Dalal Street was full of risk. Big wealth builders often make headlines as scammers, due to which the equity markets in post-liberalisation India are viewed with suspicion.
Rare Enterprises partner Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, which has amassed USD 5.8 billion in assets and the tag of India’s largest individual investor, was largely the exception, leaving behind a relatively clean slate.
Unlike names like Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh, whose rise to fortunes were fueled by links to scams, the latest ‘Big Bull’ in a more regulated market had less baggage on this front.
Often compared to veteran investor Warren Buffett, Jhunjhunwala was unapologetic about wealth creation and sever ties in a flamboyant manner, signaling the shift to a market-based economy in the early 1990s.
Although he did not make big headlines for the scandals, Jhunjhunwala did some insider trading cases and was speculated to move on to stock trades before the big news events. In 2021, he and others settled an insider trading case related to Aptech by agreeing to pay Rs 37 crore under the consent route, where a person can close a pending case without admitting or denying the charges. .
The Rs 70 crore profit on investment in Zee Enterprises in the days before its board’s decision on merger with rival Sony Pictures Networks in 2021, caused chatter about its conduct.
However, Jhunjhunwala’s long-term, research-based bets on stocks such as Titan and Indian Hotels Company made him one of the biggest names in the Indian markets.
Every move in his portfolio was closely monitored by a growing number of investors in India who wanted early entry into stocks that would eventually break down.
Some bets, especially in the infrastructure sector, did not pay off for Jhunjhunwala. But the adage ‘the humble effect’ was missing, as he often succeeded any other stock, demonstrating his Midas touch.
Those in the know say that the value creation was an operation of intensive research conducted by him and analysts at the Nariman Point office of Rare Enterprises (which is named after Rakesh and his wife Rekha after the first two letters). .
And when the companies underperformed, Jhunjhunwala was spotless, like the iconic character of Gordon Gekko in the film ‘Wall Street’. The management of some portfolio companies had to face questions from the angry Jhunjhunwala himself on the analyst’s call. Titan’s management, which has been a two-decade-old investment for Jhunjhunwala, was on the receiving end of such a tough public inquiry in 2020.
Outspokenness and intelligence came to define Jhunjhunwala. Unlike most of his contemporaries, who shied away from keeping a public profile, Jhunjhunwala attended industry seminars and spoke passionately on various topics beyond the markets.
Many of his views were also closely aligned with the ruling NDA, something that made his 2021 meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi less surprising.
His latest venture into the heavily-regulated airline sector, Akasa Air, also went off smoothly.
But things are not always easy and having a lot of money doesn’t help every time. The purchase of his home in a tony area in south Mumbai is often cited as a story of perseverance.
Along with his wife Rekha, Jhunjhunwala, who bought Ridgeway Apartments in deals spanned five years, demolished the structure after gaining complete control and is now building a 14-storey pad on the same plot.
The Jhunjhunwala businessman took life lessons from all his deals and reflected on buying the apartment – publicly, as he used to -. Jhunjhunwala said that he had to sell his stake in leading rating agency Crisil to make an emotional decision to buy a flat in Ridgeway, and later regretted missing the rally in the stock.
He often asked investors to speculate less and do more research. He compared day-trading to a mismatch, which he said was fine, but there shouldn’t be many of them, and asked everyone to focus on long-term strategies as well.
Speaking of sartorials, he was not a drab merchant in finely cut suits and was mostly under-dressed. Most of his public appearances were in simple trouser-shirt affairs, some with gutkha or paan (betel nut) in his mouth as well. However, he loved food and wine.
Not shying away from sharing his thoughts, Jhunjhunwala recently spoke about not paying enough attention to his health during his search for wealth for several decades. He was suffering from several ailments and struggled to stand and walk till the end.
Wheelchair-handed Jhunjhunwala’s personal dance performance on the popular Bollywood number ‘Kajra Re’ defined his character for some. He was down, but not out, he said.
At the inauguration of Akasa Air flight operations at the Mumbai airport on 7 August, Jhunjhunwala was seen in a wheelchair and looked weak, prompting many to raise concerns about his health.
Jhunjhunwala, who often said that no one was able to predict the weather, death, market or women, breathed his last on Sunday morning.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)