Maybe it's a sign that our obsession with real estate is getting out of control when a man leaps into the public consciousness by purchasing an enormous house. But that's exactly what happened to Indian-born Lakshmi Mittal when, in 2004, he bought 18/19 Kensington Palace Gardens in London from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. Mittal, 56, paid $128 million for the 6,400-square-meter, 12-bedroom mansion, a world-record sales price for a house at the time. Overnight, the publicity transformed Mittal from little-known industrialist to a symbol of India's emergence as a global economic power.
Yet what really cements Mittal's status as the point man for India Inc. and as a hero to his countrymen isn't how he spends his money but how he makes it. More than a decade ago, Mittal broke away from his father's Calcutta-based steel business and began building an international giant. Since 2001, Mittal Steel has acquired or invested in 11 steel producers in countries as far afield as Algeria, Ukraine and Romania. In 2005, as commodity prices and steel demand soared, so too did Mittal's fortune by an astounding $19 billion. Almost overnight, he was worth an estimated $25 billion, making him the world's third-richest man.
Other newly minted Indian tycoons, flush with cash from profitable domestic businesses, are likewise leveraging into overseas acquisitions. But it's Mittal who is leading the charge. Earlier this year, he rammed through a $33.5 billion hostile takeover of Arcelor, Europe's top steel producer, to create Arcelor Mittal, reinforcing his company's position as the world's largest steel company with 10% of the global market and some 330,000 employees. This invasion by an Eastern upstart horrified Europe's old guard; French Finance Minister Thierry Breton grumbled Arcelor should have "European character." But Indian businessmen from Hyderabad to Hong Kong proudly pointed to Mittal's success as a mark of their maturing commercial prowess. To a nation that 150 years ago was run not by its own government but by a European business the British East India Company Mittal is the Indian who is beating the West at its own game. And he's got the mansion to prove it.