AT THE HELM

India Business Journal - - KNOWLEDGE ZONE - SAN­JEEV KU­MAR GUPTA

Bri­tish bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man San­jeev Ku­mar Gupta is in the news again. In March, the In­dia-born chair­man of Lon­don-based Lib­erty House an­nounced that he would be build­ing the world's big­gest bat­tery in South Aus­tralia. This grand project, for which no time­line has been given, will over­take US star en­tre­pre­neur Elon Musk's bat­tery project that had be­come op­er­a­tional in De­cem­ber 2017.

Mr Gupta's 120-mw/140-mwh bat­tery stor­age fa­cil­ity - which beats Mr Musk's 100-mw/129-mwh bat­tery plant - will sup­port a new so­lar farm at the Whyalla Steel­works, which was taken over by the Gupta Fam­ily Group Al­liance (GFG Al­liance) last year. Mr Gupta's fam­ily busi­ness, The GFG Al­liance, houses the SIMEC Group and the Lib­erty House Group and other com­pa­nies en­gaged in real es­tate and fi­nance.

Mr Gupta's green en­ergy push is not just an­other record-seek­ing en­deav­our. The 46-year-old Lib­erty House chief is bet­ting big on GREEN­STEEL, a mod­ernised pro­duc­tion process that has be­come the crux of GFG's global ac­qui­si­tion strat­egy. Rather than rely on fos­sil fu­els, GREEN­STEEL is pow­ered by a com­bi­na­tion of re­new­able en­ergy, such as so­lar and pumped hy­dro, and looks to re­cy­cle scrap steel to pro­duce a va­ri­ety of high-grade steel prod­ucts. The world's largest bat­tery that Mr Gupta's com­pany is build­ing is ex- pected to be at the cen­tre of GREEN­STEEL that will turn around a string of ac­quired steel plants in the UK and Aus­tralia.

The Lib­erty House boss first shot into lime­light way back in 2013 after his com­pany sur­faced as the sur­prise buyer for Mir Steel UK, a trou­bled steel mill in New­port, South Wales. Seen to be stag­ing a bold bet, Mr Gupta and his fam­ily-owned com­pa­nies spent an es­ti­mated $770 mil­lion on UK ac­qui­si­tions be­tween 2013 and 2017, pur­chas­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing sites from Tata Steel, a smelt­ing plant from Rio Tinto and even a bank. Mr Gupta touted as a sav­ior of the Bri­tish steel in­dus­try, had adopted an un­con­ven­tional plan to turn­around the New­port steel plant. He had kept work­ers of the New­port plant on half-pay, while he tried to get the moth­balled site op­er­at­ing again. They did not have to come to work and could also take other jobs. This strat­egy en­sured that he had a skilled, knowl­edge­able work­force ready to start when the plant was up and run­ning again. And months later, the New­port fa­cil­ity restarted.

Such out-of-the-box plans have made Lib­erty House clock turnover of close to $7 bil­lion and op­er­ate in 30 coun­tries with more than 10,000 work­ers. SKG, as Mr Gupta is known in Bri­tish busi­ness cir­cles, was born in Lud­hi­ana, Pun­jab, in a suc­cess­ful busi­ness fam­ily. He grew up see­ing his grand­fa­ther - who owned steel mills and his fa­ther Par­du­man K Gupta - who owned a cy­cle busi­ness, Vic­tor Cy­cles - run­ning suc­cess­ful ven­tures.

At the age of 12, young San­jeev was sent to a board­ing school in Can­ter­bury, Kent. The busi­ness in his blood got the young lad to spend months of hol­i­days sell­ing Vic­tor bi­cy­cles in Turkey. At Trin­ity Col­lege, Cam­bridge, where he was study­ing eco­nomics and man­age­ment, young Gupta set up a com­modi­ties trad­ing busi­ness and named it Lib­erty House. He used his col­lege hos­tel to sell chem­i­cal prod­ucts made by ICI to Nige­ria through Lib­erty House. The mav­er­ick, steel ty­coon is now bet­ting on the world's largest bat­tery plant to power his com­pa­nies to be­come big, global cor­po­ra­tions.

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