Asia’s richest man Gautam Adani reveals global media ambitions

Gautam Adani wants to build a global news brand in a sign of the widening influence and vaulting international ambition of Asia’s richest man.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times, Adani highlighted investment plans ranging from launching a “super app” in India to bidding for power projects in Israel. He also defended the group’s controversial Carmichael coal mine in Australia but admitted he would not have gone through with its development if he had known how much opposition it would spark.

His comments demonstrate how Adani’s ports-to-power conglomerate — which has growing influence as the founder champions Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s development agenda — is expanding abroad and pushing into the media and consumer sectors.

“Why can’t you support one media house to become independent and have a global footprint?” asked the billionaire, whose new media unit launched a hostile takeover of leading Indian broadcaster NDTV in August. “India does not have one single [outlet] to compare to Financial Times or Al Jazeera.”

Speaking in the group’s skyscraper headquarters outside Ahmedabad, the largest city of his home state Gujarat, Adani said he saw the NDTV purchase as a “responsibility” rather than a business opportunity.

The Adani Group’s still incomplete takeover bid has stoked debate in India over media independence, with the tycoon perceived to be aligned with the Modi government while NDTV is known for airing voices critical of it.

“Independence means if government has done something wrong, you say it’s wrong,” Adani said. “But at the same time, you should have courage when the government is doing the right thing every day. You have to also say that.”

He said the cost of creating an international media group would be “negligible” for the conglomerate and he had invited NDTV owner-founder Prannoy Roy to remain as chair. Adani’s AMG Media Network also bought a stake this year in business news platform BQ Prime, formerly BloombergQuint.

The surge in share prices of Adani’s companies this year has puzzled some analysts while boosting his fortune faster than that of any other billionaire. Now worth $136bn, according to Forbes, Adani jostles with tech tycoon Elon Musk and luxury mogul Bernard Arnault atop the global wealth rankings.

In contrast with some other Indian tycoons, Adani is self-made. From a commodities trading firm founded in 1988, he has expanded his business interests to become India’s largest private player in infrastructure, with 13 ports and eight airports.

Opposition politicians allege Adani benefits from a close association with Modi, a fellow Gujarati. Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister for 13 years before he became premier in 2014. Adani rejected allegations of impropriety but acknowledged his group aligned itself with the government’s development priorities. He said investors were buying into “India’s success story”.

Adani Group is also India’s largest private coal business, operating mines and coal-fired electricity plants. But with India’s government now pushing an ambitious switch to renewables, the conglomerate has vowed to invest $70bn by 2030 in technologies from solar panel manufacturing to green hydrogen production.

As well as launching a “super app” in the next three to six months to connect Adani airport passengers with other Adani Group services, Adani said he planned to invest more than $4bn in a petrochemical complex at his sprawling Mundra port and special economic zone in Gujarat.

“Huge demand is opening up, and India doesn’t have sufficient hydrocarbons,” Adani said. He wants to build an ethane cracker, part of the industrial process to turn natural gas into plastics, alongside a coal-to-PVC plant already under construction.

Adani denied moving into petrochemicals would open up serious competition with fellow billionaire Mukesh Ambani, whose Reliance Industries established an ethane cracker in 2017. “There is no competition,” he said. “India is a huge growth market and everybody is welcome.”

Adani also aims for broader international expansion, winning port contracts in Sri Lanka and building a power plant in India to supply neighbouring Bangladesh.

He said the group is “eyeing up entering the power sector in Israel” and is “likely” to bid for a gas-based power project. Adani Ports, along with Israel’s Gadot Group, bought the concession for the country’s second-biggest commercial port in Haifa for $1.2bn in July.

Describing the east coast of Africa as “a huge opportunity”, Adani said he would consider investing in the African “mining and metal business”, while his company is assessing the feasibility of hydrogen production in Morocco and Oman. Adani and French oil company TotalEnergies signed a $50bn green hydrogen partnership this year.

Adani argued that high energy prices underscored the importance of his group’s controversial Carmichael coal mine project in Australia’s Galilee Basin, insisting its high-quality coal was an energy-efficient way to meet rising demand in India.

But he added that with hindsight, given the intense opposition from environmental activists, he would not have developed it. Adani has struggled to finance and insure the mine and despite having approvals for 60mn tonnes of coal annually, he said the mine currently produces only 17mn tonnes.

“If we realised there’s so much objection, that so much resistance will come, we could not enter. We would have not done that,” Adani said. “But you have to understand that once you have already spent $2-3bn, you have got all approvals as per norms, you have government support on both sides, you have support from local people — do you think any enterprise should walk because someone has objections?”

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