These have been tough times --- even for billionaires. The richest Indians experienced massive wealth destruction over the past year, going by the latest estimates of personal wealth by Forbes magazine. The net worth of the Indian plutocracy was down by around $60 billion, or around a fifth.

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News Report

India’s richest getting poorer: Forbes

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Bharti Enterprises chairman and CEO Sunil Mittal. (File photo)

A look at the Forbes listing that many businessmen whose names have been linked to various scandals have taken a severe beating, which is not unexpected given the fact that institutional investors have begun to seek lower valuations on businesses that have close political links, a complete reversal of an earlier attitude that gave premium valuations to business groups that had close links to the centres of political power.

Among those who have seen their wealth plummet are Kalanithi Maran, Vinod Goenka, Shahid Balwa and Ramesh Chandra. However, it is also true that even non-controversial businessmen such as Azim Premji have ended the year significantly poorer.

Lower net worth is not unnatural in a year when the world economy has been through bouts of uncertainty and asset valuations have dropped. So what Indian businessmen have gone through is perhaps unexceptional.

However, our comparison of the Forbes wealth listings for 2010 and 2011 throw light on something more interesting: businessmen who have managed to get richer in tough times. Some of the names worth mentioning are Sunil Mittal of Bharti Enterprises, Pallonji Mistry of Tata Sons, Dilip Sanghvi of Sun Pharma, Uday Kotak of Kotak-Mahindra Bank, Rahul Bajaj of Bajaj Auto, B.M. Munjal of the Hero Group, Cyrus Poonawala of the Serum Institute of India, Pankaj Patel of Zydus Cadilla and Ashwin Choksi of Asian Paints. They represent businesses that have been well run, focused on consumer markets and built either brands or intellectual property.

These examples are admittedly few in number, but they show that some businessmen have managed to stay on course despite a very tough operating environment. It’s no mean achievement.