It's been a good year for Gautam Adani.
The port tycoon, who hails from India, saw his fortune surge by $55.3 billion in 2021, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, knocking Zhong Shanshan, China's richest man, into third place when it comes to measuring Asia's wealthiest billionaires.
Adani, 59, now sits at a net worth of $89.1 billion, per the index. That makes him $800 million shy of energy magnate Mukesh Ambani, Asia and India's richest person.
On Wednesday, Adani edged up closer to claiming the number one spot, as shares of Adani Enterprise and Adani Ports rose 2.76% and 4.59%, while Ambani's companies, Reliance Industries and Reliance Industries Infrastructure, slipped by 1.48% and 1.57% in stock price, reported Indian outlet APB News.
Several local media outlets now hail Adani as Asia's richest man, though he still sits at second place on Bloomberg's index as of Thursday.
Adani has business interests in energy, defense, and real estate, and owns India's largest commercial port, one of the world's largest coal mines, and a 74% stake in Mumbai's international airport. And he's come a long way from his days as a college dropout and time as a gem sorter.
Diamonds, exports, and loans
Born in 1962 as one of eight children in Ahmedabad, Adani was the son of a textile merchant but declined to take on his father's business, Silicon India reported.
Instead, he enrolled in Gujarat University in Ahmedabad to study commerce but dropped out after his second year, opting to work as a diamond sorter in Mumbai in the early 1980s, per the magazine Business Today.
Adani then moved on to diamond trading and eventually started his own business, Adani Enterprises, to import and export commodities in 1988, The Financial Times reported in an interview with him.
He would use profits from his business to back heavy loans so he could enter other industries, reported FT.
Adani received permission from the Gujarat government in 1995 to start a harbor in the town of Mundra, according to The Times of India. It eventually developed into India's largest private port.
Adani, an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the latter was chief minister of Gujarat in 2003, has been criticized for rising in prominence and wealth because he supported the national leader. In his interview with FT, he denied that his business success came from his political ties.
A terror attack and a $2 million ransom
In 1998, Adani accused several men of kidnapping him and a companion, Shantilal Patel, per The Indian Express. He alleged that he and Patel were traveling in a car on New Year's Day when a scooter blocked their path, allowing a group of men to abduct the pair into a van at gunpoint.
A report filed against the men said they demanded a ransom of $2 million from Adani's family, and he and Patel were released after the money was sent over, according to The Indian Express. But two of the gangsters brought to trial were acquitted from the case in 2018, while six others were cleared of the charges in 2015 because the prosecution couldn't tie them to the kidnapping, Times Now India reported.
Adani doesn't like to talk about the incident, according to FT, telling the outlet: "Two or three very unfortunate incidents happened in my life, that is one of them."
His second brush with danger came a decade later, during the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, a violent 60-hour siege of the city by ten heavily-armed Pakistani militants that left 166 people dead.
Adani was dining at the Taj Mahal luxury hotel when the siege occurred and said he could see the militants enter the building from his table, India Today reported.
He hid in a basement with the help of hotel staff, and later relocated to a chamber hall on an upper floor as the attack continued throughout the night. When commandos stormed the hotel the following day, and Adani was escorted to safety, he told India Today that he "saw death at a distance of just 15 feet."
Over 100 people were hiding with him, he said at the time. "Some had hidden below the sofa while others had taken similar evasive position. Sitting on a sofa, I was telling them to have faith in God."
In 2018, he penned a reflection on the attack published on The Indian Express, writing that the anniversary of the attack was a "day of personal reflection and prayer" for him every year.
"One of the lives they saved that night was mine. I still recollect some of the faces — people I will never know, people I will never be able to repay," he wrote. "I am often struck by the thought that this was God's way of keeping me grateful and indebted."
Insider has reached out to the Adani Group for comment.