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An idol of Ganpati takes pride of place in the president’s office on the 16th floor of Adani House, the group’s headquarters in the private ‘Shantigram’ township in Ahmedabad. Light semi-classical instrumental music flows in the background in the minimally decorated Chairman’s Lounge. Gautam Adani walks in briskly and settles into the corner of a sofa with a warm, informal demeanor. He’s nimble, sports an unwavering air and a face that defies that he turns 60 on June 24. Gautam Adani speaks to Fortune India about what drives his ambition that has stunned the corporate world for its seemingly insatiable appetite for new ventures – and a bold $70 billion green mission. Interview with Rajeev Dubey and PB Jayakumar

What is the broader vision that drives the Adani Group?

My vision for the Adani Group has always been to build a nation. The current global situation presents our nation with unprecedented opportunities. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges. But it also opens up huge business opportunities in the energy transition – from fossil fuels to renewables and hydrogen. What the world has seen in 100 years of energy forms is set to change in the next 10 to 20 years. Academia and research are working on how to make green energy affordable. India has a great advantage – geographically and in the production of profitable electrons, converting into green electrons. We can be completely independent. India can also consider exporting energy. If India wants to grow, we need to find ways to increase electricity consumption per capita. We need to focus more on industries, rather than services and agriculture. Without autonomy or “atmanirbharta”, we cannot serve 1.4 billion people. This is a huge opportunity for India to become ‘atmanirbhar’ and move from ‘atmanirbharta’ (autonomy) to ‘bharatnirbharta’ (dependence on India). Right now, the world depends on what China makes. India can play this role for the world.

How to integrate “atmanirbharta” in the energy transition?

We will not import anything. Silica (sand) is available here. From silica you can make polysilicon, ingots and wafers. From wafers you can make photovoltaic cells and from the cells you can make solar modules. To craft modules, you need glass. You need aluminum frames. About 97-98% of the added value can be realized in the country.

Will you be able to do all this at the cost of what China produces?

India can produce cheaper than China because its labor costs have increased. This is a huge opportunity and we need to seize it properly.

You announced an even bigger green investment plan of $70 billion for the next 8 years…

We are the only group to announce massive investments with a 2030 target. It is doable and the best opportunity for India. We have already started the implementation and the manufacturing ecosystem is under development.

We must be willing and able to capitalize on India’s natural advantages. India is blessed with an abundance of sunshine, which we need to capture and economically convert into electrons. At the last COP, Prime Minister Modi announced an enhanced target of 500 GW by 2030. Clearly, India is moving forward with green policies.

The government is playing its part. He heralded the right policy structure and is paving the way for ‘atmanirbharta’ with support schemes such as the Production Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI). Now, companies need to step up and play their part in developing the entire green ecosystem. If India commits 500 GW of renewable energy, we cannot depend on China for solar panels to create that infrastructure. During Covid, China raised panel prices from 18 cents to 30 cents. At 30 cents, your development program is stuck and cannot produce cheap electrons. Without cheap electrons, there is no sustainable energy transition.

How do you choose which companies to enter? You chose energy, logistics, and now you’re in so many unrelated jobs…

We follow a model that selects new businesses based on adjacencies with our existing businesses. This “adjacency” business model is a strategy we’ve honed over decades to make it a hard-to-copy differentiator. Our story is that of India’s infrastructure, whether it’s ports, logistics, thermal power plants, green energy, transport, distribution and now hydrogen. For Western economists and management experts interested in basic skills, these are diverse industries.

Our core business is infrastructure. The problem with some foreign companies developing greenfield projects in India is that they expect to receive profits. What you have to keep in mind is that India is a developing country and like any other developing country, you have to take risks and work with local processes and systems to be successful. You have to be long on India.

What philosophy motivates entering a new company?

We started as a trading house. In 1994, we listed our trading platform. Two years later, we realized the problem. People said that Adani is not buying any assets. In their eyes, it was a financial or trading company with individual expertise and no assets.

Then India started to open public-private partnerships. We entered ports because we traded and used more than 20 ports. This is how our journey to infrastructure began. When you have a port and a large tract of land nearby, and being the biggest importers of coal, it was natural to go into thermal power plants.

In 2006-2007, there was a huge energy crisis. In 2003 the Electricity Act was amended and in 2006 the rules were changed. This is how the cycle with the energy began. After 4-5 years of electricity production, it was natural to move into transmission and then distribution. When the government started focusing on renewable energy, we started renewable energy.

About 10 to 15 years ago, when the gas policy was unclear, the government of Gujarat started pipeline gas distribution. It was an opportunity for us to develop town gas distribution in Ahmedabad. In 2014, CM Narendra Modi became Prime Minister and visualized what he did in Gujarat for gas distribution for the whole country. We participated in all auctions and won several. That’s why we have a huge energy portfolio.

Then we looked at other areas. Delhi and Mumbai airports were privatized after 2005. Hyderabad and Bangalore airports were developed by state governments. Then the government proposed to privatize six other airports. We thought of it as an extension of ports to airports. They are adjacencies and we entered at the right time. We did not enter telecoms as there is no connection for us.

But you entered the food and agribusiness industry…

We were the biggest importers of edible oil. Our partner Wilmar approached us 25 years ago when we started to develop the port. They had the vision of port agro-refineries. Everyone sees India as a huge market. When someone sees 1.4 billion people, that’s a huge opportunity. You have to work on exploiting the opportunity. As part of the adjacencies and areas that are critical to aligning with government policy and India’s growth, we see media and healthcare becoming big business in the future.

What about data centers, water management, defense, etc. ?

Defense is nothing but the way to secure our country. To strengthen your economy, you need to strengthen your defense. Otherwise, your economy could collapse. After 70 years of independence, we are still the largest importers of defense equipment. Don’t you think that’s a shame?

How do you assess the political risks of new geographies? Your investment announcement in Bengal was a surprise…

I can tell you that Bengal is a huge opportunity… Orissa, Jharkhand, etc… somehow it has not been explored to the fullest. There are several reasons. Once upon a time there was a great state, but it has deteriorated. Mamata also understands the same and the importance of state development. When you want to work with the government, you also need to understand that such issues will arise.

I clearly see the changes that occur in each state. Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Kerala. In infrastructure, a long-term vision is necessary. One thing is that you keep complaining. I always watch how things improve and how we can continue to work with them. There are positivities and negativities… you have to go with the positivities. In Kerala we start with ₹10,000 crore. In Gujarat we can start with ₹50,000 crore. I can’t look at the political system and what I’m going to get in this state. I can’t go anywhere expecting the same treatment I get from Gujarat or Rajasthan. And so, I can’t decide not to go to Kerala or West Bengal. They also want to start working with you.

How does entering cement and Holcim fit into your ESG objectives?

We recognize that the cement industry needs to be greener. We are positioned to become the world’s greenest cement manufacturer and provide the affordability that every Indian consumer needs. India’s per capita cement consumption is 240 kg, compared to a global average of 525 kg. A suitable comparison would be China with a per capita consumption of 1,600 kg. The acceleration will come from infrastructure: 100 smart cities, 200 new airports, housing for all, concrete highways and the ministry’s mandate stipulating a minimum of 25% concrete volume on national highways, highways, the rise in power of dedicated freight corridors – the possibilities for boosting cement consumption are endless. It’s a game of supply chain and energy efficiency. Our natural adjacencies are very attractive. Whether it is mining, ensuring the availability of raw materials, fuel supply, energy supply or efficient logistics capabilities, all are existing synergies. The ability to take fly ash from power plants and use it in cement production is a significant advantage. There couldn’t have been a better way for us to start this business. From the current 70 million tonnes, we expect to reach 100 MT in 3-4 years and 130 MT in six years.

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