The visit remains unforgettable to this day. I was given access to the entire management team. Shortly thereafter, on 2 November 2007, Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone Limited (MPSEZL) filed its prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for raising money from the investing public. I was lucky because I got a preview of the group’s plans even before the company went public. And I was given an overview that few journalists had ever been given before. That privilege is what I continue to enjoy even today.

A clarification is required here: MPSEZL was not the first company in the group to go public. Adani Exports Ltd had gone public on 1 November 1994. But it was still a trader’s company, involved essentially in exports and imports. The inputs Gautambhai got from this business were incredible, as we shall see later in the book. He began getting a flavour of what was involved in going public. By the time MPSEZL was ready, the homework was a lot better. But the early signs of strategy were already visible.

The first unique way in which Gautambhai differs from other industrialists also began to be perceived. Gautambhai does not like raising money from the investing public before the enterprise begins making profits. This is quite unlike many other industrialists in India who first raise funds from the public, and then begin setting up the venture and even obtaining the required clearances. This was to become the hallmark of Gautambhai’s ventures.

It is a trait that has made him immensely endearing to the investing public. More on this too a bit later. I subsequently wrote a cover story article for LOG.IN titled ‘The Man who could change India’. When I look back, I realise how prescient the title was. Gautambhai truly has changed India. My first meeting with Gautambhai was extremely pleasant. It is still fresh in my memory. He was affable (and continues to be so). He did not, and does not, speak much, except when required. One reason is that he continues to be very self-conscious about his English (my own Gujarati, the language he was most comfortable with, is extremely limited).

Another reason is his reluctance to speak; he would rather focus on listening. And he is incredibly good at maintaining relationships. The second major factor that influenced this book was an earlier book on Gautam Adani which the family commissioned me to bring out. While writing the previous book, Gautam Adani: Game Changer, I got access to various members of the Adani family and the professionals who were in charge of various businesses; and I got a peek into the processes involved in picking up a business opportunity, and more importantly, the factors that made Gautam Adani grow from a diamond and plastics trader into one of the most formidable industrialists in India.

That in turn gave me an insight into the man and the company, and in this book I have used several quotes from the meetings and notes I exchanged with them at that time. As I studied Gautambhai closely, five factors stand out which make him different from many other industrialists in India, and possibly the world.

The first, which has been stated above, is his unwillingness to raise funds from an investing public till a business has begun generating money. Undoubtedly, such an approach does allow him to get higher valuations at the time of raising funds through the issuing of shares. But, more importantly, Gautambhai is known to follow a policy of not forcing risks on others. When a business deal goes wrong, he will try and help the person/client with other opportunities which will help them tide over the losses they have made in the past. This, in turn, has nurtured a sense of loyalty towards Gautambhai in a way that many other industrialists have not been able to command or nurture.

The second is his ability to build and maintain relationships. He does not like going back on any deal that he has entered into. Nor does he try to buy out or squeeze out his partners. His motto is simple. He would like to keep his partners with him all through the journey. If some partner wants to leave, he will try and dissuade them. But if they still insist on leaving, Gautambhai will not stop them. When a deal does not work out the way it was expected to, Gautambhai usually sits down with the partner and arrives at a resolution – either the business grows to the levels which are acceptable to Gautambhai, or it is shut down. The two partners invariably part ways amicably. There are hardly any non-compete agreements that he has asked his partners to enter, as far as my exposure to various business heads goes. He succeeds in maintaining relationships even if common sense might demand a re-evaluation of relationships. Take for instance the Adani–Wilmar venture story (more on this later). It is a 50:50 venture, where Wilmar and Adani hold equal stakes. Not once – since it was set up in January 1999 – has Gautambhai entertained any desire to make his stake go up and make Wilmar the junior partner. He believes that businesses grow when competence marries enterprise. And if the other party combines competence with enterprise and enters into a relationship with the Adani Group, a 50:50 relationship is the most desirable. Currently, Adani–Wilmar is one of the top five players in the FMCG sector in India. It is the largest seller of edible oil. And yet the relationship survives, and is thriving. And as the following pages will show, the 50:50 formula has been the hallmark of many other relationships as well.

Maintaining relationships extends even beyond family and his corporate group. His relationships with political and social leaders, across all types of party lines, have made him acceptable to every government. He has concluded projects under the Congress government, the Bhartiya Janta Party government, the National Democratic Alliance, the left parties in Kerala and even the mercurial Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.

An excerpt from Gautam Adani: Reimagining Business in India and the World, RN Bhaskar, Penguin.