AT THE HELM
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.