He even made a last-ditch effort to pull off the delisting when on the last day of submission of shares on October 9, he told CNBC TV18 that he could even "make a counter offer". The company, however, fell short by 7 per cent in garnering around 1.34 billion shares to delist. The problem was a low floor price of Rs 87.25 a share, which did not inspire confidence among shareholders. Nevertheless, Vedanta
shareholders had the option of bidding higher but a failed attempt at getting enough bids meant the option of making a counter offer was closed. Now, the promoter company, Vedanta
Resources, will have to repay $1.4 billion raised via bonds and another $1.1 billion in loans that were raised to fund the delisting exercise.
Failures are not new to him. Though Agarwal came from a Bihar-based business family and carved out his venture of scrap trading, he tasted his first success only after shutting down some seven businesses. That was in 1988 when he started supplying jelly-filled cables in collaboration with an American company to the department of telecommunication, which was the sole buyer. Even now Agarwal continues to be in the optic fibre cable through Twin Star Overseas, which owns Sterlite Technologies Ltd. The company has cable manufacturing facilities in India, Italy, China and Brazil, apart from software-development centres.
It is, however, mining that gives Agarwal’s Vedanta its identity — and its controversies. The group mines copper, iron ore, lead, silver, zinc and even crude oil and natural gas, globally as well as in India. "I am not sure whether the bad image that the group has globally is the right one or wrong, but the mining sector is such that invites allegations and protests,” says a former close associate of Agarwal.
The loss of business in iron ore — banned by a Supreme Court order — and copper smelting - closed for alleged emission violations by the Tamil Nadu government - is a corollary to this anti-mining sentiment that has become more pronounced in India over the last decade, since mining has a negative impact on the environment and local people. Vedanta has not found reprieve in the courts for its Thoothukudi copper smelter, which has been shut since 2018.
Controversies have confounded him also in the stock market. In 2001, when he wanted to delist Sterile Industries through a buyback offer, it failed and the promoters had to face an inquiry following a complaint filed by Kirit Somaiya, then a BJP member of Parliament and president of Investors Grievances Forum (IGF).
Vedanta's expansive policy made its foray into the oil and gas business by buying Cairn India in 2011. Later it entered the steel business by buying Electrosteel in 2018 under bankruptcy proceedings.
In some ways, each of Agarwal's businesses hedge the risk in other business segments since every commodity has its own upturn and downturn. But the failure of delisting is not likely to push Agarwal towards an asset-light model. True to the nature of businessmen who build their empire from scratch, he likes to be in control. Though he has attempted to bring in professional managers to run his businesses and even limited the role of family members, one of the reasons for frequent top-level churning in his companies, an insider says, is that the 67-year-old wants to run the show himself.