When Lakshmi Mittal slept in an overcoat …

Virendra Pandit Ahmedabad | Updated on March 24, 2013 Published on March 24, 2013

Lakshmi Mittal

Steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, the richest Brit of Indian origin, had to sleep in his overcoat and wash with hot water stored in a bucket when he went to Kazakhstan to buy a company in 1995.

“In 1995, we bought Karmet Steelworks in Temirtau, which at that time, had more than 34,000 employees. This was a country we didn’t know; with an extreme climate that alternated from (-) 40{+o} Celsius in winter to (+) 40{+o} Celsius in summer.

Addressing the 48th Annual Convocation at IIM-Ahmedabad, Mittal narrated how he became what he is today, to the applause of over 500 students, their parents and families, faculty, media and others.

He flew into the city in a chartered flight straight from London and returned there soon after the event, all without checking into a hotel.

Against all odds

“It was a tremendous challenge. But against all odds, we succeeded…we learnt that just because others had failed, this did not mean we would not succeed. Many people thought that we were crazy when we bought the plant in Kazakhstan. The Wall Street Journal actually wrote that Kazakhstan would be “Mittal’s Waterloo.”

About Arcelor, Mittal said: “When we announced the offer for Arcelor on January 27, 2006, we were confident that it had a very strong industrial logic. But over the next six months, what started as a stock market offer based on this logic turned into a political fight across a number of countries.

“It was also important during this period for me not to show my team I had concerns. Although there were times when I also could not see how we could move forward, I needed my team to stay strong and solutions-focused. Leadership can often be a lonely business.”

Asking the students to remain determined, optimistic and focused, Mittal narrated his own experience in Indonesia, where he founded his business in 1976 with his father’s help.

“I learnt so much from that time in Indonesia; about business and about myself. I learnt that I could adapt to another culture… that I could be happy in a country that wasn’t my home…how to build a business from scratch….”

Justifies closure

He also justified his recent decision about the Florange plant in France where he proposed closure of two blast furnaces. “These are the last two blast furnaces in the Lorraine region that was once the very heart of European industry but has lost competitiveness.

“This proposal provoked a hostile and emotional response from many important stakeholders who do not want these furnaces to close. Had we not taken this decision, we would have avoided a lot of criticism and negative media coverage.”

Published on March 24, 2013
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