Dilip Shanghvi is one of the most interesting and least understood business minds whose journey has been shrouded in mystery because of his reticence.
The Reluctant Billionaire reveals the riveting story of the fiercely intense personality that lies beneath his calm demeanour. Based on interviews with over 150 friends, family members, rivals, former aides and Shanghvi himself, it traces his transformation from a quiet, curious child working in his father’s small shop to an astute strategist, who built India’s largest pharma company, Sun Pharma, despite being untrained in science.
Here’s a gripping excerpt from the book that talks about the acquisition of Taro and Ranbaxy.
Should a story be told when the subject is unwilling? Maybe ‘not’ if it’s an ordinary story of a private person, or maybe ‘yes’ if it’s in the guise of fiction where it is easy to speak the truth. But what if the story happens to be of a man who arose from the anonymity of a small wholesaler to become the richest man in a country of a billion-plus people and as many dreams? And he did so, not by creating a conglomerate, which depends on cronyish connections and government concessions, but by building a global firm focused only on making medicines. Isn’t his story more than just his, a story that belongs to a generation, a nation?
And when he became the richest man of the country in 2015 and was asked how he felt, he replied, ‘Uncomfortable, very uncomfortable.’ Despite living what could be argued as one of the most remarkable life of his generations, his mind feels like a black box. Dilip Shanghvi is one of the most interesting and least understood business minds of India today. For someone, unschooled in degrees of sciences and management, who worked his way up from a tiny shop in the bylanes of Dawa Bazaar in Calcutta of the 1970s to create one of the country’s most valuable enterprises, he is also one of the least documented and least studied capitalists. One reason behind this is his own unwillingness to share his story.
He doesn’t care about being celebrated, and stubbornly disapproves, even casts off attempts to document him. Another part is because with no drama, no modulation in pitch, few words and fewer expressions, he neither fits the bill of a conventional inspiring pin-up business leader nor does he make for a great colourful flamboyant story. It is easy to miss the intensity of someone who is more presence than personality. What compounds this conspicuous absence from mainstream is a past yet unsearched but which, on the surface, doesn’t show up juicy controversies to merit an investigation, and a lifestyle that could appear normal enough to be boring. No wonder the media was ready to spare him the limelight he so avoided.
From time to time, when the need arose, he was profiled with a few recycled facts thrown in—that he borrowed 10,000 rupees from his father to start his firm Sun Pharma with two medicines for psychiatry and that in his sixties now, he is a fan of Harry Potter books. What happened in the interim was left to the imagination.
This un-deliberate arrangement of mutual disinterest worked fine till one day—the maths of life changed it all. That day in March 2015 his net worth crossed that of Mukesh Ambani and he was pronounced India’s richest man. The country was curious to know who this guy was, how he had done it.
If the search and discovery had been so easy, answers to these questions wouldn’t have remained so elusive. Shanghvi, known to shun press conferences, interviews and parties expressed his unwillingness for this book when approached initially. ‘You will probably put my face on the cover and I would be recognized by many more people on the streets and that’s always a problem. It takes away from my freedom.’
The Reluctant Billionaire is a tale for everyone who has once had a secret dream, an insanely bold one.