Jignesh Shah was, between 2007 and 2013, India’s golden boy, the man with the Midas touch. When the fraud behind the National Spot Exchange Ltd eventually came out, 13,000 Indian investors lost about Rs. 5,600 crores in total. The following excerpt from The Man Who Wanted to be Dhirubhai Ambani gives us a peek into his mind:
“Picture abhi baki hai, mere dost,” roared the 5-feet-4-inches tall, stocky man in a perfect suit made of the finest fabric available at Gabbana, a clothing store favoured by Mumbai’s business elite. The listeners – the speaker’s employees and investors – cheered loudly. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” they had just been told; what more could they have asked for? That was in October 2008. The line from Shah Rukh Khan’s Om Shanti Om was on everybody’s lips, and MCX-SX had just got the nod to launch currency futures trading, despite stiff opposition from some of the most influential names in India’s exchange industry.
Apart from disclosing his fondness for Hindi films, the one-liner gave a glimpse of Financial Technologies (FT) promoter and Vice-Chairman Jignesh Prakash Shah’s vaulting ambition. Already, he was the man with the Midas touch, somebody who built wealth for all at a speed India’s markets had seldom seen – he made a billion dollars in his first decade of business and built India’s largest commodities exchange in half that duration. He had floated the Multi-Commodity Exchange (MCX), MCX-SX and Dubai Gold & Commodity Exchange. (He would launch the Indian Energy Exchange, Singapore Mercantile Exchange, National Spot Exchange Ltd [NSEL], Bourse Africa and Bahrain Financial Exchange in the years that followed).
The world was at his feet: Shah was included in CLSA’s Hall of Fame and was chosen by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. A photograph of him with Hillary and Bill Clinton found pride of place in his office (Hillary had presented him the US-India Business Leadership award in 2006).
The “picture” Shah referred to still runs, though after the NSEL twist in the tale (it faces a payment crisis of Rs 5,600 crore, along with allegations of fraud and mismanagement), many would perhaps call it “the dirty picture”. The talk of the town is that the 44-year-old, one-time poster boy of India’s financial markets has lost the plot. Most of his friends have turned downright hostile. Less than two months ago, Shah had to sneak out from the backdoor at night when some 80 brokers trooped into FT Tower (which houses the FT offices) demanding their money blocked at NSEL.
Since Shah, once visible everywhere, has restricted his public appearances (he cancelled his meeting with Business Standard twice) after the NSEL scam. Investors are now banking on the digital world to give vent to their fury. Ashish Seth, an investor, says: “Jignesh, you came to Juhu from Kandivali, but you are fit for jahannum (hell).” Shah, who spent his early years at Kandivali, a Mumbai suburb, now lives in a three-storied bungalow named R Square in upmarket Juhu.
Some of his friends say Shah is shattered and spends most of his time with his very expensive lawyers to find a way out of the mess. Says a close friend: “His body language has completely changed, though he believes he has (unfairly) got the rough end of the stick. He feels people want his blood now, but they forget the sweat he put in to make MCX what it is.” The summons and look-out notices from Mumbai Police, the income-tax raids and the regulators’ move to oust him from his empire on the grounds that he is not “fit and proper” to run exchanges have clearly taken their toll. More than the money that he has lost (Shah and his family’s wealth has crashed 94 per cent in three years; he holds 48 per cent stake in FT which owns 26 per cent of MCX), Shah’s angst stems from the negative publicity and its impact on his carefully-cultivated image. What he is also perturbed about is the hurt it has caused to his father, Prakash Shah, a small-time iron, steel and chemicals trader from Gujarat…