India is the world's largest democracy and its economy has been growing rapidly over the past few decades. As a country, it also holds the second largest native population behind China. Not surprisingly, India has produced a number of billionaire businessmen and women.

Although there are still many poor among the Indian population, the country maintains a long tradition of entrepreneurship and wealth creation.

Key Takeaways

  • India is a growing emerging market and the world's largest democracy.
  • The country still has large numbers of poor and impoverished, but also a small but prominent group of wealthy businessmen.
  • The country maintains a long tradition of entrepreneurship and enterprise, dating back to the early 20th century.

Some of India's Notable Entrepreneurs

Dhirubhai Ambani (1932-2002) started out humbly by selling traditional snacks to religious pilgrims. His business soon grew, and he expanded and diversified, eventually building India's largest private company, Reliance Industries. Reliance has interests in telecommunications, power generation, information technology, consumer goods, and logistics. Ambani's sons now run Reliance and are some of India's wealthiest people: Mukesh Ambani, 57, is worth over $18.6 billion and Anil Ambana, 55, is worth an estimated $5.1 billion.

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata or JRD Tata (1904-1933) was born in Paris to Indian and French parents. He was trained as an aviator in Europe and later became India's first commercial airline pilot. Working for the family business, TATA group, he set out on his own and built TATA airlines, which ultimately became the modern Air India. By the time of his death, TATA owned nearly 100 different businesses across many industries. Notably, his automobile venture, Tata Motors (TTM), produces economical automobiles that nearly all working Indians can afford to own. JRD Tata is descended from Jamshetji Tata who founded the TATA group of companies in the mid-1800s.

Nagavara Ramarao Narayana Murthy, age 68, co-founded Indian IT giant Infosys (INFY) with an initial investment of 10,000 rupees, or just a few hundred dollars in today's money. He is often referred to as the father of the Indian IT industry, serving as CEO of Infosys from 1981 until 2002, and then its chairman until 2011. Infosys currently has a market capitalization of around $40 billion.

Azim Premji, 69, is worth an estimated $15.3 billion and is the chairman of Wipro Industries (WIT), a diversified software and technology company that many have compared to Microsoft. Premji is sometimes referred to as India's Bill Gates as a result. 

Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, 64, began his career working for his father's steel business. He later set out on his own due to family infighting and created what is now one of the largest steelmakers in the world, ArcelorMittal (MT), which has a market capitalization of $16 billion. Mittal himself is worth nearly $17 billion.

Ghanshyam Das Birla (1894-1983) started his first company in the early 1900s operating a cotton and textile mill. By 1919 Birla's businesses also included significant paper and sugar production. By the time he died, Birla Group was a multi-sector global conglomerate. His son Kumar Birla now runs the company and commands a net worth of $7 billion.

Dilip Shanghvi, 59, started Sun Pharmaceuticals in 1982 with a meager 10,000 rupee investment. Today, that investment has grown to a value of nearly 2 trillion rupees, making Sun India's largest pharmaceutical company. Today, Shanghvi has a net worth of around $12.8 billion.

Mukesh "Micky" Jagtiani, 62, is an Indian businessman who has spent most of his life outside of India. He was educated in Mumbai and Beirut, eventually settling in London. While in London, he dropped out of college and began driving a taxi before starting his first company which eventually grew into the retail and real estate giant Landmark, now based out of Dubai. Landmark has expanded into e-commerce, creating India's version of Amazon (AMZN). Jagtiani is worth over $5 billion.

Shiv Nadar, 69, founded HCL Infosystems in 1976 with an investment of a few thousand dollars, selling calculators and microcomputers. HCL soon expanded to Singapore and the far east, generating over 1 million rupees in sales not long after its expansion. HCL has continued to grow making Nadar a billionaire worth over $11 billion.

Ardeshir Godrej (1868-1936) co-founded the Godrej Group, a diversified conglomerate with interests in real estate, consumer products, security, household appliances, and industrial tools. The company had modest beginnings — Ardeshir and his brother succeeded at locksmithing after failed ventures into hand fashioned medical devices. Godrej Group was founded with a 3,000-rupee investment, and the Godrej companies are worth over half a trillion rupees today.

$616

The yearly median income earned by an individual in India, which is the lowest when compared with people living in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) nations.

The Bottom Line

India has a long tradition of entrepreneurship, but with its own distinct flavor. Rather than founding technology firms, many of India's entrepreneurs came from hard-working, humble beginnings and created conglomerates that were passed down from generation to generation as a family business. But that's not to say that future Indian entrepreneurs won't focus on technology and help drive India's economic growth in the coming decades. Still, we should not forget that the median income in this country of over 1 billion people is just $616 per year - well below the poverty line and among the lowest in the world.