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Mittal himself credits his son Aditya with the idea of buying Arcelor. They first discussed the possibility in 2005, while in the midst of acquiring a Ukrainian company, then drilled into the detail of a possible bid last December, during a family skiing holiday in St. Moritz. On Jan. 13, Mittal made an informal approach to Dollé over dinner at his London mansion and, when Dollé gave a noncommittal answer, he took his bid directly to shareholders.
Personal lobbying helped to overcome some political obstacles. For weeks, Mittal made the George V Hotel in Paris his home base, jetting around Europe to shake hands and put his case to anyone who would listen. Critically, labor unions weren't hostile; they had already worked with his company and knew what to expect. And Mittal won a powerful French ally early on: François Pinault, a fellow self-made billionaire whose holdings include luxury designer Gucci. Pinault was appalled by the reaction to the bid. "I didn't like the welcome he received in France, nor the xenophobic, even racist character of certain comments about 'the Indian,'" explained Pinault, who joined Mittal's board and introduced him to the cream of the French business establishment. "Pinault really supported me," Mittal says today. "He kept saying that if you have a strong rationale and industrial logic, you will win."
In the end, Mittal proved a smarter tactician than his opponents. Because a formal takeover document needed to be acceptable to regulators in five different countries, it took four months to put the paperwork together. That allowed Arcelor time to rally shareholders in its defense. But then Dollé made an egregious error: he arranged for a Russian oligarch, Alexei Mordashov, to take a 30%-plus stake in Arcelor. "The day we received that news, we felt it was over for us," Mittal recalls. "The whole team was disappointed and somber." But when they looked at the Russian deal more closely, Mittal and his advisers realized that Arcelor was essentially giving away the company without proper consultation with its own shareholders and to a little-known Russian with far less of a track record than Mittal. His investment bankers sprang into action and helped foment a shareholder revolt that drove Arcelor into Mittal's arms.
Happily, even before the deal was finalized, some of the heat had gone out of the controversy. At a hearing at the French Parliament in June to which Mittal was invited, one deputy, Paul Giacobbi, described the personal attacks as "shameful" and said they did not represent the view of France. And Patrick Ollier, the head of the finance committee, said that the Parliament "has had the opportunity to get to know a great European captain of industry."
As it happens, though that may have been intended as a compliment, it is inaccurate. It would be just as wrong to say that Mittal is a great Asian captain of industry. For he is of course both and neither. Mittal is an exemplar of a new type of business leader. "Your identity is your company," says Mittal. "I have a global company, so I have a global identity." In 2007, expect more to make the same argument.