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Home > Business > Special

How a small trader became a metal king

Kausik Datta in Mumbai | April 27, 2007

Anil Agarwal, 52, dreams of being the best mining and metal-maker in the world. To get there, he thinks three to five years is a "reasonable" time. Surprised? Those who know him are not.

Agarwal, executive chairman and founder of the London Stock Exchange-listed Vedanta Resources, is growing at a very fast pace - from Rs 15 crore (rs 150 million) in 1985 to nearly Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) in the nine-month year to 2006.

Agarwal's is a classic story of a small trader becoming metal king. The secret, he says, lies in believing in himself and in the country's potential.

"Also, I am fortunate to have wonderful people with me. Without them, it would not have been possible for me to reach this level," he told Business Standard after announcing the acquisition of Sesa Goa on Tuesday.

Agarwal came to Mumbai when he was 19 after completing his matriculation from Patna in 1975. He was so impressed with the grand edifice of the The Oberoi that he decided to lodge himself there as he set out to pursue his career as a scrap trader.

But due to his poor command over English, he had to seek the help of a friend to book himself in the hotel. Once there, he would eat out so the cost would not exceed the daily rent of Rs 200.

Today, his annual salary is over Rs 4.5 crore (Rs 45 million), not to mention his stock options and shareholding. He owns a home in Mayfair, London, drives a Bentley, wears the most expensive suits and has the best staff in the industry working for him.

But all this has not changed him. "I am a proud Bihari," he says. "But I have done nothing for Bihar and Jharkhand. In fact, this was the added attraction for my interest in Sesa Goa, which has a prospective licence in Jharkhand," he says.

An ambitious Agarwal wants to have a production capacity of 1 million tonnes each in his three areas of business - copper, aluminium and zinc, and wants to set up a 10,000 MW power plant. "We are investing $13 billion to achieve the target and are half way through [to it]," he says.

It was this ambition that drove him to launch a hostile takeover bid to acquire Indian Aluminium (Indal) from the American giant, Alcan, which failed.  Instead, he bought the ailing Madras Aluminium.

Later, he acquired Bharat Aluminium and Hindustan Zinc from the government and purchased India Foils from the Khaitan group of Kolkata. In all these cases, the Birla group was one of the contenders. On his part, Agarwal shrugs off the theory of rivalry with the Birla group. "There is enough water in the sea for every fish," he says.

As of now, the uncrowned non-ferrous king of the country is making his foray in the ferrous market. Sesa Goa has a reserve of 207 million tonnes of iron ore and produces 10 million tonnes a year, and has mines in Orissa, Karnataka and Goa. He differs with those who believe that he paid a hefty premium.

"The premium of 16 per cent is actually cheap, compared to the international instances where the acquirer pays 40-50 per cent more than the market price," he says. With Sesa Goa in his fold, he seeks to be an integrated metal junction with interests in copper, aluminium, zinc, lead and iron ore.

As for failures, he has had his share. His acquisition of India Foils has proved to be unwise. The company is still bleeding. But he is candid in confession. "India Foils contributes a small portion to the group's overall turnover. We may disinvest our interest when we get the right price," he says.

Iron ore exporters, however, are a happy lot with the company coming under the Vedanta fold. They feel they now have a strong man to fight the steel lobby in the corridors of policy making.

The secret behind Vedanta's success

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