Ghanshyam Das Birla always maintained that he was not a businessman. Every time you asked him about his business activities, he would change the subject and talk about politics, though he also insisted that he was not a politician either.
What he disliked most was not business but money, or talking about money, which was really strange considering that all businesses - big or small - ultimately boil down to money, and it so happened that the Birlas were arguably the wealthiest businessmen of the era.
JRD Tata too rarely talked about money or profits or the stock market, though a number of his companies were always in the limelight and featured prominently on the stock exchange. Like GD Birla, JRD had himself started a large number of new companies - like Tata Engineering and Tata Chemicals - but if you asked him about them he would suddenly clam up, as if there were many more interesting things in life than caustic soda and steering wheels, not to mention locomotives.
The first businessman I met who positively reveled in money was Dhirubhai Ambani. He had the figures at the tip of his fingers, not only of his own company's but others' too. He knew more about the stock market than anyone I had met until then, and he had no compunction about discussing it, or, for that matter, anything concerning money.
Dhirubhai Ambani was an exception because he belonged to a generation different from that of GD's or JRD's, and more attuned to modern ideas about businessmen and money. He did not believe, as did most elder businessmen, that it was infra dig for people like him to talk about filthy lucre. Which is why he shot up to the No. 1 position in the so-called industrial stakes in no time at all, leaving Birlas and Tatas panting far behind.
Businessmen like Laxmi Niwas Mittal, who is now the richest Indian in the world, are cast in the Ambani mould. Mittal makes no secret of the fact that wants to remain biggest steel tycoon in the world, even if he has to run foul of half-a-dozen governments in Europe and elsewhere in the process. For him, it is a perfectly legitimate aim in life, just as it was for Dhirubhai Ambani to overtake the Tatas and Birlas and become No 1 industrialist in India, which he did during his lifetime.
Laxmi Mittal has purchased a $100 million mansion in what is known as Millionaire's
Row in London, not far from Princess Diana's former town house. He had his daughter married in Versailles Palace near Paris, once the abode of the French kings. The nuptials must have cost him a pretty penny, but no matter.
What is money for if you do not throw it around?
While Mittal lives in Millionaire's Row in London, JRD Tata used to live in a small house in Bombay's Cumballa Hill, and when his wife fell ill, he used to sleep on a settee in the hall. No Versailles Palace for him, as he had no children.
Incidentally, JRD was born in France, while Mittal is a Kolkata boy.
Laxmi Mittal is making a big fuss over his bid for European steel major Arcelor, which will make him twice as rich as he is now.
Mittal must be a keen pupil of John Maynard Keynes, the great economist, who once said money was the difference between the present and the future.