Mar 10, 2008

Four Indian in Top eight in Forbes Billionaire list

The most surprising news in Forbes’s latest Global Billionaire list isn’t that Bill Gates has been toppled as the world’s richest man.

The surprise is the rise of the Indian rich — four of the top eight billionaires in the world are from India. Topping the ranks is steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, whose worth Forbes puts at $45 billion. Next up are the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, with $43 billion and $42 billion respectively, largely from petrochemicals, telecommunications, and entertainment. Rounding out the list is KP Singh, the real-estate magnate of DLF, at $30 billion.

This is an encouraging sign for the Indian economy. It shows that a country long known for brutal poverty can now compete with the U.S. and others in creating personal wealth. The Merrill Lynch/Cap Gemini report says that India’s population of millionaires grew 20% last year, to about 100,000. That rate of growth was more than twice the growth of millionaires in the U.S.

In future, greater and greater share of the world’s millionaires and billionaires will come from India, China, Brazil, and Russia. That’s not to say the U.S. won’t keep producing rich people of its own. Rather, it’s that the most rapid growth, and the billionaire “market share,” will move to emerging markets.

Indian wealth has a different flavor than American wealth. All four of the Indian billionaires inherited substantial fortunes, suggesting that in India, wealth is still determined more by your parents than by your career or your ideas. While that’s changing, the number of large fortunes made by purely self-made entrepreneurs still lags far behind the U.S. And many of the biggest fortunes in India come from old-fashioned industries such as oil, steel and real estate. Yet over time, it wouldn’t be a surprise if an Indian takes over Warren Buffett’s spot atop the list.