectively. But there were many more who flourished during the same time. The report noted: “Four entrepreneurs achieved a remarkable wealth growth of INR 1 lakh crore over the last five years, with 13 entrepreneurs securing a wealth growth of INR 50,000 crore during the same period.”
Last month, Hurun India published its annual rich list which does a deep dive into the wealth of India and the people who make it. They found that there were 1,319 Indians whose wealth was over ₹1,000 crore. This was 216 more than the previous year. But of the 1,319, as many as 66 per cent were self-made entrepreneurs
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These numbers are often estimates and there could be some discrepancies between different rich lists but most of the personalities and rankings remain the same. Forbes, for example, has a rich list of India’s wealthiest in which the top two are also Ambani and Adani, but on third place they have Shiv Nadar, who founded the IT company HCL way back in 1976. From humble beginnings, his wealth is now valued at $29.3 billion. Poonawalla on the Forbes list is at No 6. They represent two of the sectors—IT and pharmaceuticals—which have created some of the greatest business stories of this era.
It doesn’t matter how old or young one is, India has opportunities for everyone. For instance, on the Hurun List, the oldest person to make it was 94 years old. This was Mahendra Ratilal Mehta, founder of Precision Wires which makes copper wires. Lately, it has seen a huge upswing in its share prices, taking the company’s market value to over ₹2,000 crore and taking Mehta’s own worth to over ₹1,000 crore and so bringing him into the list. At the other end of the age spectrum are Aadit Palicha and Kaivalya Vohra, founders of Zepto, the grocery delivery app. Friends since childhood, the entrepreneurial bug bit them together when they began joint ventures in their teens. They got seats at Stanford University but decided to forego that option. They saw an enormous opportunity for a venture like Zepto when the Covid-related lockdowns happened and did not want to miss it. The latest round of valuation of Zepto puts it at $1.4 billion or a little under ₹12,000 crore. The value of their stake in Zepto has led to them being on the Hurun list for the last couple of years at such young ages.
Credit Suisse was yet another institution that came out with a Global Wealth Report 2023. One of the things they looked at was people with over $100 million across the world dubbed ultra-high-net-worth individuals. India had 5,480 of them and they also found that it was one of the few countries where this category was rising the most. They predicted that dollar millionaires, too, would rise very fast for India in future, noting: “Millionaire numbers are also likely to increase rapidly in India—we envisage a rise of 69% to 1.4 million by 2027…” But there was a line in the report which showed that the wealth at the top translates downwards too. It said: “On average, wealth per adult in India has risen at an annual rate of 8.7% since the year 2000 and was USD 16,500 at the end of 2022.” India doesn’t really have to do much to upset the momentum. The ball is almost inevitably going in the direction of more opportunities and growth as the world looks for new markets for both selling its goods and services, while also doing the supplying. The story from the Indian rich list is that the current rise in wealth could just be the tip of what is lying in wait.