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The other side of the world's richest Indian
Simi Grewal | May 06, 2006
Lakshmi Niwas Mittal is the richest Indian in the world, with an estimated wealth of over $27 billion. Based in London, Mittal still holds an Indian passport and has king-sized ambitions to make his company Mittal Steel a true global behemoth. It does not matter that Mittal Steel is already the world's biggest steel company.
In a rare interview at their palatial mansion in London, Mittal and his wife Usha open up to Simi Grewal.
The second part of the interview will be aired on television channel Star World, in the programme Rendezvous with Simi Grewal, on May 7, Sunday at 9 30 p.m. (IST).
Simi Grewal: Usha, it's lovely to have you here with your husband. Thank you so much.
UM: It's my pleasure.
SG: You know, I've always felt that to really know a man, you have to meet his wife, because she truly reflects who he is.
LNM: Absolutely. You can see. . . when you talk to her, you will realise that we two are very close to each other, we have the same family values. And we take care of our children a lot. We love them a lot. We care for the society.
SG: By the way, you know, your husband has credited you with 100% of his success. Is that fair?
UM: It's not!
SG: It's not?
UM: It's not fair! It's true that we have been very close to each other and my support has always been with him. But the credit for his success is his -- his hard work, his business acumen. The true credit goes not to me.
SG: But Usha holds equal stakes in Mittal Steel as you, doesn't she, LN?
UM: We are life partners together so she has more than equal stake!
SG: (to UM) So you have equal power in the company and by all rights you have equal claim to the being the third richest person in the world.
LNM: You know she's very, very humble. And she never claims anything. That's her credit. And she knows this very well that nothing is going to change. We are one. We are so integrated with each other. She gave me all the credit, but I told you before, without talking to her that I gave her the credit.
SG: Your partnership actually began 35 years ago when both your parents came to each of you and said, 'We've found your life partner.' Was an arranged marriage expected of you?
UM: Yes, it was. Yeah.
LNM: It was kind of arranged marriage and I met her once, twice before we got engaged. . .
LNM: . . . in a Calcutta club. . .
LNM: . . . on one evening for tea.
SG: And did you talk at all?
LNM: Little bit. . .
SG: (to UM) What were you doing before he came on the scene?
UM: I was a student. I had just graduated from BHU (Banaras Hindu University). I was a student of Economics. . .
SG: And where were you living?
UM: I was living at our home in Benares.
UM: So I had come for a summer holiday to Calcutta and that's when we met and the engagement was finalised.
SG: And what did you think of him?
UM: I thought. . .
LNM: Tell us now, because I never heard! (Laughter).
UM: I thought he was interesting, but I fell in love with him on our first phone conversation.
SG: When did that take place?
LNM: You have to tell the story now.
UM: As happens after we saw each other. . . And my parents loved him and his parents loved me. So the engagement was supposed to happen after two weeks and the first call he made, I think we talked for hours, more than two hours at least. We didn't feel that short of sentences or words. And we didn't' realise we have been talking for two hours. That's how. . . And I think we both fell in love with each other. . .
SG: On the telephone?
UM: . . . on that phone conversation.
LNM: I think, ours is a different kind of marriage where you don't communicate too much before the marriage and it's a building of relations, building of love. I wrote a letter to her immediately after the engagement because she went back to Benares and that's where I said to her I welcome you as a partner and I'm sure I must have expressed lot of love.
UM: Yes. And one sentence that he wrote, that touched my heart was, he ended the letter with, 'Keep smiling always.' And that touched my heart the most.
LNM: (to UM) You didn't like my saying that I welcome you as a life partner?
UM: Yeah. But at that time I was young, you know. I was 19.
UM: I liked it. I loved it. Of course, if you look back and think about it, that was the best line, I think to start your life. . .
UM: I welcome you as my life partner.
SG: That's very romantic!
LNM: We've always been romantic! Not only in the beginning.
SG: Usha tell me, you've known him best. Did you see earlier on some signs in him which would show, you know, prove his later achievements, his later greatness.
UM: Four months after we got married, he had to give his exam and I saw his determination at that time. And that impressed me greatly. And I still see the same determination in his work. He's very intelligent and he can see things in advance.
SG: So how did success change things?
LNM: You see, success bring more success and more opportunities and more challenges. That's one change. And in the personal life, you gain more confidence, you gain more strength. You want to do something better all the time.
SG: Because here, from a small family, one small home in Indonesia, your world has now expanded to the globe.
UM: I think going forward in life is always full of gains only. The losses are that sometimes you get more busy than you even can imagine. But then, I think you get used to that life.
UM: Sometimes even some of our closest friends cannot believe that, the kind of traveling we do and the kind of busy life we lead. But we are able to cope with it very well and when we are together on weekends, we are still like we were in Surabaya.
SG: Suddenly there were jets and yachts and homes all over the world. You know the grandeur and scale of your life changed. And it was such a dramatic graph in such a short time, that do you feel you changed with it?
LNM: No, most of these things are needed. For example, aircraft you need. It's not a luxury. It's a tool for business. You have homes because you want to get away sometimes from your daily, hectic routine.
LNM: . . . you want to spend time with your wife, your children. And that's also very important to continue to succeed.
SG: Between the two of you, who talks more and who listens.
LNM: Normally wives should talk a lot but in this case I talk a lot! (He turns to UM) Which is true or not?
UM: Yeah, he talks more than I.
SG: And who has the last word in an argument?
LNM: My wife! (laughs)
UM: No. We don't argue.
SG: You don't argue at all?
UM: Very rarely.
LNM: I think this amazing part, we have such a good understanding that our views are very similar on issues.
SG: I can understand.
LNM: So argument comes when the views are different. We are so aligned to each other, we are so integrated to each other. There's a very little scope for argument.
UM: If the matter concerns business I think he has the last word and if it concerns family and home or personal life, I think I have the last word.
SG: Between the two of you, whose heart rules and whose head?
UM: His head and my heart. That's very clear. (Laughter).
LNM: Yeah. But I always believe the head is stronger than heart. (Laughter).
UM: OK. I give you that plus.
SG: Who is stricter with the kids?
UM: We both are not strict parents. I think when the children were small, like babies, I was stricter. And he only played with them when he came home so I had to discipline them at times and do their homework with them and take them to school and all those motherly duties.
SG: So in what way is Aditya's relationship with you different to your relationship with your father?
LNM: I think our relation is very unique. We are very close friends, very close friends. More than father and son, we are close friends. Obviously, we are partners in business. Though he's my son, we respect each other's views. And we are aligned together so much, it is very difficult to see relation between father and son. Lot of people think that we are like brothers.
SG: But also when Aditya was going to Wharton Business School, I believe LN was so upset, he didn't even go and see him off.
UM: Yeah. I went with him and he and. . .
LNM: Yeah, I didn't go, you know.
UM: Yeah. He was upset. I think both of us when we talked of him, our tears would go. . . tears would roll down.
SG: You people have set a new standard in weddings for the family. Vanisha's wedding. Who, who planned that?
UM: Yeah, these things are always. . . fall in my portfolio.
SG: How did you choose Versailles?
UM: I took my daughter to Paris] and showed her all the venues that I had chosen. I had always loved Versailles and I thought we should have one function there for the sheer beauty of the place. And she, on the way she was telling, 'Versailles? No. I don't want any function in Versailles.. And when she saw Versailles, she said: 'Mummy, this is the best.' Because she appreciates art and architecture a lot and she said: 'Mummy, this is the best.'
SG: Yes. . . it's truly splendid. Majestic.
SG: It must have taken huge planning.
SG: For many months!
UM: Yes. It takes in a lot of time because you have to go into every detail.
SG: More like an army manoeuvre!
LNM: I must say we got lot of support from French authorities.
UM: The French were so interested in doing up a Vedic-style wedding. And the Indian artisans and the French artisans worked together with a lot of respect for each other. Our party planners from India went there and set up the whole mandap and the tent for the dinner in the Rajasthani style. And I remember St. Laurent telling me that I never knew India has so much of talent.