The Birla surname has a legacy that dates back to pre-Independence era. For generations, 'Tata-Birla' has been used as a term to denote India's biggest business houses. Over generations, the business got divided among various family branches, among which the biggest is led by Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the ₹4.70-lakh crore revenue Aditya Birla Group. Birla, 55, is fourth-generation scion of the family with personal wealth of $19.25 billion (₹1,53,503 crore) as on August 16. That includes $11.28 billion (₹89,242 crore) from listed Indian companies; $2.98 billion (₹23,563 crore) from unlisted Indian companies and $4.6 billion (₹36,764 crore) from unlisted companies outside India.
Birla, who is a chartered accountant and MBA from London Business School, had inherited the family business when he was just 28 after his father Aditya Vikram Birla died in 1995. The biggest question then was whether the young Birla would be able to manage the empire. He has proved the apprehensions wrong by growing the group from $2 billion revenue back then to $60 billion today. Helped in part by tailwinds created by end of licence raj and opening up of the economy, he emerged as India's commodity king by investing across businesses and geographies. The group had started its global foray when his father Aditya Birla decided to enter Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines back in the '70s. In 2007, Kumar Birla took the global play forward by acquiring US-Canadian aluminium major Novelis. In 2020, Novelis, now a subsidiary of Hindalco Industries, acquired US-based Aleris for $2.8 billion. Today, the Aditya Birla Group operates across 36 countries in sectors as diverse as carbon black, aluminium, chemicals, pulp, fibre, renewable energy, financial services and textiles. He also operates India's largest cement company Ultratech. Hindalco Industries, the metals flagship company of the group, is the world's largest flat-rolled product player and recycler of aluminium.
However, of late, things have been tough for the billionaire in the telecom sector. The group's telecom venture, Vodafone Idea, has been suffering major losses for years due to declining market share. The Union government had to pick up a stake in the company in lieu of statutory dues. After getting a new lease of life, Vodafone Idea bid for ₹18,799 crore worth of radio spectrum — in 3300MHz and 26GHz bands — in the recently concluded 5G spectrum auctions. While it was the lowest bidder among telcos, the spectrum will ensure that it is in a position to offer 5G services to match rivals Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel.
Another future challenge could come from the entry of the Adani group into cement with acquisition of Swiss cement major Holcim's stake in Ambuja Cements and ACC. This makes the Adani group India's second-largest cement producer after Birla-owned Ultratech. Birla, who also bid for Holcim, has announced a capital expenditure of ₹12,886 crore to grow Ultratech's capacity by 22.6 million tonnes to 159.25 million tonnes by FY2025.
Birla lives on Mumbai's Altamount Road — also known as Billionaire's Row. Wife Neerja is founder and chairperson of Mpower, working to creating awareness on mental health, which has assumed great significance since the pandemic. Birla also acquired the sea-facing Jatia House, spread across 30,000 sq. ft. on Malabar Hill, for ₹425 crore after a day-long auction in one of India's biggest real estate deals. He also has a bungalow on Delhi's tony Amrita Shergill Marg. He owns two aircraft: a Cessna Citation and Gulfstream G100.
Meanwhile, Birla is continuing the family tradition of focusing on education. He is the chancellor of BITS Pilani, which recently opened the BITS School of Management in Mumbai. Kumar Mangalam Birla is by far the most successful Birla today, carrying on the tradition started well over a century ago by his great-grandfather, Ghanshyam Das Birla by building a jute mill in Calcutta (now Kolkata).