Top 10 most influential business leaders in India

As Chairman of Aditya Birla Group, Kumar Mangalam Birla has been the architect of more than 40 successful acquisitions
As Chairman of Aditya Birla Group, Kumar Mangalam Birla has been the architect of more than 40 successful acquisitions
In celebration of India’s 77th Independence Day, we chart ten legendary leaders who have made the biggest impact both on business and society in India

These ten legendary leaders are renowned not just for their contribution to business in India, but to Indian society too.

As well as growing and leading some of India’s (and the world's) most successful companies – leading industry change, inspiring future generations, and building the country’s economic wealth – these billionaire businessmen and women are all renowned philanthropists. 

In celebration of the India’s 77th Independence Day, we have chosen ten top business leaders who have not only made the biggest impact on the country and its people, but continue to do so with their business guidance and charitable contributions. 

1

Ratan Tata

Former and Chairman

Tata Sons​​​​​​​

Ratan Tata is the former chairman of India's largest conglomerate Tata Sons

Widely regarded as India’s best brand ambassador, Ratan Tata served as Chairman of Tata Sons, the holding company of Tata Group, for two decades until his retirement in 2012. Under his leadership, the group’s revenues grew manifold.

Now, India’s largest multinational conglomerate with interests in everything from tea to steel, carmaking to chemicals, retail to hospitality, Tata has a combined market value of US$311 billion, employs 935,000 workers and boasts 29 publicly-listed enterprises.

Ratan first joined Tata in 1962 becoming head of Tata Industries in 1991, where he transformed the holding company into a group strategy think tank and promoter of new ventures in high-tech businesses.

He has also shared his expertise widely, serving on a large number of international advisory boards, from Mitsubishi Corporation to JP Morgan Chase.

While not among the wealthiest in India, no longer ranking on Forbes’ richest list, Ratan is known for being rich at heart – giving generously through the group’s charity arm, Tata Trusts, which contributes a staggering 66% of the earnings made by Tata firms under the hold company Tata Sons towards charitable causes – with a focus on the arts, health, livelihood and education.

For his business and social efforts, he has landed numerous accolades including securing the country’s second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2008.

He is also the most followed Indian industrialist on social media, with more than 10 million followers on Twitter, testament to how much he is loved and respected. 

Notable quote: "I don't believe in taking right decisions. I take decisions and then make them right."

2

Azim Premji

Founder and Chairman

Wipro

Azim Premji is widely known as India's IT tsar and is the country's most charitable person

Widely known as the IT tsar, former Wipro chairman Azim Premji led the IT major for more than 55 years – transforming it from a vegetable oil production firm into India’s third-largest IT company after TCS and Infosys with operations in 50 countries.  

The Stanford graduate took the helm of Wipro in 1966, aged just 21, following the death of his father, Wipro founder Mohamed Premji.

After more than five decades of leadership, Azim retired in 2019, handing over the company reins to his son Rishad Premji. Aged 78, he is now a non-executive member of the board and founder chairman.

As well as being super successful, Azim is influential in philanthropy circles, and has donated a large part of his wealth to the Azim Premji Foundation – which is valued at a whopping US$21 billion. He was the most charitable person in India in 2021 and 2022, according to the India Philanthropy Report 2023, with annual donations of RS 7,904 and 9,713, respectively.

Notable quote: “Success is achieved twice. Once in the mind and the second time in the real world.”

3

Mukesh Ambani

Chairman

Reliance Industries

Chairman of Reliance, Mukesh Ambani is the richest person in India

As the richest person in India, and the thirteenth richest in the world, with US$91.8 billion net worth per Forbes, Mukesh Ambani is the brains and brawn behind India’s most valuable company – Reliance Industries.

The son of businessman Dhirubhai Ambani, who founded oil and gas goliath exactly 50 years ago, Mukesh took the helm of Reliance (RIL) in 2002 and has since grown and diversified the company to become a market leader in retail and owner of India’s largest mobile network, Jio.

Under his leadership, RIL has doubled in value over the last five years, as the company looks toward renewable energy with a pledge to achieve net zero by 2035 and plans to build a 25GW solar plant by 2025 and 100GW plant by 2030.

The company’s Reliance New Energy Limited business covers hydrogen, wind, solar, fuel cells, and batteries.

A keen sports fan, the 66-year-old is also the richest sports team owner in the world, as the man behind Mumbai Indians cricket team.

The billionaire industrialist is also generous, as India’s third leading philanthropist donating RS 411 crore in 2022, most of which went to educational causes. During the second wave of the pandemic, Reliance produced 1,000 tonnes of oxygen daily and distributed 8 crore free meals to frontline workers.

Notable quote: “Dance to your own music and take some risks in life, because it is often the risk taker who changes the course of history… and contribute to the wellbeing of millions of lives.”

4

Shiv Nader

Founder and Chairman Emeritus

HCL Technologies

IT pioneer and HCL Technologies founder Shiv Nader is one of India's biggest philanthropists

Shiv Nader is credited with being one of the pioneers of the computing and IT industry in India – founding HCL Technologies in a garage in 1976 as a company making calculators and microprocessors.

Under his guidance as chairman for more than four decades, HCL has continued to ride the waves of the ever-changing IT landscape – transforming from its original hardware roots, manufacturing the country’s first indigenous computers, into a more comprehensive software services organisation.

In fact, HCL is one of the few global IT companies founded in the 1970s that is still alive and kicking today.

Nearly 50 years later, and HCL is valued at US$11.8 billion and is among India’s largest software services provider employing more than 222,000 people in 60 countries worldwide.

The 78-year-old stepped down as chairman in 2020 and handed the reins to his daughter Roshi Nadar Malhotra, though he continues as chairman emeritus and strategic advisor.

Attributing his own success to the education and scholarships he received during his early years, Shiv has made it his life mission to give back to education in India; and HCL is committed to hiring high school graduates and training them on job.

With a net worth of US$26.4 billion, according to Forbes, the billionaire industrialist is also one of India’s biggest philanthropists, giving back via his Foundation since 1994 – with a focus on education.

Notable quote: “If you have excellent people, then you have to give them the power."

5

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

Executive Chairperson

Biocon

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw founded Biocon in 1978 from her garage

One of two woman on our list, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is a first-generation entrepreneur and global business leader who has transformed India’s biotech industry with her company Biocon.

Fuelled by a passion, Kiran founded Biocon in 1978 from her garage in India with just US$500 and an ambition to create a business that would “leverage science for the benefit of society”.

She has since grown the firm over four decades to become the largest listed biopharma firm by revenue in India, with a market value of US$3.72 billion, and an 11,000 strong workforce – making Biocon one of the largest employers in the region.

As well as becoming one of Asia’s leading biotech firms, owning Asia’s largest insulin factory in Malaysia, Bangalore-headquartered Biocon has successfully expanded into the US market.

With Biocon, which has multiple subsidiaries including Biocon Biologics, Kiran is changing lives for the better across the globe, delivering on making medicines accessible and affordable to millions of patients.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Kiran revamped Biocon labs for testing and repurposing drugs to benefit patients, and through the Biocon Foundation, she helps to address some of the economic needs of those impacted.

Her efforts have garnered her many awards, from the prestigious Knight of the National Order of the French Legion of Honour, to being named among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, and cited as ‘The Compassionate Capitalist’ in CEO Magazine’s top 16 most influential women in leadership.

With 45 years of experience in biotechnology and a degree in Zoology, Kiran is one of India’s richest self-made women, with a net worth of US$3.7 billion, per Forbes.

Notable quote: “All entrepreneurs have a responsibility to the world around them and the communities in which they operate."

6

Anand Mahindra

Former Chairman

Mahindra & Mahindra

Anand Mahindra is the former chair of the US$19 billion Mahindra & Mahindra conglomerate

As the third generation of the Mahindra clan, grandson of original co-founder Jagdish Chandra Mahindra, Anand Mahindra is the former chair of the US$19 billion Mahindra & Mahindra conglomerate.

While probably best known for owning India’s top car manufacturing company, Mahindra group’s operations span more than 20 industries, from automotive to agribusiness, real estate to IT (Tech Mahindra).

Anand kicked off his career at Mahindra in 1981 becoming President of Mahindra Ugine Steel Company eight years later before taking on the Deputy MD role at the tractor and automaking arm.

Passionate about cars, Anand spearheaded the US$2.3 billion buy-back of Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford in 2008, bringing the car brand back to life, and oversaw many other acquisitions including London-based Tetley Tea and the truck-manufacturing operations of South Korea’s Daewoo Motors.

Following his appointment as executive chairman in 2016, Anand grew the company to global heights, and the Group now operates in more than 100 countries and with over 200,000 employees. 

Anand, who has been labelled the face of Indian capitalism by The Economist, stepped down as executive chairman following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 but continues on as non-executive chairman.

The 67-year-old Harvard-educated businessman has been honoured with numerous leadership accolades, including being named among Asia’s 25 most powerful business people, Forbes India's Entrepreneur of the Year, 50 greatest leaders by Fortune, and receiving the highest Civilian Award of India, the Padma Bhushan.

An advocate of the study of humanities, he has donated US$10 million to support the Harvard humanities Centre. He is also passionate about education and has founded and runs a project providing primary education to thousands of underprivileged girls in India.

Notable quote: "As you taste more success, your appetite for risk will reduce. So the best time to take calculated chances is early in your career. The one who risks nothing achieves nothing."

7

Gautam Adani

Founder, Chairman

Adani Group

Gautam Adani is a first-generation entrepreneur with a nation-building vision

As founder and chairman of the Adani Group, one of India’s top three industrial conglomerates, Gautam Adani is a first-generation entrepreneur.

Since founding the Group in 1988, Adani has grown the business over 35 years to become a US$243 billion multinational with businesses spanning energy, ports, logistics, mining, gas, defence and airports.

Armed with a nation-building vision, Adani Group has focused on constructing world-class infrastructure capabilities to help accelerate the growth of India – from building a strong of ports and logistics’ hubs, to strengthening the country’s energy security and boosting food security by building a modern agriculture supply chain.

The 60-year-old’s latest aim is to make India one of the most significant players in sustainable energy, and he has put his money where his mouth is, making heavy investments in renewables.

With a net worth of US$5.3 billion, the billionaire businessman is generous too and his Foundation’s pan-India initiatives span education, healthcare, sustainable livelihoods, and community infrastructure with donations touching more than 3.4 million lives annually across 18 Indian states. In 2022, he donated RS 190 crore, according to Hurun’s list, and also contributed Rs 122 crore to Covid-19 relief efforts via his Foundation.

Notable quote: "My investment strategy, which is to focus on sectors that are a national priority for India, hasn't changed."

8

Kumar Mangalam Birla

Chairman

Aditya Birla Group

Kumar Mangalam Birla runs the US$60 billion Aditya Birla Group

As Chairman of Aditya Birla Group, Kumar Mangalam Birla is the fourth-generation head of the Indian multinational which operates in 36 countries and six continents.

Kumar, who inherited the family empire at age 28, also chairs the Boards of all the major Birla Group companies in India and overseas.

The group, which spans sectors including cement, chemicals, metals, textiles, telecoms and financial services, is valued at $60 billion and has a global workforce of 140,000. It derives 50% of its revenue from its global operations.

In his nearly three decades at the helm, Kumar has accelerated growth, enhanced stakeholder value, diversified into new sectors, expanded the global footprint and raised the Group’s turnover by well over 30x to US$60 billion. He has also been the architect of more than 40 successful acquisitions by the Group in India and overseas, the highest by any Indian multinational.

Kumar has been instrumental in guiding corporate governance in the country holding key positions on various regulatory and professional boards including on The Prime Minister of India’s Advisory Council on Trade and Industry and authoring the First Report on Governance that crafted the foundational principles of corporate governance.

Passionate about education, he chairs various institutions in India, and funds a £15 million scholarship programme at the London Business School – the largest-ever endowed scholarship gift to a European business school.

Caring and giving takes centre stage at Birla Group, which runs welfare-driven actions to impact poorer areas of society, and whose Foundation gives generally to educational initiatives.

His accolades are too many to mention, but he has secured business leadership awards from Frost & Sullivan, EY, Forbes, CNN, The Economic Times, and was selected by the WEF as a young global leder in 2004.

He is one of India’s richest, with US$15.5 billion net worth, per Forbes.

Notable quote: “The one important factor that keeps me going is the kind of people I work with.”

9

Dilip Shanghvi

Founder, MD

Sun Pharmaceutical Industries

Dilip Shanghvi founded Sun Pharma with just US$200

The son of a pharmaceuticals distributor, Dilip Shanghvi is a first-generation entrepreneur founding Sun Pharmaceutical Industries in 1982 with just US$200.

Initially manufacturing psychiatric medications, the pharma soon expanded its reach to various therapeutic sectors.

Over the last four decades, Dilip has grown the company into India’s most valuable listed pharma with a market cap of US$32.92 billion and US$5.1 billion annual revenues, of which 65% derives from international markets. Today, the pharma has more than 37,000 employees and a presence in over 100 countries.

Among his many recognitions, Dilip has been named entrepreneur of the year by Forbes, EY, CNBC and Economic Times.

Beyond business, Dilip devotes time to philanthropy giving generously via the Sun Foundation, which supports various causes, including healthare, eccucation and disaster relief. He is also Chairman of the Shantilal Shanghvi Foundation and his contributions to society have earned him the prestigious Padma Shri Medial from India’s Government.

Dilip, 67, is India’s seventh richest man, his net worth is US$17.8 billion, according to Forbes.

Notable quote: "Money is the outcome of my work and is incidental."

10

Falguni Nayar

Founder and CEO

Nykaa

Falguni Nayar is the first woman in India to take a unicorn public

Falguni Nayar is not only inspirational to women in India, but especially to older women. Having kicked off her entrepreneurial success story age 50, Falguni proves it is never too late.

An investment banker for 20 years, the former MD of Kotak Mahindra Capital took the entrepreneurial leap of faith at 50 – setting up e-commerce platform Nykaa in 2012 selling beauty products and has built the business into India’s largest beauty etailer.

In just a decade, she has built a beauty and fashion empire that today employs nearly 3,000 people, sells more than 4,000 brands, and commands around 40% of the online beauty market in India. In 2020, she became the first Indian woman to take a unicorn public and secured a blockbuster IPO the following year.

Her success has turned her into India’s richest self-made female entrepreneur, with an estimated net worth of US$2.7 billion, and landed her many awards, including the prestigious EY World Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2019 and named among Forbes Asia’s power businesswomen.

Well-known for advocating for women in leadership roles, she uses her platform for female empowerment, providing employment to as many women as possible. She is a passionate philanthropist, raising funds for an Indian NGO that provides primary education for underprivileged girls in India.

Falguni, 60, also sits on the board of Tata Technologies.

Notable quote: "Curiosity will always give you an edge because learning is integral to growth."

******

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