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From Travelling In Filthy Train Toilets To Cracking Rs 2,000 Cr-Deal With Reliance

In early 80s, he was 20-year-old armed with a bachelors degree in commerce but there was no way he could put his education to use. With nobody to help him monetarily, he had to do lowly jobs just to buy enough food and sustain for the day. Twice a month Nikhil Gandhi boarded the crowded, unreserved train from Kolkata to Mumbai. He would spend around 30 hours squatting near the stinky toilets in sweltering heat just so he could get some water now and then and sprinkle it on the 4,000 beetle leaves that he carried.

He sold the famous beetle leaves from Kolkata to a vendor in Bombay and bought some toys with whatever money he received. He again went through the same excruciating journey and sold those toys in Kolkata. This whole exercise would fetch him a meager sum of Rs 200 but Nikhil was happy with the learning that came along with this tough time. He was being exposed to the market, business world and above all the city of dreams Mumbai.

The unlikely success story of Nikhil Gandhi

Today, 56-year-old Nikhil lives in a swanky high-rise in Napean Sea which is one of the most expensive areas in Mumbai and moves around in a chauffeur-driven Merc E series. So how did his life undergo this massive change? How did a man marred by poverty go on to build a networth of Rs 2,500 crore?

More than three decades ago he decided to move to Mumbai and heard from somewhere that Indian Navy wanted to buy some brooms and pieces of cleaning cloth. He decided to be the supplier of this consignment no matter what and pulled every string that he could. Just within time he managed to supply 80,000 country-made brooms to Bombay Port Trust (BPT) and 1,00,000 pieces of cleaning cloth to the Indian Navy. This was the very first time Nikhil tasted success and developed contacts within BPT which led him to become a bulk drug supplier.

The contract business was raking in money for him and the days filled with hunger pangs were finally behind him. In 1990, he had a deep yearning to visit the birthplace of his father which was in Gujarat. While exploring the area he came to Pipavav which had a sprawling, empty coast to it. He could visualize a port here and decided to make it a reality. He managed to meet the then chief minister Chimanbhai Patel and got all the approvals needed for developing a port in Pipalav.

This was another milestone for him and as a celebratory gesture he paid a pilgrimage to Shirdi. Here he met a politician who was impressed with everything that Nikhil had achieved till now and introduced him to Dhirubhai Ambani. His journey of defeating poverty and talent of sniffing potential in infrastructure cast a spell on Dhirubhai and he taught Gandhi the virtues of identifying growth-oriented ventures ahead of their time, and executing them on time.

Anil Ambani with Nikhil Gandhi at his shipbuilding facility in Gujarat.

From then on he began heavily investing in the infrastructure and built India’s first private all-weather seaport in the mid-nineties. Then he went on to notch another first: a 50:50 joint venture with Indian Railways to run container trains over 260 km between the Pipavav port and the Saurashtra region. He also constructed a 20-km, four-lane road connecting the port with the Gujarat state highway.

Total investment in these three projects amounted to nearly $500 million which clearly talks a lot about thinking big and thinking ahead of times. In 2015, Reliance bought Nikhil’s Pipavav Defence for Rs 2,085 in an all-cash deal.

Gandhi has overcame several struggles over the years and has always managed to find a way through the difficulties. He is an inspiration to each and every person who is struggling in life and is determined to create their path. Today, Nikhil Gandhi is valued at more than Rs 2,500 crore and spends time lecturing students at Ivy League B-schools like Wharton.

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