At first look, Lakshmi Mittal, the world's fifth richest man and the CEO of Arcelor Mittal, the world's largest steel company, seems to be the Indian reincarnation of Andrew Carnegie. Both were accountants whose vision greatly exceeded that craft. Both overcame fierce opposition, and both leaped impossibly high hurdles to reach goals that boggled their contemporaries' minds. Mittal's wealth and power came from achieving his dream of consolidating the global steel industry. Carnegie's came from consolidating the American steel industry. Both gave notoriously glamorous parties. Carnegie was, and Mittal is, famously generous and charitable, although Mittal has given millions of dollars without fanfare to tsunami relief and other causes. Carnegie's philanthropy was instrumental in spreading his fame.
Yet arguably, Mittal, 56, overshadows Carnegie in some ways. Carnegie's U.S. Steel was the first American company to achieve a $1 billion market capitalization. Arcelor Mittal seems likely to become the world's first $100 billion market-cap steel company. The geographic scope of Arcelor Mittal, with 320,000 employees in 60 countries, also vastly exceeds U.S. Steel's. Carnegie believed in piling debt onto his companies, but Arcelor Mittal is a relatively unleveraged company, rated investment grade despite dozens of cash acquisitions. So while the original Carnegie was mainly a financier, the modern one is fundamentally an industrialist.
Most remarkably, Mittal's story is far from finished. Steel is truly a global commodity, with 40% crossing a national border before it is used. Despite being three times the size of its nearest competitor, Mittal's company is in the early stages of penetrating the world's largest market, China. It has just announced plans to enter the Indian market, and it is not yet involved in Russia or Japan or a number of emerging-market nations. If he were alive today, Carnegie might well be green with envy.
Industrialist Ross, who built up and sold North America's biggest steelmaker to Mittal in 2005, is chairman and CEO of WL Ross & Co. LLC
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