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Fit to lead: India's super-toned billionaires

Last updated on: March 4, 2013 18:46 IST

Fit to lead: India's super-toned billionaires

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Veenu Sandhu

Running a multi-billion dollar business is no mean task. It calls for immense energy. Veenu Sandhu lists five super-toned billionaires who know that to stay wealthy, they need to be both wise and healthy.

Some years before he died, Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of Reliance Industries, told his younger son, Anil: "Look Son, you can buy any luxury you want in life -- from clothes to food, from a home to a holiday -- but you can never buy health. Do whatever it takes to make yourself feel good." The younger Ambani was touching 40 then. He weighed an uncomfortable 105 kg and could barely walk a kilometre in an hour, let alone run. Like his father, his fitness, or rather lack of it, also had his shareholders worried.

There was only one option before Ambani: to cut into his busy schedule and take time out to shape up. The inspiration to run, Ambani revealed in UpperCrust, came from another extremely busy man -- the then American president, George Bush, who, despite being in his mid-50s, would run at least a few kilometres every day. So much so that he even had a treadmill on Air Force One. Today, at 53, Ambani is among the country's fittest business tycoons. He has shed one-third of his earlier weight and is aptly called 'Marathon Man'.

A committed marathoner who runs for at least a hundred kilometres a week, Ambani was spotted early this January morning practising for the Mumbai Marathon on Marine Drive. The man in sharp running gear -- black spandex track pants, fluorescent green shoes to go with fluorescent sunglasses and a black t-shirt with 'running' written across it in capital letter in fluorescent green -- has grown leaner as he has aged.

Ambani's day begins early -- around 4 -- with a run. If he's not running on the treadmill, he's out jogging on the roads of Mumbai or Delhi or whichever part of the world he's in. Else, he's giving the elevator a miss to dash up the staircases of high rises. His fitness trainer, Rujutha Diwekar, once said that he's one of the most disciplined people she's known. And that's not just because he doesn't smoke and is a teetotaler. While he doesn't believe in dieting, Ambani is careful about what he eats. So, it's honey instead of sugar and bajra or jawar roti instead of wheat. White products like milk are a strict 'no'.


Image: Anil Ambani, chairman of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group
Photographs: N V Reuben/Rediff.com
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If Ambani is among the top superfit super rich at 53, Adi Godrej takes the lead among septuagenarians -- he's just a month short of turning 71 and can give any 30-year-old a run for his money. Waterskiing, sailing, swimming, jogging, trekking, horse riding -- name it and Godrej is into it.

Though he exercises for around 10 hours a week, he's not the kind to be caught in a gym. Godrej is an outdoor person. He'd rather walk, jog and exercise the way he pleases out in the open. A decade ago, at 60, the adventurous businessman completed the 54-km Kailash-Mansarovar Parikrama with Ambani -- trekking from 16,000 to 20,000 feet within 15 hours, which even the locals thought bordered between daring and madness.


Image: Adi Godrej, CMD, Godrej Industries
Photographs: Rediff Archives
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A youngster in comparison, Naveen Jindal who turns 43 exactly a week from today, is also a man of many interests and facets. As Member of Parliament from Kurukshetra, he's seen in parliament in the trademark white kurta-pyjama. As chairman of Jindal Steel and Power, he is spotted wearing crisp business suits that sit well on his toned form. When he is out with his horses -- Jindal is an avid rider and the Jindal Steel and Power polo team has a good number of awards to show for it -- he can be seen cantering or galloping in his riding gear. Jindal began riding at the age of six when his father gifted him his first horse. Today, his 30-acre farm is also a training ground for tens of ponies and horses.

During the 2009 Aero India Show at Yelahanka Air Force Station, Bangalore, another side of Jindal was revealed when he co-piloted the FA 18 EF Super Hornet, a fighter aircraft. He has also co-piloted the F-16 and two years ago, he was flying another combat aircraft -- this time the French Rafale.

Shooting is another interest, which he developed at the age of 15. A national record holder in skeet shooting, he also bagged a gold in the team skeet event for India at the Singapore Open Shooting Championship in 2007. Physical fitness and shooting don't necessarily go hand in hand and we have a good number of shooters who could do with several kilograms less. However, Jindal isn't one of them. Fitness and politics also don't necessarily pair up. But Jindal disagrees with that. About a year ago, he tweeted: "A fitness routine is built into every Indian politician's life. You should see how much I walk n run around when I'm in Kurukshetra".

Fitness sure is part of this billionaire businessman-cum-politician's life.


Image: Naveen Jindal, MP and Chairman of Jindal Steel and Power
Photographs: Ranjan Basu/Saab Pictures
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Another head honcho who cannot imagine a life without a couple of hours a day of stretching, running and toning is Rashesh Shah. For this 49-year-old chairman and CEO of the Edelweiss Group, tennis was once the perfect way of staying in shape. But then some years ago he developed tennis elbow and picking up the racquet became a pain. Shah then turned his attention to running. "Fitness is very important," says the man who weighs 68 kg and does not have an ounce of extra fat.

He says his success has a lot to do with his fitness. "Exercising generates a lot of energy and counterbalances your work." It shows in the way his Mumbai-based financial services company has grown. Shah founded Edelweiss in 1996 with the initial equity capital of Rs 1 crore. At the end of Q3 for financial year 2012-13, the group's net worth stood at Rs 3,004 crore. Its employee strength too has jumped from 10 in 2000 to 3661 in 2013.

Shah has so far run eight half marathons. Last year, he completed his first full marathon -- the Amsterdam marathon which is a neat 42.195 km and is counted among the top ten marathons of the world. Shah makes it a point to run four times a week, for an hour on weekdays and two hours on Sunday. This includes running on Mumbai's streets, even when it pours. "Through the year, for about three times a week, I also go for an hour-long swim," he says. And, he also exercises in the gym. "Having a trainer is very important," says Shah who picks a trainer specific to what he's doing, whether it is swimming, running or gyming.


Image: Rashesh Shah, CEO, Edelweiss Group
Photographs: Rediff Archives
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Like Shah, another avid runner is Anand Mahindra, the 57-year-old ramrod straight chairman and managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra.

A private person, he does not like to speak about his fitness regime, but is a regular at the marathons, the most recent one being the 10th Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon on January 20 this year.

Clearly among the fittest billionaires of India, Mahindra, who is also a keen photographer, prefers to work out in his gym at home.


Image: Anand Mahindra, CMD, Mahindra & Mahindra

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