Sonya’s book list : L N Mittal vs Arcelor, Who’s side are you on ?

You might look upon him as an underdog ( never mind that he’s the world’s fourth richest man) Or you might (as much of the European establishment did) see him as the noveau riche, pesky Indian, getting above his station in life . With a peskier son by his side . But whichever way you look at it , L N Mittal’s 5 month long battle, for the crown jewel of the European steel empire , is a tale worth trawling through ( Cold Steel by journalist Tim Bonquet and communications consultant Byron Ousey, pub Little Brown UKP 20). Its racy ; and with its bizarre twists and turns, its code names, its moles and it’s multiple locations, more thriller than business book.
It’s a battle of billionaires that began with Mittals’s bid to buy Arcelor ( code named Operation Olympus) . A bid that also made the Indian born entrepreneur into the barbarian at the gate ( he was ok as long as he kept buying rust bucket plants in Uzbekistan and Mexico) …..

Frantically up against Mittal was the powerful French/Luxembourg establishment led by Guy Dolle, the Arcelor CEO with ‘pale-blue Caligula eyes’ . Also Chairman Kinsch, the Bavarian blue blood . The duo defend their company against the dark invader, amassing their armies, and even getting into murky deals with novueau rich Russian industrialists.
The action moves, like a Robert Ludlum thriller, from Luxembourg, to London’s Kensington Gardens, to San Felice Milan and to Cherepovets, Russia. There’s even a couple of episodes in Delhi- one where Luxembourg Minister Krecke is ambushed by NDTV anchorperson Shailly Chopra, in the parking lot of the Oberoi Hotel, at 2 am. Another where Mittal, who is invited to lunch, at a party thrown by the Indian PM for Chirac, is frantically requested by the French, not to attend. His presence, the French imply would be embarrassing for the French President. There’s more on the European opposition to the deal, including the notorious breakfast meeting with French Finance minister Thierry Breton where Mittal was given luke warm coffee and never once passed the croissants.
‘Cold Steel’ looks upon all this from a fly-in the-wall position. But a wall, it’s quite clear, that belongs , more to the stucco-faced Royal Kensington Gardens than to Avenue de la Liberte , where the Arcelor HQ is . Not surprising really, once you read the (few) footnotes and find that most of the information comes from Mittal’s PR. It certainly explains the , Aditya Mittal is really Wonder Boy strain ,that runs through the book . (Credit Suisse was really mean to him , they made him work a 100 hours a week ; he may sound brash but that’s really his brilliance etc etc )
History, clearly , is written by the victors.
Or am I being cynical ? And un-Indian ?

8 thoughts on “Sonya’s book list : L N Mittal vs Arcelor, Who’s side are you on ?

  1. Hi Shekhar!
    When you come to know that history moves in cycles you dont take sides. Of course you enjoy the fight and appreciate the heros of the moment.
    Reading the book will be interesting though. It will remind people of my generation of Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged, or of Hank Rearden steel in it. I felt the same reading your account of Mittal.

  2. Sir,
    Un-Indian or Cynical? But first of all is he Indian or British or does that not matter at all because he is just a world citizen? Whatever…
    True the book should be a good read when its more of a story like David and Goliath.
    I remember the shock that went through France when they heard that their prized company “could” be bought by an “Indian”! Waoh! Thanks to Christophe Columbus coz in French “Les Indiens” commonly is related to the Red Indians of America with feathers on their head! So the image was that some feathered Indian is coming to buy the prized possession of a civilized country. Blasphemy! It was “o la la” everywhere. And it doesn’t surprise me that the French gave a cold coffee and no croissant to Mittal (red Indians don’t know what fire is!).
    It really was tough for the “Father of Industrialization” to digest that a little known Indian wanted to dictate terms of buying them.
    But me as an Indian living in France, I really don’t see Mittal as the image of the “New” India. His aggressiveness is at par with the occidentals. Whereas I prefer a Tata to vehicle the “New” india.
    The ethics of tomorrow’s world is not there with Mittal. Maybe he will buy that too…
    Anyways. Mittal’s buy of Arcelor was an electro shock to the Industrialized world in large. Thats for sure. It also blocked Mallya from buying another prized French possession “The Champagne”! But he went on to buy a lesser known vineyard in the loire valley.
    Even after the buy of Mittal, India is still an unknown territory to the majority of French (snake charmers, slums, untouchables, poverty, tsunami are the words that I hear). All they know is MITTAL!
    Only time will erase images and surely history is written by victors. Always.

  3. Dear Sonya,
    I am sure Aditya Mittal is quite an intelligent person and he may/may not be exceptional but that is not a matter of concern here. The question is whether he is a good manager, a good businessman who can take on the rungs from his father and deliver results. The book may or may not be read widely but these two quotes from Napoleon pretty much sum up how a person should be judged – solely on whether he or she can produce results, which in this case would be the continued growth of the company. There can be 100 books and articles on the person(with all persectives) but in the end people look for continued success and results to bestow their adulation on any person.
    Like the Arcelor acquisition last year. The only thing that matters is that LNM got the company(result), everything else is conversation.
    The two quote are:
    Be successful! I judge men only by the results of their actions. – Napoleon Bonaparte
    It is the success which makes great men. – Napoleon Bonaparte
    Best Regards,

  4. Hiya Shekhar…
    Nice to see new folks taking part too…horizon will widen…
    But will aapreciate your say in it too!!
    History, clearly , is written by the victors.
    Theres nothing cynical about it…
    Nothing being Indian or un-indian
    Facts and expressions go beyond these realms!
    Fly free and let our thoughts fly with ye…ye with us…we with thee thus!!
    Kedar Sahab nahi dikhte aajkal?

  5. Hi Sonya,
    I like your review. I haven’t read the book, but it sounds like a familiar situation to me! I periodically run into interesting studies, usually relating to nutrition/health and upon deeper investigtion, when it is possible to find out, determine the researcher had a dog in the race and results were biased. Seen the movie “Fugitive”?!! Really promotes the conspiracy-theorist in me every time I run into another such situation…I guess all these people are interested in not just profits and their corporate image, but also personal legacy! Fascinating. Once you know this, ofcourse, the story itself becomes fiction… –Deepa (Austin, TX)

  6. Whoa! A new entry and here I was thinking, I’ll just leave the site now.
    As if the fight of an Indian “warrior” trying to prove himself from abroad wasn’t publicised enough, now we have a book! *laughs*
    Thanks for bringing it to attention. Must find out if it has come to the Indian book stores yet. That would sure make number one best seller here!

  7. Jojo : that’s an interesting description of the French reaction ,and one that comes out very clearly in Cold Steel. That’s one of the charms of the book – it takes you behind the scenes to all the manuveuring and also the incredible amount of political interference in this deal. And all this in countries which are touted as having ‘free economies’
    Himanshu : totally agree with you on the results bit. Also on Aditya Mittal’s abilities and on his obviously high levels of enthusiasm and sky’s the limit philosopy. My only carp in all of this is , that as a reader, I would like to figure this out for myself, instead of being told, every 40 pages or so, what a genius the younger Mittal is.
    Deepa : So true on lack of objectivity in so many research studies ( like the resent one that GM rice has less arsenic then organic rice !) – there clearly some of that in this book.
    But certainly it does make you look at takeovers in a new light .

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