From the Caribbean to global steel giant: The rise of ArcelorMittal

Unwelcome in France it may be, but many other nations are happy to accommodate Lakshmi Mittal's steelmaking circus. Here's how it got rolling.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Formative years

What was to become the world's largest steelmaker started its ascent in 1989, in the Caribbean paradise of Trinidad & Tobago. Ispat Steel, an Indian steelmaker founded by Mohan Lal Mittal, got its first big break buying the state Iron & Steel Company for a song.

Brokered by Mittal Snr's son Lakshmi, the deal was the first of many canny acquisitions. Throughout the 1990s, the Mittals forged an old-fashioned industrial empire, picking up undervalued state-owned steel plants from South Africa to Poland, the Czech Republic to Chicago. By the mid-noughties, the firm was producing 42 million tonnes of steel a year under its new name Mittal Steel, only just shy of its rival, global number one Arcelor.

Recent history

In 2006, Mittal Steel got its hands on Arcelor (the product of a merger between firms in France, Spain and Luxembourg) via an audacious hostile takeover. The $33bn bid met vocal opposition from the Arcelor board and from the French and Spanish governments, dismayed at the idea of an upstart Indian entrepreneur wresting away their influence over 100,000 voting steelworkers. But shareholders forced it through and ArcelorMittal is now in 20 countries and produces some 90 million tonnes of steel annually. It has been hit by the slowdown in Chinese construction - turnover for the first nine months of 2012 was $65bn, 10% down on the same period in 2011.

Who's the boss?

Son Aditya is being groomed to take over, but Lakshmi, 62, remains boss. 'The Carnegie from Calcutta' has amassed a $20bn fortune and is Britain's wealthiest man, according to Rich List creator and MT contributor Philip Beresford. Slick and diplomatic on the one hand, a tireless sweater of assets on the other, Mittal has been based in London since the early 1990s. He has a 34% stake in QPR football club and was a major supporter of the London Olympics.

The secret formula?

Not only does Mittal posses an eye for a bargain that would make Del Boy drop his Pina Colada, he's an exceptional operator who squeezes maximum productivity out of old plant. Thanks to cheap shale gas in the US, he's now in $1bn talks to buy an Alabama steel plant.

Don't mention ...

The French. French industrial minister Arnaud Montebourg has explosively described the firm as 'no longer welcome in France', after Arcelor-Mittal said it was to close its two remaining blast furnaces at Florange due to chronic overcapacity. Government colleagues spoke openly of nationalisation and Mittal had to pledge a $180m investment to assuage the authorities.

 

VITAL STATISTICS

Employees
250,000                                                                                                                
Revenues ($)

94bn

Profits ($)

2.3bn

All figures for 2011

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