Ace Indian investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, often referred to as the Warren Buffett of India, died Sunday morning at age 62. Jhunjhunwala, who had been battling health problems for a while, had amassed a fortune worth an estimated $5.8 billion. His shrewd stock picks had earned him a cult following and he remained bullish about the Indian stock market and his country’s economic prospects to the end. Jhunjhunwala traded on his own account through his firm 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 India’s 75th Independence Day celebrations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Rakesh Jhunjhunwala was indomitable. Full of life, witty and insightful, he leaves behind an indelible contribution to the financial world. He was also very passionate about India’s progress. His passing away is saddening. My condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti.”
Banker Uday Kotak, a self-made billionaire like Jhunjhunwala, : “Rakesh Jhunjhunwala: my school and college mate. One year my junior. Believed stock India was undervalued. He is right. Amazingly sharp in understanding financial markets. We spoke regularly, more so during Covid. Will miss you Rakesh!”
Son of an income-tax officer, Jhunjhunwala started dabbling in stocks while still studying commerce in college in Mumbai. He qualified as a chartered accountant and began 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 now trades over 59,000.
Jhunjhunwala preceded his guru in the billionaire ranks, which he joined for the first time in 2008. Damani debuted on the Forbes World Billionaires’ list in 2017, the year when he took his hypermarket chain Avenue Supermarts public. 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 leaves 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-time holdings include automaker Tata Motors and ratings firm Crisil.
While Jhunjhunwala was always wary of backing new-age startups, in recent years, he had begun reaping a windfall from a clutch of private equity investments as those companies started getting listed. For example, his 14% stake in footwear retailer Metro Brands, which went public last December making its owner Rafique Malik a billionaire, is worth over $400 million today. He was also an early backer of gaming firm 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 most recent 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 inaugural flight earlier this month, flagged off by the country’s aviation minister and with its celebrity investor on board. Appearing in a wheelchair, Jhunjhunwala said that he was excited about the launch.
With a taste for single malts and cigars, Jhunjhunwala liked to live life king-size. He was reportedly building a 13-storey mansion in south Mumbai as his new home. A fan of Bollywood movies, Jhunjhunwala financed a few such as English Vinglish and Ki & Ka.
At the same time, Jhunjhunwala was among the country’s notable philanthropists with a namesake foundation and said a couple of years ago that he wanted to give away 25% of his wealth within his lifetime. Among much else, he was one of the founders and trustees 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 that he was due to visit the university later this year to launch the Rakesh Jhunjhunwala School of Economics and Finance.
In 2020, when he featured on Forbes Asia’s list of Heroes of Philanthropy, he said, “ When I became a billionaire in 2008, my father wasn’t interested in my net worth but in how much I was going to give away.” Jhunjhunwala is survived by his wife and three children.
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