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 ?