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Gautam Adani, the man who may soon be Asia's richest person, is a college dropout who survived the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and says he was once kidnapped for ransom

Business Insider logo Business Insider 11/25/2021 mloh@businessinsider.com (Matthew Loh)
Gautam Adani, the chairman and founder of the Adani Group, at the News18 Rising India Summit on February 25, 2019, in New Delhi. Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images © Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images Gautam Adani, the chairman and founder of the Adani Group, at the News18 Rising India Summit on February 25, 2019, in New Delhi. Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
  • The Indian tycoon Gautam Adani is nearly Asia's richest man on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
  • As stocks in his companies rose Wednesday, Indian news outlets began placing him in the No. 1 spot.
  • Adani, a college dropout, worked as a diamond sorter and survived a kidnapping and terrorist attack.

It's been a good year for Gautam Adani.

The port tycoon, who hails from India, saw his fortune surge by $55.3 billion in 2021, according to estimates from the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, knocking Zhong Shanshan, China's richest man, into third place among Asia's wealthiest billionaires on the list.

Adani, 59, now sits at a net worth of $89.1 billion on the index. That makes him $800 million shy of Asia's highest-ranked person, the Indian energy magnate Mukesh Ambani.

On Wednesday, Adani edged closer to the No. 1 spot, as shares of Adani Enterprise and Adani Ports rose 2.76% and 4.59% while Ambani's companies Reliance Industries and Reliance Industrial Infrastructure slipped by 1.48% and 1.57%, the Indian outlet ABP News reported.

Several local media outlets now hail Adani as Asia's richest man, though he still sat at second place on Bloomberg's index as of Thursday.

Adani has business interests in energy, defense, and real estate, and he owns India's largest commercial port, one of the world's largest coal mines, and a 74% stake in Mumbai's international airport. And he's come a long way from his days as a college dropout and time as a gem sorter.

Diamonds, exports, and  loans

Born in 1962 as one of eight children in Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat, Adani was the son of a textile merchant but declined to take on his father's business, Silicon India reported.

Instead, he enrolled in Gujarat University in Ahmedabad to study commerce but dropped out after his second year, opting to work as a diamond sorter in Mumbai in the early 1980s, per the magazine Business Today.

Adani then moved on to diamond trading and eventually started his own business, Adani Enterprises, to import and export commodities in 1988, the Financial Times reported.

He would use profits from his business to back heavy loans so he could enter other industries, per the Financial Times.

Adani received permission from the Gujarat government in 1995 to start a harbor in the town of Mundra, according to The Times of India. It eventually developed into India's largest private port.

Adani, an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi since Modi was chief minister of Gujarat in 2003, has been accused of rising in prominence and wealth because he supported the national leader. In an interview with the Financial Times, he denied his business success came from his political ties.

A terrorist attack and a $2 million ransom

In 1998, Adani accused several men of kidnapping him and a companion, Shantilal Patel, per The Indian Express. He alleged that he and Patel were traveling in a car on New Year's Day when a scooter blocked their path, allowing a group of men to abduct the pair into a van at gunpoint.

A report filed against the men said that they demanded a ransom of $2 million from Adani's family and that he and Patel were released after the money was sent over, according to The Indian Express. But two of the people brought to trial were acquitted in 2018, while six others were cleared of the charges in 2015 because the prosecution couldn't tie them to the alleged kidnapping, Times Now India reported.

Adani doesn't like to talk about the incident, according to the Financial Times, telling the outlet: "Two or three very unfortunate incidents happened in my life, that is one of them."

A separate brush with danger came a decade later, during the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, a violent 60-hour siege of the city by 10 heavily armed Pakistani militants that left 166 people dead.

A mass demonstration after the series of terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images © Uriel Sinai/Getty Images A mass demonstration after the series of terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Adani was dining at the Taj Mahal luxury hotel when the siege occurred and said he could see the militants enter the building from his table, India Today reported.

He hid in a basement with the help of hotel staff and later relocated to a chamber hall on an upper floor as the attack continued throughout the night. He told India Today that when commandos stormed the hotel the following day, and he was escorted to safety, he "saw death at a distance of just 15 feet."

More than 100 people were hiding with him, he said at the time: "Some had hidden below the sofa while others had taken similar evasive position. Sitting on a sofa, I was telling them to have faith in God."

In 2018, he wrote a reflection on the attack published on The Indian Express, saying the anniversary of the attack was a "day of personal reflection and prayer" for him every year.

"One of the lives they saved that night was mine. I still recollect some of the faces — people I will never know, people I will never be able to repay," he wrote. "I am often struck by the thought that this was God's way of keeping me grateful and indebted."

Insider has reached out to the Adani Group for comment.

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