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Over three decades, Lakshmi Mittal has built his interests into the world’s largest steelmaker, seeing off the doldrums the industry found itself in during the 1980s and now placing himself at the forefront of its consolidation.
The Indian steel magnate - one of the richest men in the world - transformed the face of the steel industry in 2004 with a bold $4.5bn takeover of International Steel Group of the US, and a merger of his existing assets LNM and Ispat International. The result was Mittal Steel, the first truly global steel group, of which Mr Mittal is chairman and chief executive.
Mr Mittal said then that he wanted to be the lowest-cost steel producer in every single market. Mittal Steel currently has steelmaking facilities in 14 countries, and the company has highlighted its strategy of sharing know-how and generating product synergies between different operations. It says all of its operations benefit from the increased purchasing power created by scale, and a global sales and marketing network.
The company was expected to ship about 58m tonnes of steel in 2005. Friday’s surprise deal with Luxembourg-based Arcelor would create a company with a $40bn market capitalisation and more than 100m tonnes of annual steel output.
Mr Mittal was born in 1950. He began his career at Ispat, his family’s steelmaking business in India, and in 1976 bought an Indonesian steel manufacturer with his father’s money. Over the following decades, he built up an empire buying up underperforming steel plants, many in eastern European countries, and then turning them around.
Those tactics at times led to accusations that Mr Mittal was an asset stripper, which he denied. He ran into trouble with his 1996 takeover of an Irish steelmaker that subsequently closed with the loss of 400 jobs.
His companies LNM and Ispat International also received some criticism for a lack of transparency, although that changed with the creation of Mittal Steel in 2004. The company listed on the New York and Amsterdam stock exchanges, forcing it to disclose more about its activities than had previously been the case.
The company is 88 per cent owned by the Mittal family, and Mr Mittal’s son Aditya is its president and chief financial officer.
The publicity-shy magnate has not always managed to steer clear of media controversy. Mr Mittal’s £125,000 donation to Tony Blair’s Labour Party four years ago coincided with Mr Blair’s expression of support for his attempt to take over Sidex, a Romanian state-owned steel company.
Mr Mittal later generated many column inches when he hired Versailles, outside Paris and the singer Kylie Minogue - to entertain 1,500 guests at his daughter’s wedding in 2004.