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The Gold Billionaire Who Doesn’t Own a Smartphone

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rajesh Mehta, 48, is the founder and current Chairman of Rajesh Exports, India's largest manufacturer and exporter of gold jewellery. Mehta has been listed amongst the 100 richest men in India since 2011, with a net worth of $1.1bn in 2014. 

But far from the supposed glitz and glamour of his personal fortune, and that of his native industry, Mehta drives around in a Toyota Innova and is famed for using a low-end Nokia feature phone on a daily basis. Rajesh Exports’ Bangalore headquarters are equally as low profile, with black font painted on a cheap, white tin board – not necessarily what you would expect from India’s leading exporter of gold jewellery. 

Mehta’s stance on wealth and success, though, is clear: “We don’t believe in showing off. We believe in our business, we believe in stretching our assets, and we believe in growth.”

Bengaluru Beginnings

Bengaluru-born Mehta’s thriftiness is likely a reflection of his humble beginnings. Stepping into the world of business as a teenager in the early 1980s, Mehta borrowed $118 from his older brother which, along with a modest bank loan, funded his early foray into the buying and selling of silver and gold jewellery.

Buying gold and silver jewellery from local smiths, Mehta sold his wares from door to door in his home town for a tidy profit, later expanding to Gujarat in the north and Chennai in the south east. This cycle continued, with each trip increasing his wealth, until Mehta made the decision to set up shop in his hometown and sell at scale.

In the 1980s, India’s gold market was heavily constrained by the Gold Control Act, a web of regulations that limited the amount of gold a dealer could hold. But Mehta was quick to notice that these regulations were considerably more relaxed in case of export, and spotted an opportunity.

Using the money he’d made so far, he set up a small plant in Bangalore and travelled to the UK where he stayed with relatives while pitching his wares to London retailers. Many were reluctant, but Mehta managed to land some orders, in what turned out to be the start of a billion dollar gold empire.

Recession and Acquisition

Behind the frugality, then, is the story of a focused and accomplished entrepreneur. Mehta’s journey from trader to the owner of the world's largest integrated gold player took around three decades. Highlights include successfully traversing the recession, increasing revenues by 213% from the years 2007 to 2012, and recently culminated in the signing of a deal with Newmont Mining for the acquisition of Swiss gold refining giant Valcambi in July. 

Representing what is a relatively rare acquisition by an Indian company, this move has positioned Rajesh Exports as one of the largest integrated players in the global gold market, with an IKEA-like control of supply, manufacture and retail of precious metal products. 

Valcambi has the capacity to refine 1,600 tonnes of gold in a year – double India’s annual demand, and around 40 per cent of the global gold requirement. When coupled with Rajesh Export’s existing portfolio, including a number of mines, retail outlets, and its existing title of being the world’s biggest private sector buyer of gold, the acquisition makes for a powerful new player in the global gold market.