It is the definitive list of the world’s wealthiest people, and it comes as no surprise that 101 Indians made it to the Forbes Billionaire List- 2017. It wasn't surprising either that 10 of those billionaires hail from Kerala, but many have built up their base in the Gulf nations. God's own country boasts of a number of businessmen with massive interests in the state and around the world, with an obvious Gulf connection.
Lulu Group's chairman MA Yusuff Ali has once again become the richest Malayali, with assets amounting to $5.1 billion. The 61-year-old is at the 367th position globally.
Forbes says, “Middle East retail king M.A. Yusuff Ali presides over $7.4 billion (revenue) LuLu Group, with 133 stores in the Gulf region, India, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia. New projects include a $300 million investment in Trivandrum in South India that will include a mall, hotel and convention center. The group's hospitality arm owns Dubai's first Steigenberger hotel, a German luxury hotel brand and the Scotland Yard Hotel in London that will reopen later this year after renovations.
Businessman Ravi Pillai occupies the 559th position globally and has a net worth of $ 3.5 billion.
“Indian-born farmer's son, Ravi Pillai migrated to the Gulf after his small construction business in his native Kerala state went bust due to a workers' strike. With help from a well-connected local partner who put in capital, he started over in 1979 and eventually built his RP Group of Companies into a $5.3 billion (revenue) construction heavyweight riding the Middle East boom. Among the biggest employers of Indians in the Middle East, last year he pledged to employ 3,000 Indians from the thousands who had lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia due to an economic slowdown,” says Forbes.
Sunny Varkey of the Varkey Foundation with a net worth of $1.97 B is on 1088th position.
Sunny Varkey runs GEMS Education, a network with 89 schools worldwide. Like Ravi Pillai and Yussuf Ali, Varkey too is based out of the Gulf.
“Varkey, who never went beyond high school himself, took over the management of his parents' Our Own English School in 1980, doing everything from laying bricks for school buildings to driving the school bus. Today, the private education firm counts the Blackstone Group among its investors. In 2016, GEMS offered shares to its teachers in a bid to deter rivals from poaching them,” says Forbes.
At 1252th position is Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys, with a net worth of $1.7 B
He has personally invested in close to 50 startups, including 15 companies through his business incubator Axilor Ventures. He has also funded and created Itihaasa, a digital app that chronicles the evolution of India's IT industry.
No surprises that Joy Alukkas, owner of one of Kerala’s biggest jewellery chain, was at the 1263rd position with a net worth of $ 1.68 billion.
“Son of a jewelry store owner, Joy Alukkas dropped out of school to go to the Middle East to open the family's first overseas store in 1987 in Abu Dhabi. He broke off to launch his own Joyalukkas brand which now has 130 outlets spread across the world.”
T.S.Kalyanaraman, chairman of Kalyan Jewellers, is on position 1476 with a net worth of $1.4 B.
The Kalyan group started as a textile store in the town of Thrissur and the family later ventured into gold jewelery.
“With revenues of $1.5 billion, the privately held company counts Warburg Pincus as a key investor. Kalyan has 105 showrooms in India and overseas. He contributed $3 million to Habitat For Humanity India to build 2,000 homes for low-income families.”
While most billionaires from Kerala were either into real estate or jewellery, at 1567th position was Shamsheer Vayallil, who founded VPS Healthcare, a network of hospitals, clinics and pharmacies in the UAE and India. Shamsheer is the son-in-law of Yussuf Ali and is based out of the Gulf.
Owner of Sobha Developers, P.N.C.Menon, with a net worth of $1.69 billion also features in the list. A group that started in Bangalore, Sobha Developers in now trying to expand in Gulf countries. Menon and his wife, Sobha, after whom the group is named, have signed the Giving Pledge, says Forbes.
SD Shibulal, co-founder of Infosys, with a net worth of $ 1.1 billion is at 1761 position. “He is the cofounder of business incubator Axilor Ventures together with former Infosys colleague Senapathy Gopalakrishnan. He also chairs The Tamara, boutique resorts chain that daughter Shruti founded and runs.”
Another Dubai-based Malayali businessman, Azad Moopen with a net worth of $1.03 billion also features in the list.
His Dubai-based hospital chain Aster DM Healthcare operates a network of 18 hospitals, 90 clinics and 200 pharmacies in the Middle East and India. “Moopen gave up his teaching job in his native Kerala and started with a single clinic in Dubai in 1987,” says Forbes.