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Kumar Mangalam Birla: Cementing profits with charity

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Kumar Birla: Dynasty, Indian style
  • Kumar Mangalam Birla is one of India's wealthiest industrialists
  • His company, founded by his father, makes an annual turnover of $29 billion
  • Believes social role of his company should be as rigorous as business ideas

Watch the fulll show with Kumar Mangalam Birla on CNN's Talk Asia: Apr 6 10.30; Apr 7: 03.30; Apr 8: 17.30; Apr 9 16.00; Apr 10: 08.30; Apr 11: 02.00 (All times GMT)

(CNN) -- What do aluminum sheeting and life insurance have in common?

Very little unless you're Kumar Mangalam Birla, industrialist and CEO of Aditya Birla Group, the India conglomerate with companies that produce the metal for car manufacturers and the insurance for those who will drive them, as well as a raft of other commodities, products and services.

At 43, Birla is one of India's richest men, inheriting control of the company in 1995 that was founded by his father, and has increased the overall turnover from $2 billion to $29 billion by 2010.

Birla hopes to more than double that figure by 2015.

I think it's the sheer spirit of enterprise that Indians bring to the table.
--Kumar Birla, industrialist
  • India
  • Business
  • Economic Issues

"I know that sounds audacious but to put it in context, we were a little under $10 billion four years ago," he says.

"So we have a track record of doing audacious things. I generally believe that the quality of your future is entirely dependent on the quality of your imagination."

Running a company is in Birla's blood --- the family business itself goes back four generations - but he admits that when it was his turn to become chairman after the unexpected death of his father, it was a trying time.

"(It) was a very difficult time, emotionally... I was pretty much in a fishbowl, as you can imagine. I was only 28, limited experience but a lot of exposure, high quality exposure, to the world of business. The only thought in my mind was to carry forward his work. I decided that I would just put my head down and hang in there and just keep at it."

Apart from a family tradition of being business-minded, Birla has continued the legacy of largesse as Aditya Birla give 3% of its net profits to charity.

"It is this whole philosophy of trusteeship, of plying back part of your profits in terms of giving back to society. So the social arm... is run with the same rigor and intensity and precision as our businesses are. Essentially we work out of 3,000 villages and the work that we do touches about 7 million people every year."

While he continued family traditions in the company, Birla has displayed a keen eye when it comes to acquisitions, overseeing the purchase of 20 companies across the world, boosting revenues and, he hopes, India's image as an emerging business heavyweight abroad.

"I think the India story is now much better known the world over, I think India as a nation is far more respected," he says.

"It's gained the respect of people as an intellectual powerhouse, as a serious business destination, as people who are a very enterprising lot. I think it's the sheer spirit of enterprise that Indians bring to the table."