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Life Lessons From Gautam Adani For Young Entrepreneurs

| Updated: March 14, 2024 11:26

At a recent event in Mumbai, Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani enumerated five success mantras he had learnt through his life’s experiences.

Addressing young entrepreneurs, Adani also recalled the experiences of his childhood and the principles inculcated through those experiences which helped him grow his business and become successful in life.

“My upbringing was spread across the deserts of Banaskantha and the poles of Ahmedabad. The scorching heat and the dusty winds of Banaskatha taught me resilience. And then came the days in the pols of Ahmedabad. The essence of bonding, relationships, humanity, the feelings of helping one in need came naturally from the experience of my life in the pols,” Adani said.

“During this formative period there were two people who influenced me. My mother, whose commitment to hold our large family together laid the foundation of my family values and beliefs. And the second was my father who was in the business of forward trading. In those days, the transactions happened verbally, mostly on the telephone, without any written documents, or contracts. At a very young age I saw that these verbal commitments never failed,” the chairman said.

“These experiences played a significant part in shaping my beliefs, and resulted in what today are the core values of the Adani group – the Courage to withstand, the Trust in the people, and the Commitment to a larger cause,” he further said.

He said he was just 16 when he gave up his education and moved to Mumbai.  

“I wanted to do something different – and do it on my own – hence I took this decision to move to Mumbai and see if I could make my life there,” he said.

“I worked for four years in Mumbai in the diamond business. It is a city where every heartbeat echoes – Think Big – Dream Bigger! And what Mumbai really taught me – was to aspire,” he added.  

Adani said at 19, he was called back by his elder brother to assist in running a small-scale PVC film factory we had acquired near Ahmedabad. The business was challenging due to the scarcity of raw materials caused by heavy import restrictions.

“But this was set to change following the elections in 1985. Rajiv Gandhi had just become the PM and he initiated the liberalisation of import policies. Despite having no experience, I grabbed the opportunity and swiftly established a trading organisation and began importing polymers to supply to the needy small-scale industries. This start of liberalisation gave me – my first big break. I was 23,” said Gautam Adani.

Adani referred to the massive foreign exchange reserve crisis of 1991 and how PV Narasimha Rao – then PM, and Manmohan Singh – then the finance minister announced a series of very bold economic liberalisation policies which was to dramatically reshape the business environment and effectively ended the “License Raj”.

“This further opening up of the economy created my second big break. I was 29,” he said.

Gautam Adani then established a Global Trading house dealing in the export and import of polymers, metals, textiles, and agro-products. And within two years, it became the country’s largest global trading house.

“Trading is a mental battle – both with the market and with one’s own self. Each loss teaches a lesson. Every gain imparts wisdom. This mantra has always stayed with me,” he said.

“I look back at the series of events of 1985 and 1991, I witnessed many of the existing businesses houses that had become very large entities since independence simply failed to recognise the market shifts as a result of the policy changes. They just failed to evolve and thereby became weak or irrelevant over the years that followed,” the chairman added.

“I learnt that – status quo – can be a very great weakness,” he said.

In 1994, Adani decided to go public, and thus Adani Exports, now known as Adani Enterprises, launched its IPO. The IPO was a strong success and underscored the importance of public markets.

“However, I had also started realising that in the long run, to gain the market’s trust, I needed to develop assets that would provide the company with more stability and a foundation for consistent growth. And the opportunity came about in 1995 as my third major break- and shifted us to a new orbit. I was 31,” he added.

Adani said, “By coincidence, it was around this same time that the global commodities trader Cargill had approached us with a partnership proposal to source salt from Kutch. The partnership did not proceed. But we were left with about 40,000 acres of marshy land and an approval to build a captive jetty at Mundra for export of salt. Under the PPP agreement, we were selected by Gujarat government to develop a full-fledged commercial port in Mundra. Thereafter, the next opportunity followed when the Gujarat government announced the SEZ policy in 2005. The 40,000 acres around Mundra port that was considered of very little value, had now become a priceless asset.”

Today it hosts – India’s largest port, largest industrial SEZ, largest container terminals, largest power plant, largest solar manufacturing facility, largest edible oil refinery.

“Mundra taught me that – What you dream, you create and What you think, you become,” he said.

“If the last three decades since the 1990s have laid the foundation for India to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, the journey towards 2050 will be even more transformative and disruptive. While the past three decades were about opening India to the world, the upcoming three decades will see the world opening up to India,” Gautam Adani said.

He exuded hope that within the next decade, India will begin adding a trillion dollars to its GDP every 18 months, setting us on the path to becoming a 25 to 30 trillion-dollar economy by 2050.

“During this period, I foresee the total market capitalisation of listed companies in India to dramatically increase and range from 40 to 45 trillion dollars, indicating a tenfold growth from the current 4 trillion dollars. No other nation will be even close to achieving such growth and India will have its own trillion-dollar valued companies,” he anticipated.

Exhorting the digital age he said, “It has democratised the playing field. It has thrown open opportunities to a far greater number of companies. And the most striking manifestation of this digital revolution is the emergence of new disruptive tech billionaires. An interesting statistic is that in the 1990s, India had just two billionaires. Today, the number is 167.”

Lauding the government for being able to transform the nation like never before, Adani said, “The strides, powered by several visionary government policies, have positioned us at the forefront of global growth as evident from the fact that we are now contributing an impressive 16% to worldwide economic expansion. This is a record that I expect we will continue to break repeatedly.”

Enumerating the five success mantras, Adani said, “Entrepreneurship is about taking risks and being ok with sometimes getting lost, sometimes falling – but every time I was lost – every time I fell – I was still able to find my way back – I was still able to get up. I never feared falling. Therefore, I would like to leave you with five principles, and I hope these will mean something for all of you.”

“First, all success will come with its challenges and its challengers. The greater your success, bigger will you be as a target and the true measure of your success will not be in your achievements but in your ability to rise through the adversities that will come with your achievements,” he said, adding, “Every fall comes with its pains, but every rise comes with its gains. This gain is called resilience. And in the game of resilience your mind will be both – the battleground and the weapon.”

“Second, we live in a complex world and it’s easy to be sold on the theory of simplicity. While simplicity may be the goal, it is the ability to manage complexity that will differentiate you and make you the ones that can navigate the deep waters as against those that remain on the shallow shores,” he said, adding , “Every business that I have built has been far more difficult than I had anticipated and over the years I have become wiser in my belief that only if I am able to embrace complexity better than others will I be able to differentiate.”

Third, the dynamic model of a fast-growing nation like ours requires a flexible approach that is rooted in local models as against models that often emphasise specialisation and core competencies.

“The crux of strategic differentiation often lies in recognising the limitations of bookish knowledge and western centric models. While it is important to source ideas from books and literature, keep in mind that these are after all opinions of brilliant story tellers with great ability to influence,” Adani said.

“Fourth, resilience often requires the ability to withstand criticism. The higher you rise, the more you will need to prepare yourself to handle criticism. But instead of allowing it to deter progress, you must be willing to be misunderstood, and yet stay resilient,” Adani said, adding,”It is about cultivating an inner strength that allows you to remain strong in your convictions, even in the face of severe opposition.

Number 5 and, the most difficult of all, he said was to stay humble.

“Your own success will push back on your humility. But humility is the biggest differentiator you can build. Humility is not thinking less of yourself – it is thinking of yourself a little less,” Adani said.

Concluding his speech, the chairman told the entrepreneurs, “Imagine for a moment, standing at the edge of a vast ocean, your dreams on the far shore across the waters. The waters are turbulent, the journey unclear. Yet, here you are, ready to build the bridge to cross it. That’s entrepreneurship. As a fellow entrepreneur, I can only tell you that in the days to come – Try to never be in a situation – where you are disappointed by the bridges you did not build – and the new shores you did not explore. This is the way lasting legacies are built.”

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