AIndian investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, often dubbed the Warren Buffett of India, died Sunday morning at the age of 62. Jhunjhunwala, who had been battling health issues for some time, had amassed an estimated fortune of $5.8 billion. His shrewd stock picks had earned him a cult following and he remained optimistic about the Indian stock market and his country’s economic prospects until the end. Jhunjhunwala traded on his own account through his company Rare Enterprises – a name coined from the first two letters of his name and that of his wife Rekha.
Reacting to the news of Jhunjhunwala’s death, on the eve of the 75e Independence Day celebrations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Rakesh Jhunjhunwala was indomitable. Full of life, witty and insightful, he left behind an indelible contribution to the financial world. He was also very passionate about India’s progress. His passing is saddening. My condolences to his family and fans. Om Shanthi.
Banker Uday Kotak, a self-made billionaire like Jhunjhunwala, said on Twitter“Rakesh Jhunjhunwala: my school and college classmate. One year my junior. India’s estimated stock was undervalued. He is right. Incredibly sharp in understanding financial markets. We spoke to each other regularly, more so during Covid. I will miss you Rakesh!
The son of an income tax officer, Jhunjhunwala became interested in stocks while studying business at Mumbai University. He graduated as a Chartered Accountant and started investing in 1985 with just $100. As a young investor, he found a mentor in stock market veteran Radhakishan Damani at a time when the stock market index was at 150; it is now trading over 59,000.
Jhunjhunwala preceded his guru into the ranks of billionaires, which he first joined in 2008. Damani debuted on the Forbes World Billionaires list in 2017, the year he took his hypermarket chain public. Avenue Supermarts. While Jhunjhunwala was media savvy and outspoken, Damani maintains a low profile and avoids public interactions.
“Rakesh Jhunjhunwala was indomitable. Full of life, witty and insightful, he left behind an indelible contribution to the financial world.
Jhunjhunwala’s portfolio consists of blue chips such as watch and jewelry maker Titan Company, part of the Tata conglomerate, which is his biggest asset worth over $1.5 billion. His other long-standing holdings include automaker Tata Motors and ratings firm Crisil.
While Jhunjhunwala has always been wary of backing new-era startups, in recent years he began reaping a windfall of private equity investments when these companies started listing. For example, his 14% stake in shoe retailer Metro Brands, which went public last December, making owner Rafique Malik a billionaire, is now worth more than $400 million. He was also an early backer of gaming company Nazara Technologies and general insurer Star Health and Allied Insurance Company, both listed last year.
In what many saw as a risky move, Jhunjhunwala’s latest bet was on a sector ravaged by Covid-19: aviation. Last year he invested $35 million for a 40% stake in low-cost airline Akasa, which made its maiden flight earlier this month, the country’s aviation minister reported. and with its famous investor on board. Appearing in a wheelchair, Jhunjhunwala said he was excited about the launch.
A fan of single malts and cigars, Jhunjhunwala enjoyed living the king size life. He is said to have built a 13-story mansion in South Mumbai as his new home. A fan of Bollywood films, Jhunjhunwala has funded a few such as English Vinglish and Ki & Ka.
Meanwhile, Jhunjhunwala was among the country’s notable philanthropists with a namesake foundation and said a few years ago that he wanted to give away 25% of his wealth during his lifetime. Among other things, he was a founder and trustee of Ashoka University, a liberal arts school, and a regular donor to the Agastya International Foundation, which provides science education to the poor. Ashoka University, in a statement, called Jhunjhunwala one of its most generous donors and said he was due to attend the university later this year to launch the Rakesh Jhunjhunwala School of Economics and Finance.
In 2020, when he was featured on Forbes Asia philanthropy heroes list, he said, “When I became a billionaire in 2008, my dad wasn’t interested in my net worth but how much I was going to give away.” Jhunjhunwala is survived by his wife and three children.