Richest Asian is also busiest dealmaker on a $24 billion spree

After years of focusing on coal and infrastructure, Mr Gautam Adani is branching out in line with his growing fortune. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) - Indian billionaire Gautam Adani has become the richest person in Asia this year. Now, a vast empire-building exercise is making him one of the region's busiest dealmakers.

A US$10.5 billion pact announced on Sunday (May 15) to buy the Indian operations of Swiss building materials firm Holcim capped a run of some 32 acquisitions for Mr Adani the past year, valued at about US$17 billion (S$24 billion), according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

The tycoon's conglomerate, the Adani Group, did not disclose the transaction value in many of the smaller deals, implying the total amount could be even larger. After years of focusing on coal and infrastructure-related plays, Mr Adani is branching out in line with his growing fortune, buying up a range of assets from a premium rice brand and travel portal to a green energy firm from Softbank Group.

A first-generation entrepreneur whose net worth currently sits at US$102 billion, according to Bloomberg's Billionaires Index, Mr Adani has rapidly diversified into new areas like data centres, digital services, cement and media. After acquiring one of the most controversial coal mining projects in Australia, he is making a firm pivot towards sustainable energy in the longer term.

Mr Adani is "a sharp and ambitious tycoon who wants to have a finger in nearly every pie", said Mr Arun Kejriwal, founder at Kris, an investment advisory firm in Mumbai.

The 59-year-old businessman has now built up the financial muscle needed to pull off a flurry of deals, Mr Kejriwal said. "He is capable of getting financial support from sovereign funds and can resort to leveraged buyouts."

Adani Group firms received almost US$2 billion from Abu Dhabi-based International Holding Company in April, while global giants TotalEnergies and Warburg Pincus invested in Mr Adani's companies last year.

The tycoon is also said to be scouting for targets among local media firms and is exploring partnerships with Saudi Aramco, Bloomberg reported earlier. A pact with South Korea's Posco was announced in January for a green steel mill.

"There is nothing slow about Adani," Mr Kejriwal said. "Everything is like a rapid fire."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.