Mumbai: If Radhakishan Damani passed by you in the corridor, perhaps you wouldn’t notice. And if you buttonholed him, he would probably listen to you rather than talk. The grocery billionaire in white wears his wealth and wisdom lightly.
Damani’s Avenue Supermarts Ltd, which runs D-Mart, India’s most profitable retail chain, doubled its investors’ wealth on Tuesday, when its stock debuted on the stock exchanges at a nearly 115% premium to its issue price.
His family’s stake in the firm is now valued at over $5 billion, but the media-shy magnate who started a ball bearings business before becoming an ace stock and property picker and founding D-Mart, remains as low-profile as ever.
Damani, 61, attended a bachelor’s degree programme in commerce at the University of Mumbai (then Bombay University) but did not continue after his first year examination. So, the next time someone lectures on the value of a college degree, ask them to google Damani.
On Monday, a day before Avenue went public, Forbes had pegged Damani’s net worth at $2.3 billion. At Wednesday’s closing prices, the family’s 82.43% stake in D-Mart alone is worth Rs32,903.12 crore, or nearly $5.03 billion.
Damani holds stakes in a range of companies such as tobacco firm VST Industries Ltd, logistics provider Blue Dart Express Ltd and cement maker India Cements Ltd. He also holds an impressive portfolio of real estate, including the Radisson Blu Resort in Alibag close to Mumbai. All these investments add up to more than Rs3,000 crore or nearly half a billion US dollars.
“He did not come from a very well-educated family, and himself was not that educated as well, but he could still build the empire,” said a person close to Damani.
ALSO READ | Irrational exuberance in D-Mart shares
“People shouldn’t give up. You have a great idea. Education is not necessary to make it big,” this person added on condition of anonymity.
After dabbling in the family business of ball bearings, he entered stock trading and registered as a stock broker in 1992. In 1999, in his 40s, Damani diversified into retail, according to the final offer documents of the Avenue Supermarts share sale.
Damani has three daughters, and one of them, Manjri Chandak, is a director at Avenue Supermarts. His brother Gopikishan Damani and his wife are also promoters of Avenue Supermarts.
“He spoke less and listened more. One thing very striking about him was he was never flashy. He was extremely down-to-earth,” said Kisan R. Choksey, chairman of Kisan Ratilal Choksey Shares and Securities Pvt. Ltd, who has known Damani since the early 1990s when brokers haggled in a trading ring on the floor of Bombay Stock Exchange, now known as BSE Ltd.
Damani was an investor as well as a trader, according to people who have known him for long. “There were many of us, including Mr Damani and Rakesh Jhunjhunwala,” said Choksey.
People vouch by his quiet nature.
“He is extremely low profile and very quiet. Chances are that if he passes by, you might not notice him except for his specific white-and-white attire,” said Alok Churiwala, managing director of Churiwala Securities.
“The earliest memory I have of the gentleman is when I had just joined the trade in 1988-89, while there used to be very hectic activity and cacophony. Here was this gentleman who was totally unfazed, very calm and very collected; that set him apart,” recalls Churiwala.
According to Churiwala, the ability to see beyond numbers is what distinguishes him as one of India’s biggest stock pickers.
Deena Mehta, managing director at Asit C. Mehta Investment Intermediates, also recalls him as the “man in the trading ring with a poker face, and one could not make out any of his trades from his expressions.”
“He was an extremely good listener,” said Mehta.
“He also went out of the way to help out people. I remember one time when Videocon shares were continuously hitting lower circuits. He helped a lot of brokers by taking positions, and helping brokers square off their positions,” recalls Mehta.
“He has two nicknames “white-and-white” and “silent operator”. This sums him up in a fairly good manner,” said Arun Kejriwal, director of Kejriwal Research and Financial Services Pvt. Ltd.
“He is very approachable but refrains from giving tips. He will prefer silence over giving wrong advice,” added Kejriwal.
“He is a large-hearted guy who has given his friends and associates—which are a considerable number—D-Mart shares at par a couple of years ago,” added Kejriwal.
For now, Avenue Supermarts’ market capitalization stands at Rs39,916.44 crore, more than the aggregate of all of its key listed rivals including Future Retail Ltd, Shoppers’ Stop Ltd and Trent Ltd, which total to Rs36,631.79 crore. But the man who made it possible, as always, stays in the back room.