Lakshmi N Mittal, Chairman and CEO, of the LNM Group, has recently bought a central London house for a stunning price of £70 million ($128.25 million or about Rs 560 crore). The NRI steel magnate’s new house walked into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most expensive house.
The Kensington Palace Gardens, where the house is located, is dubbed as Billionaires’ Row. Nearby are Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived, and the London home of the Sultan of Brunei.
But the journey to this house was not a walk in the gardens. From a small village in Rajasthan, where there was no water, electricity or even the basic pleasures of life, the Mittal family came to Kolkata to try their destiny like any purposeful adventurer.
“We lived in Ganesh Talkies. A tram line passed besides our small house. The line went so close to our home that I thought I could touch it stretching my hand,” Mr Mittal was saying while interacting with his fellow alumni on the occasion of the launch of the St Xavier’s University.
Anyone who lives in Kolkata knows about Ganesh Talkies. But for the uninitiated, Ganesh Talkies in the heart of Central Kolkata is a locality peopled with middle-class and lower-middle class families mostly non-Bengalees. The closely built houses, the incessant rows of wholesale shops, stores and hawkers clog the area. Cars, buses, militant brigades of rickshaws and mootes (coolies) add to the din and confusion. Sometimes the sea of people is cut in halves by the trams that chug along like an aged caterpillars.
“I studied in a Hindi medium school and was very naughty. Naughty in the sense I never compromised with what I thought was wrong whether it was from a teacher or a fellow student. But I did good result and wanted to study in Xavier’s,” he continued to state in a matter of fact manner walking among his alma mater.
And then he talked about disruption. “Disruption is the biggest obstacle in life. Disruption can happen in relation between two countries, in innovation, in life, in politics. For us in business technology can cause the biggest disruption,” Mr Mittal, whose personal wealth is put at £3.5 billion, is the richest Asian in the United Kingdom, was saying.
But when he was not the CEO of Arcelor Mittal, not even the owner of a start-up, he had faced disruption of another nature.
“I left St Xavier’s 48 years ago, but I remember my time there very clearly. I wanted a great education and I knew St Xavier’s would provide it. Some of you may be aware that I had to work hard to persuade the then Prefect, Father Joris, to let me in. He had his reasons to say no – mainly because I didn’t speak English and all lessons were taught in English.
Looking back maybe it was one of the first times I realized how important determination can be. Anyway, I’m pleased to say that I finally convinced him – I’m not sure exactly what finally changed his mind, maybe he was just fed up seeing me appear at his door every day! But I’m very glad he did because I got a great education. And perhaps because I’d had to work so hard to get in, I was absolutely determined to make the most of the opportunity. I’ve always seen opportunity in challenge and perhaps that started at St Xavier’s,” he said all the time smiling, sometimes giggling and pointing to Fr Felix Raj, whom he considers a friend, dreamer and chief architect for the university.
Today the same man had donated one of the flagship wings of the University. Was there a hurt alive somewhere deep within that had come out involuntarily only he knows, but he immortalized Fr Joris in his statement: “I never did any naughtiness in college. I had to repay the trust Fr had in me. My only regret is I did not study more and become a leader in class like the teachers of this great institution. But on the other hand I am happy that the college taught me to challenge and go away and make my own future. I did a business.”
He talked about other matters with equal wisdom and elan. The amphitheatre broke in raptures repeatedly. He walked up and down the stairs shook hand with individuals and took blessings of the elders. Someone asked what it means to be powerful, he said: “For a housewife she is the most powerful person in the house. For a teacher it’s his class. Power has different interpretations. For me to be powerful is to show leadership qualities.” When you are operating out of three continents with over two lakhs employees, I think that is the bare minimum necessity.
But the words that stuck with me, long after his chartered flight may have taken off, was: “In order to rise you need to stay ahead of competition, innovate and challenge. I am happy that I took the challenge of living up to Fr Joris’s expectations.”