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10 Top Indian CEOs

Lakshmi N Mittal

Steel tycoon Lakshmi Niwas Mittal is the richest Indian in the world, with an estimated wealth of $25 billion. He resides in London, has his company registered in the Netherlands, but still holds an Indian passport. Although Mittal Steel was already the world’s biggest steel company, his king-sized ambitions were evident when he took over steel giant Arcelor to create a new steel behemoth - Arcelor-Mittal.

L N Mittal left India in the mid 1970’s to start his career. He was sent to Indonesia by his father to shut down the family’s ailing steel plant and sell the land. Instead, young Laxmi Mittal saw an opportunity and turned the plant around. To prove that this was no fluke, Mittal acquired a 1.3 million tonne, Iscot Steel plant in Trinidad & Tobago, which was losing $100,000 a day. One year of Mittal-style management and it was making profits, the LN Mittal legend was born. That move helped him get into America.

The Mexican government seeing the success that Mittal made of Iscot, asked him to take over their ailing steel plants in 1992. But it was not all that smooth. In 1994 Mittal had differences with his brothers and father, and went on to form his own company. The following year Mittal entered the European market, acquiring the 5 million tonne Kazakh steel plant, Karmet. Meanwhile, Mittal had listed Ispat International on the New York and Amsterdam Stock Exchanges in 1997. Eight years later Mittal Steel became the world’s largest steel maker when he took over the US’s largest steel producer - the International Steel Group. He then consolidated all his steel holdings into Mittal Steel.

Ratan Tata

Ratan Naval Tata, a bachelor, is the chairman of the Tata Group, India’s most respected conglomerate. He was born into a Parsi family in Mumbai (then called Bombay) to Soonoo and Naval Hormusji Tata on December 28, 1937.

He did a short stint with Jones and Emmons in Los Angeles, California, before returning to India in 1962. He had earlier turned down an IBM job offer. He joined the family business in 1962 and worked with many of his group’s companies. He took over as group chairman from the legendary J R D Tata in 1991. Since then, he has been instrumental in boosting the fortunes of the Tata Group, which has amongst the largest market capitalisations in the Indian stock markets.

Tata Motors developed the Tata Indica in 1998. This was the first ’entirely Indian’ passenger car. Ratan Tata’s dream now is to manufacture a car costing just Rs 100,000. Ratan Tata holds a degree in Architecture and Structural Engineering from Cornell University. He has also done the Advanced Management Program from Harvard Business School in 1974-1975.

Ratan Tata was honoured with one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Bhushan, on January 26, 2000.

Mukesh D Ambani

Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of India’s largest private sector enterprise ’Reliance Industries Limited’ was born on April 19, 1957. His father, the legendary Dhirubhai Ambani, was then a small businessman who later on rose to become one of the legends of Indian industry.

Mukesh joined Reliance Industries in 1981 and was the brain behind Reliance’s backward integration from textiles into polyester fibres and into petrochemicals. During the process of backward integration, Mukesh Ambani led the creation of 51 new, world-class manufacturing facilities involving diverse technologies that raised Reliance’s manufacturing capacities manifold. The world’s largest grassroots petroleum refinery at Jamnagar is his brainchild. He was also the in-charge of Dhirubhai’s dream project Reliance Infocomm. But after the split in the Reliance Empire, Reliance Infocomm went to his brother Anil.

Mukesh Ambani is now planning to enter retail sector in a big way and will launch a chain of ’Reliance Fresh’ retail stores. He also entered into an agreement with the Haryana government to establish a Special Economic Zone with an investment running into billions of rupees. He has a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Bombay and a master’s in Business Administration from Stanford University, USA.

Nandan Nilekani

Nandan Nilekani is the CEO and managing director of Infosys Technologies. He, along with N R Narayana Murthy and five others, co-founded India’s IT jewel, Infosys. Born in Bangalore to Durga and Mohan Rao Nilekani, he graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. After graduation, he met Narayana Murthy, who then led Patni Computer Systems’s software group, seeking a job. Murthy hired the young engineer. That was the beginning of a relationship that was to create Indian corporate history. Three years later, seven enthusiasts (including Nandan) decided to start their own outfit (Infosys Technologies Ltd) with Murthy in the lead. Their decision rewrote the domestic software industry of India.

He became the chief executive officer of Infosys in March 2002. He now leads the company with Narayana Murthy having retired in August 2006. He is married to Rohini, an English-language novelist, and they have two children: daughter Janhavi and son Nihar. He speaks Konkani at home.

In 2006, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India. He is regarded by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in its issue of May 2006.

Azim H Premji

Azim Hashim Premji, the chairman of Wipro Technologies, is one of the richest Indians. He is an icon among Indian businessmen, especially in the software industry. Born on July 24, 1945, Premji was studying Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, USA when due to the sudden demise of his father; he was called upon to handle the family business at the age of 21.

Wipro was then Western Indian Vegetable Products, a small cooking oil company. Premji diversified into bakery fats, ethnic ingredient based toiletries, hair care soaps, baby toiletries, lighting products and hydraulic cylinders. And then shifted focus from soaps to software. He transformed Wipro into one of India’s most successful IT companies. Under Azim Premji’s stewardship, Wipro has grown from a fledgling Rs 70 million oil company into an IT giant with a turnover of $2.4 billion and an employee strength of 57,000.

Azim Premji has regularly featured in the Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people. He was also rated among the world’s 100 most influential people by the Time magazine. In 2005, the Indian government honoured him with Padma Bhushan, one of the nation’s highest civilian awards.

Anil D Ambani

The fourth richest Indian today, with a net worth of about $13.5 billion, Anil Ambani is chairman of Reliance Communications, Reliance Capital, Reliance Energy and Reliance Natural Resources Limited. Before the Reliance Empire split, he was vice chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Limited. The Reliance group was founded by his late father Dhirubhai Ambani.

Anil was born on June 4, 1959. He joined Reliance in 1983, two years after his elder brother Mukesh, as co-chief executive officer. He is credited with leading India’s foray into overseas capital markets with international public offerings of global depositary receipts, convertibles and bonds. He also directed RIL’s efforts to raise $2 billion from global markets.

Anil was elected as an independent Member of the Rajya Sabha with the support of the Samajwadi Party, but resigned on March 25, 2006. Ambani who was once ridiculed for being overweight at a shareholder’s meeting is now a fitness freak and runs the Mumbai marathon regularly.

He has a bachelor’s degree in Science from the University of Bombay and a master’s in Business Administration from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He is married to former Bollywood actress Tina Munim.

Sunil Bharti Mittal

Sunil B Mittal is chairman and managing director of Bharti group. Bharti is India’s largest GSM-based mobile phone service. Son of a politician, he built his Bharti group, along with two siblings, into India’s largest mobile phone operator in just ten years. Vodafone and SingTel both own stakes in recently renamed flagship Bharti Airtel. The group also has partnerships with Axa for insurance and with the Rothschild family for exporting fruits and vegetables. He plans to go into retailing along with the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart.

The 49 year-old has always been a pioneer. A first generation entrepreneur, he started his first business in 1976 with a capital investment of Rs 20,000. He decided not to be a politician and set up a small bicycle business in Ludhiana. By 1979, Sunil Mittal realised that his ambitions could not be fulfilled in Ludhiana, so he moved out to Mumbai. He initially founded a number of trading concerns, and established the first company to manufacture push button telephones in India.

In 1982, Mittal started a full-fledged business selling portable generators imported from Japan. He was one of the first entrepreneurs to identify the mobile telecom business as a major growth area and launched services in Delhi in 1995. Under his leadership the company has gone from strength to strength.

K V Kamath

Kundapur Vaman Kamath is the managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank, the largest private bank in India. Kamath, born on December 2, 1947, began his career with ICICI -- the parent body of ICICI Bank -- in 1971 and has since then worked to take ICICI places. He has helped the financial institution evolve into a modern, tech-savvy organisation.

He joined the project finance division of ICICI in 1971 and moved on to different departments to gather rich experience. In 1988, he joined the Asian Development Bank, Manila in their private sector department. He worked in most of the developing countries in the region including China, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. In May 1996, he returned to ICICI as its managing director and chief executive officer. He is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

Kumar Mangalam Birla

Kumar Mangalam Birla, born on June 14, 1967, is among the richest persons in India and the eighth youngest billionaire outside India. He is chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, one of India’s largest business groups. Some of the AV Birla group’s companies are: Grasim, Hindalco, UltraTech Cement, Aditya Birla Nuvo and Idea Cellular.

He took over as chairman of the group in 1995, at the age of 28, after the sudden demise of his father, Aditya Birla. When he took charge, there were doubts about his ability to handle the giant business house, but he proved all naysayers wrong.

In the 11 years that he has led the group, he has won admiration, recognition and praise for his management acumen and contribution to the industry.

Under his leadership, the group has consolidated its position in existing businesses and ventured into cellular telephony, asset management, software and BPO. He is a chartered accountant and also holds an MBA from the London Business School.

Rahul Bajaj

Rahul Bajaj is the chairman of the Bajaj Group, which ranks among the top 10 business houses in India. He is one of India’s most distinguished business leaders and internationally respected for his business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit.

He took over the reins of Bajaj group in 1965. Under his leadership, the turnover of the Bajaj Auto the flagship company has risen from Rs 72 million to Rs 46.16 billion. The initiation of liberalisation in India posed great challenges for Bajaj Auto. Liberalisation brought the threat of cheap imports and FDI from top companies like Honda. Rahul Bajaj became famous as the head of the Bombay Club, which opposed liberalisation.

The scooter sales plummeted as people were more interested in motorcycles and the rival Hero Honda was a pioneer in it. The recession and stock market collapse of 2001 hit the company hard and it was predicted that the days of Bajaj Auto were numbered. However, Bajaj Auto re-invented itself, established a world-class factory in Chakan, invested in R&D and came up with Bajaj Pulsar Motorcycle. Bajaj Pulsar is currently a leader in its segment. Recently, Rahul Bajaj was elected to Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra. He is an alumnus of Harvard, St. Stephen’s and Cathedral.

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